Dani Taylor and Giacomo Marchese are vegan bodybuilders. Sounds a little bit like an oxymoron, right? But these two married athletes are amazing examples for how you can be plant-based, strong, and champions. In this podcast, Dani, Taylor and Sonya sat down to talk about how to be a vegan bodybuilder, what steps to take to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet, and their work coaching through VeganProteins.com
Dani is a vegan figure competitor and champion. She co-founded VeganProteins.com and PlantBuilt.com, a nonprofit organization of strength-based vegan athletes who compete together to raise awareness for veganism and money for rescued animals at farm sanctuaries, with Giacomo.
As VeganProteins head coach, Dani helps women build confidence to lift weights for the first time and find their strength. She also specializes in vegan figure competition prep to help people prepare for competition.
Giacomo is an assistant coach through VeganProteins and works with clients on a daily basis to help them reach their bodybuilding and powerlifting goals. Giacomo has been vegan for over 10 years and involved with fitness for over 20 years.
In this episode, you’ll hear more from Dani and Giacomo about VeganProteins, becoming vegan, maintaining strength and weight for competition and the discipline for their success.
“I think there are two types of people – dive in head first people (and that’s Giacomo) and then there’s baby step people. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but I do think you have to do something. I’ve seen so many people stuck in what I call analysis paralysis where they’re just overanalyzing something so much until they get the ‘perfect plan’, but you’re never going to have the perfect plan and it would be better to do something imperfectly and be doing something. I’m always encouraging people to just take the first step – whatever that looks like for you – and course correct as you go, basically. We always think we need to be motivated to do something in order to do it, but I actually find that the motivation comes from the actions, not the other way around. So getting started is what gets you motivated.”-Dani Taylor
- What is Vegan Strong
- Typical day of eating for a vegan bodybuilder
- How to get leaner and lose weight – what you may not know
- Learning to love vegetables
- Curiosity into action
- How to not be afraid of consequences
- The first steps for the plant-curious
- How to learn to cook
- Creating balance when you have intense singular focus
- How to have the discipline to achieve a great physique
- How to get back on track
- Learn more about VeganProteins
- Check out my podcast episode with Robert Cheeke
- Check out my Substack about high-performance mindset
- Sign up for my weekly newsletter!
Sonya Looney: Vegan strong. Welcome to the team.
Dani: Thanks for having us. We’re excited to be here.
Sonya: The team… Welcome to the show, I mean.
Dani: We’ll be on your team too.
Sonya: Welcome to the team. Yeah, maybe I want to be on the team. So I guess before we jump into all of the fun things that we’re going to talk about today, what is vegan strong?
Giacomo: Vegan strong is what I feel is the evolution of everything that we have done together in the vegan bodybuilding community. We go out and reach a mainstream audience when we’re able to travel. And we also do it digitally. And we talk about how plants have all the protein you need. And we’re living, breathing, walking examples of that. At fitness expos. And yeah,
Dani: So we go to mainstream fitness events, well pre COVID, we went to mainstream fitness events like the Arnold and the Olympia, big bodybuilding and powerlifting shows, where nobody is vegan. And we would talk to people about kind of making some plant-based transitions in their life and how they can do that. And it’s been really effective, and people have been really receptive to it. But now since COVID, we’ve been pouring all of our resources into creating free online stuff, like recipes, workouts, articles, things like that.
Sonya: How do you breach that conversation? Because it seems like some people are really ready and open to hearing about it. Whereas other people are afraid they have like lots of different barriers and reasons why they don’t want to do it. So how do you breach that conversation?
Giacomo: Honestly, I think that there are so many different approaches, and you have to play your strengths where you are as a person. And for me, what I do is I usually let someone come to me as far as, and there’s all kinds of different approaches, sometimes someone wants to heckle you. And I kind of just let them and try to figure out where they’re coming from, rather than respond and debate them. Other times someone is genuinely curious about what you do. And so they start asking questions. And rather than make it about what I do, which is what I would have done 15-20 years ago, I asked them what they do and how they like to eat. And hopefully there’s enough questions to lead the conversation to get them to think about their choices, what they mean, and how they affect their health, and the world around them. So there are other approaches to it all, it all kind of depends on the conversation that you get into with somebody.
Dani: Yeah, a huge part of is literally just like meeting somebody where they’re at and not being the stereotypical judgy preachy vegan person. So you’re kind of just trying to see what they’re curious about, and then give them options. If they’re thinking about becoming more plant based, well, instead of being like, well, you should just be vegan tomorrow. And that’s, that’s how we did it. So that’s how you should do it. It’s like, oh, well, what kind of milk are you drinking right now? Have you ever tried oat milk, or almond milk or soy milk? You know, where usually there was samples and coupons like here, here’s some coupons to go try this out next time you’re at the grocery store. And we see people in cities because we went to different places, we would see the same people in the next city. And a lot of times, they would have made some changes and found some health benefits. And it was just so, so cool.
Sonya: Yeah, so meeting people where they are at and asking them questions instead of telling them what to do. And then suggesting or making it easy to just make very small little changes and looking for things that they like, because I think a lot of times people are really worried that the food won’t taste good, and I hear people say, well, I like food. It’s like, well, you can like food and you can eat more plants too at the same time, and people think they’re mutually exclusive.
Dani: Yeah, totally. That was another thing we did. We did food demos a lot when we were on tour, and tried to make stuff that was like really tasty and kind of surprising that it was plant based. And that was always really cool. Like we did plant-based tacos with a with a plant based taco meat that we made there. And people were always super psyched to try something, they would always be like, well, this actually tastes good. We’d be like, of course it tastes good. Like what do you think we just eat terrible tasting food all the time? But a lot of people do think that so it’s nice to kind of bust that myth.
Sonya: Both of you are incredibly fit and strong with amazing physiques and people listening are probably wondering, what do you eat on a daily basis? So I’d love to hear each of your approaches to what you’re eating, and then do you count things like calories and macros? And I guess we’ll just start with that.
Giacomo: For sure. A typical day for me is starting off with some oatmeal, fruit and a protein shake and then I head to the gym. When I get back from the gym. It’s something simple, like vegetables, grain and some sort of plant based meat, whether it’s tofu or seitan, or something like that, maybe something I make up like a homemade beyond burger. And afterwards, I’ll usually have a snack, maybe a couple of pieces, of fruit or something, or something else, like whatever I’m in the mood for, maybe something that feels like a treat. And then dinner will be very similar to lunch. But it also depends on what’s going on. Sometimes my mother-in-law cooks dinner, and I want to enjoy whatever she’s having because she’s also vegan. Sometimes we go out to dinner. So there’s a lot of flexibility. And maybe I’ll have some for dessert. I don’t think about food all too much anymore. I don’t count calories, even in my head. I’m not eyeballing or necessarily aware of what my portion sizes are. I know what my needs are, at this point. It’s been 25 years of my life, and 10 years consistently focused on nutrition, and focused on being an athlete. That being said, Sonya, there are times where I do focus on tracking, but it’s a skill and a tool that I use as needed and when needed. Like if I’m preparing for a competition. I spend a great deal of my time and energy with clients, convincing them and encouraging them to once they are familiar with tracking to find ways to move away from it so they can free up their time and their energy, and also just have a clearer head for other things they want to do in life while still achieving their goals.
Dani: Yeah, our diets, we’re married, so our diets are really similar. And we eat a lot of the same foods. But just to highlight kind of some of what Giacomo said is a lot of the do you track your food or do you not track your food really depends on what our current goal is at the minute. So that can be different. Like right now, Giacomo is in the middle of cutting and I am not. So he’s more meticulous about what it is that he’s eating, and I can be a little bit more flexible. So I would say when we’re like in a building phase, or even just sort of like a maintenance phase, we don’t have to be super strict with our tracking, because like Giacomo said, we’ve invested over a decade into kind of learning what our body needs. But when the goal is to get leaner for competition, the closer you get to that the more meticulous you need to be because you’re hungry, and you want to eat more, and you need to make sure that you’re not overdoing it, or you’re not going to reach that particular goal. So it really varies throughout the year. But I think having those periods of being more flexible, and easygoing with your food makes it easier, like you have more willpower stored when it comes time to be more strict. So I couldn’t live like that 24/7 for many, many years, that would make me crazy.
Sonya: That sounds like when you’re first changing your diet, especially, you might need to track just to learn what you’re doing and to get an idea of what you’re eating. But then also it sounds like there’s an intuitive eating type of thing that plays on later, where you just like kind of eat when you’re hungry and eat what sounds good. And that when you have a specific competition coming, that’s whenever you tighten it up a little bit.
Dani: Yeah, and that’s exactly it. When we work with people if they have never tried to improve their health or get in better shape or anything like that, generally learning how to log what they’re eating, and then analyze kind of how their day went, it’s a really important skill. And it’s pain, right? Nobody’s like, oh, yeah, I get to write down everything I’m eating. So there’s usually some resistance there. But there’s so much that can be learned about each person. How their day is scheduled, are they under eating during the day, and then over eating at night? There’s so many patterns that you can catch when you log things. And I think spending one or two years kind of in that learning phase gives you a really great foundation to then sort of back out of that a little bit and learn more intuitive eating approaches. I wouldn’t say like full blown intuitive eating by its actual definition. I don’t think that’s exactly what we do. But there’s a lot more of that, that I think some people would expect in bodybuilders.
Sonya: Yeah, I’m kind of new to even learning about intuitive eating. And I don’t know enough even about it to talk about it, except for I just think about what I eat too. I don’t count calories. I eat when I’m hungry. And I try and eat “as healthy as I can.” And I feel good about that. Whereas before I changed my diet, as a mountain bike racer, like your weight matters, especially in a competitions. You don’t want to be carrying extra weight up the hill because it can impact your performance. So people worry about how much they weigh and then they try and control the weight and that can be a source of frustration, and it was a source of frustration for me before I changed my diet. So a lot of people listening probably are just curious, like, wow, I want to be leaner or I want to lose some weight. Maybe people are eating plant based maybe they’re not but what are your basic, I know it’s hard to give basic tips because everybody’s wide ranging, but what are some general guidelines people can follow, especially as this is coming out in the new year like that with people want to tighten up their diet a little bit?
Giacomo: Well, this might sound a little silly when someone wants to be leaner and they want to lose weight, but I think the very first things that you want to focus on are you sleep, hygiene and hydration. Because if you’re dehydrated perpetually, you’re probably gonna wind up eating more than you intend on eating. And if your sleep hygiene is off, then your cortisol levels are up, which makes you more hungry. So as crazy as it sounds, focus on those things, your whole life will improve, and you’ll have a better time with your eating habits. After that, I think it’s helpful to focus on foods that make you feel good. Nutritious foods also happen to be voluminous. So it’s a double whammy, you get a full belly feeling and you get good energy, because you’re digesting your food well in fiber, and it’s chock full of micronutrients. So starting to, it’s that simple tip, hydration, sleep hygiene, and eating vegetables twice a day.
Dani: Yeah, I was gonna say that if your goal is to get leaner and that’s like your main focus because some people are goal is to get bigger, and this might actually make it harder, but if you’re trying to get leaner, trying to make lunch and dinner, like the base of that meal, vegetables, is a really, really great place to start. So picture a seven inch dinner plate or something that is full on covered with vegetables and maybe on top of that you put some kind of a plant based protein source like Giacomo said, we love tofu, tempeh, seitan, but some people don’t need those. Even something like lentils as a protein source on top would be great. And then some kind of healthy fat. So that could be a dressing or a sauce that you make yourself or avocado or olives or something that you like, but making the base vegetables makes it so you’re full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and you’re gonna feel full and satisfied at the end of that meal as opposed to if you were to have that same meal without the vegetables, you’d be hungry afterwards. So veggies are your best friend, when you’re looking to get leaner for sure.
Sonya: I didn’t hear like a whole grain in there. Maybe I missed it.
Dani: I’m not saying to skip that entirely. Although for some people, especially if they’re not particularly active, having either lunch or dinner without a starchy carb is probably going to be fine for somebody that doesn’t really exercise and sits at a desk most of the day. But if you are an active person, and/or at least once a day, including some kind of starchy carbs. So when I was thinking lentils, I was thinking that’s a protein and a starchy carb. But if you’re having tofu, tempeh, seitan, something like that, having some kind of potato or sweet potato or brown rice or quinoa or something like that a serving size like about the size of your fist on top of that, I mean that meal in its entirety is going to be really, really filling for most people.
Sonya: What about the people who are like, I don’t like vegetables, or they think they don’t like vegetables because the vegetables they grew up with were like the frozen nasty freezer burn stuff or like canned peas? Like if that’s what they think of for vegetables, what do you recommend for people who are trying to learn to love vegetables?
Dani: Well, that was me. That’s how I was raised. I ate the worst vegetables, you know, the diced up, like lima beans and corn and carrots and peas and that’s it. That was like literally all I ever saw for vegetables as a kid. So I get it. I didn’t think I liked vegetables either. But if you want to learn to love vegetables, my number one tip is roast them actually. If you’ve never tried roasting vegetables if all you’ve ever had is like steamed or boiled, roasting them really, really brings out so many of the flavors of them. And I think that that tip alone can help you kind of see vegetables in a new light and then they’re less scary and gross. And then you can try other ways of making them. Like steaming them doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be bad. But maybe that isn’t the first choice if you don’t like vegetables. Stir frying is a good kind of middle option but roasting them in my opinion that’s where it’s at for tasty veggies.
Sonya: Giacomo, do you have anything you want to add to that?
Giacomo: There are lots of different kinds of vegetables I encourage people to explore and to echo what Dani said prepare them in different kinds of ways. Whether it’s mixing it in with other fun foods, right. I also like nutritional yeast on top of crazy that sounds if you’re not familiar with it already, it has a pretty cheesy flavor to it and add some texture to vegetables I like and it’s high in protein. So I like sprinkling nutritional yeast playing around with those premix see seasonings like one brain for example flavor goblet any brand of seasoning where it’s a combination of things, a combination of spices, can really help jazz up vegetables and not being afraid to experiment. There’s maybe for every five vegetables you don’t want this probably some that you do.
Dani: Yeah, if someone really doesn’t like vegetables, and they’re refusing to eat vegetables, which happens, then we gotta get sneaky with it, I think and we see this a lot with kids, like with our niece and nephew that don’t want to eat vegetables we’ll sneak them into pancakes or will sneak them into smoothies like handfuls of spinach in smoothies. And that’s great to add phytonutrients and things like that. But if the goal is weight loss, or leaning out or something like that, handful of spinach in the smoothie probably isn’t going to cut it, you’re probably going to have to start learning to like more vegetables than that.
Sonya: You train your body, you can also train your palate.
Dani: Yeah, I can’t count the number of foods that the first time I tried them I was like, ew I don’t know how I feel about this. And now I love them like kombucha. First time I had that was, what is this vinegar soda someone just gave me and now I’m pretty into it. I like it a lot now.
Sonya: I hated all beans before I changed my diet. It was never something I ate growing up. Even I was even hesitant when I first started. And now it’s something that I love and I look forward to.
Dani: Yeah, totally. Same. The only beans I ever had was like the Heinz baked beans. Do you know what I’m talking about? That was it. That was beans as far as I was concerned. So boy was I in for a treat when I found all of the other ones.
Sonya: So we started off with some actionable takeaways for people just to kind of put that up front. But now I’d love to hear each of your stories as to how you found this type of lifestyle, because everybody’s story is a little bit different. So Dani, why don’t you go first?
Dani: Sure. Yeah, so as I’ve kind of alluded to, so far, we did not eat well when I was growing up. I rarely saw a vegetable, there were so many fruits and things I’ve never seen. We didn’t have a lot of money and unhealthy food is very, very cheap. So we ate a lot of ramen and mac and cheese like the box mac and cheese and hot dogs and stuff like that. And most of my family was overweight, myself included. And my extended family was also overweight. And I just thought that it was like genetic, basically, because this was my family, as far as I could see was largely overweight. So I didn’t think too much of it. I was just like, oh, we got the short stick, but it is what it is. And I was 210 pounds by the time I was 16 years old. And I was already vegetarian, I went vegetarian really young. But I was writing a research paper about vegetarianism in high school, found something about veganism, which I had never heard of. Decided, oh, I don’t want to be a part of this either. So I just stopped eating dairy and eggs, like overnight, basically. And I had a checkup a couple months later with my doctor and he was like, oh, did you know you’re down 30 pounds? And I was like what? And this was the first time that I ever realized maybe it’s not just genetics, maybe I have more control over this than I thought that I did. And that really inspired me to learn about nutrition. And eventually I ended up losing 90 pounds/ I then learned how to lift weights. Someone told me I couldn’t build muscle, if I wouldn’t at least have whey protein powder. And that spite led me to learn exactly how to do just that. And that was probably 16 or 17 years ago and the rest is kind of history since then.
Sonya: So that’s a lot of insight and confidence as a teenager to kind of go off on your own and do that.
Dani: Well, I was just doing it for ethical reasons at the time. I mean, I have lots of reasons for being plant based now, but at the time, it was just for ethical reasons. So even if somebody had said like, hey, you’re gonna die if you eat this way, you know, at that age, I would have been like, I don’t care, it’s what I want to do. So luckily, that didn’t happen. And only good things ended up coming out of it, which I didn’t expect to be honest, because I just I didn’t know anything about anything. But my health improved, not just with weight loss, my health improved in so many ways that are actually hard to explain that it was the best decision that I ever made in my life. And it completely changed the trajectory of my life. So I’m so glad I did.
Sonya: And another kind of follow up question to that is, growing up overweight your entire life and then looking in the mirror, things started changing, like your behavior change the way that you did things in your life or changing lifting weights? How did that change your perspective or your perception of what you were capable of? And did you have limitations? Did you put limitations on yourself because of being overweight before that?
Dani: I think so. And actually I think it took many, many years after my whole physique had changed for me to really conceptualize the fact that I wasn’t that person anymore. Like it took a really long time because I had really internalized, I was the big girl, I wasn’t athletic, I was a musician and a nerd. I love that person, I have no bad feelings for that person. But it took many years for me to realize that I wasn’t that person anymore and that I could do things that I would never have even considered 10 years prior. But having such a huge sort of physical transformation definitely did change my view of the world. I don’t know if it was for the better or not, because I realized once I became more socially acceptable, my appearance became more socially acceptable, that people were a lot nicer to me. And it made me realize how much people weren’t very nice to me before. And now I knew why. So that is something that ever since then I’ve really, really worked very hard to be conscious of not doing that to somebody else, not treating someone differently because of how they look. And it sounds really simple. Like we all know that. But I think until you’ve been kind of on both sides of that coin, I don’t think people realize how real that actually is. So yeah, kind of a side note, but it was a big shift.
Sonya: There’s a lot of biases that we hold that we don’t even realize that we’re doing. And it takes a lot of awareness to treat people that are either different from you, or that look different from you with kindness sometimes.
Dani: Yeah, it was definitely eye opening. But I think that it was for the better, ultimately, because it allows me to see more people with an empathy that I might not have had if I had just always grown up as an athlete, so I’m very appreciative for the time in my life before I was vegan and before I was interested in health. I think it allows me to help more people now, because I wasn’t always an athlete so I know what it’s like to be working towards that.
Sonya: Well, there’s so many things I want to ask you. But I also want to hear your Giacomo story too.
Giacomo: I was really enjoying l your story, as I was sitting here listening, and it never gets old. Honestly, every time she tells it, I get more and more bits and pieces out of it. So yeah, no worries there. As far as where it came from, well, for me, personally, it started with wanting to make a tennis team. And I started practicing like on the street in Brooklyn, using a driveway or sewer cap as a net. And then I got into high school and they had a tennis team, ah I want to make it but I was this kid who lacked confidence, I was bullied and I was more comfortable with music and already had my talent there. But my conductor was a champion bodybuilder and he had other plans, took me under his wing, and was like, let’s train together. Let’s get you fit. And I made the tennis team. And I stuck with that right through college, but I always enjoyed lifting. And I look back and joke and it just so happened in college, we had the most jacked tennis team, we do not look like tennis players, we look like bodybuilders. So I had social support that way too. And after graduating in New York City, the year after 9/11, it was a little bit of a weird stage trying to look for a job. And I was in a privileged enough place to pursue something else. So I went into personal training, arguably it was for selfish reasons, because I wanted to test and see what I could do. And I competed. Eventually I competed. And I was like this will be good for my career in bodybuilding. Yeah, the truth was, it was for me it was not for my career. But after that, a lot of doors opened up. When I was done competing, I realized I had that kind of control over my body. I got more and more interested in nutrition. However, someone close to me, I was dating someone at the time, and their mom had a heart attack. And she was just so relieved that the doc was like, okay, just don’t just watch your stress levels and everything happens we’ll patch it up, just pay attention. I was like, that can’t be it. That can’t be the answer. So I went to my local grocer where I was getting my food to prepare, I want to do some research. Help me out here, how can I lead by example, how can I learn more? And they gave me a book and I read it and the book sort of like dared me to be vegetarian and leave meat as a condiment on my dish. I was like well, what’s the point of eating meat on my dish as a condiment? Let’s just go full vegan. And at that point, I hadn’t even been conscious of the word, someone might have thrown it out there, but you know, as a kid, it takes a while for things to click. So long story short, that’s how I got into a plant-based diet. And then I started to seek out community. And I met someone who’s still an animal rescuer to this day, and then it’s like, you get one and you start to make another connection. You know, like, oh, okay, that was a living, breathing, sentient being and it was on my plate. And it had to die for me to eat what I’m eating right now. And that was why I gained my compassionate side. And then I started learning about environmental reasons. So it all came full circle for me. And that’s how I got into activism. met Dani, met Robert. And there’s a lot more to that. But that’s my backstory before getting into this as a career.
Sonya: You just said there’s a lot more to that. I’d like to hear that.
Dani: So at the same time, not knowing each other, I lived in Massachusetts, he lived in New York. You know, I said, I was out of sight, I was going to figure out how to do this muscle building thing, right? So I took to the internet, and I found a website called Veganbodybuilding.com, which is Robert Cheeke’s website. But I didn’t know who this guy was. And there was a whole community of probably like 3000 people, vegans all over the world, kind of trying to figure out the same thing I was trying to figure out. One of them was Giacomo. And Robert held a meetup in 2008, in Portland, Oregon, and probably like 20 of us flew out to this week-long vegan vacation is what it was called. And we all met then, and obviously, Giacomo and I hit it off. But us and Robert, we’ve been best friends ever since then. So yeah, it really vegan bodybuilding, we call him the godfather of vegan bodybuilding. This is why he really created all of the connections in the vegan bodybuilding community. So yeah, Robert, really is the godfather.
Sonya: For those of you listening are like Robert? I’ll link it in the show notes. But yeah, Robert is the godfather of Vegan Bodybuilding, if you want to see pictures of just, he’s always like flexing and just posting these really fun pictures on Instagram. But he was a podcast guest because he’s the co-author of the plant based athlete, and he was on the show. So I’ll put a link in the show notes for people interested in learning more about that. So Giacomo, I heard you say a few things. You said you’re interested in tennis, and you played tennis at a high level. But your coach also was saying, hey, you should try this bodybuilding thing. And later, you became curious about nutrition as it pertains to health. I hear you’re very open and curious person in your life. How do you go from being curious about the thing to actually pursuing and taking action on the thing? Because there’s a big difference between the two, many people have curious questions in their lives and things they’re wondering about and things they’ve heard of, but actually executing and taking action on that is a separate skill set. How did you do that?
Giacomo: Well, in all fairness, I have historically jumped into things in a haphazard kind of way. And it’s landed me into all sorts of trouble. And it’s come with lots of consequences. So I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, that’s been my approach in the past. So that’s what got me started. The truth, though, is that that’s not going to keep you going unless you want your consequences to be greater. Because anytime you want to do something really well, you got to keep doubling down and tripling down on it, you have to spend more time and more energy. So to give you some actual insight, as far as how I’m able to still do this now and do an unhelpful way, I’ve learned how to be more efficient with my time. I’ve learned how to challenge myself mindset-wise, where I’m able to do something well, without it taking over my life. And when I’m not in full blown competition mode, rather than trying to get jazzed up and excited about that all the time, I try to focus on other areas of my life, like my relationships and doing things even outside of work, right? Just learning and growing as a person gives me the ability to keep myself balanced while I’m still doing something competitively. So, yeah, in short, I think going into something for me personally, a little blindly, and when I realize that if I need to invest more of myself, I start to reverse engineer and figure out where I went wrong, while I still try to do something at a higher level. So I can’t say that it’s been a clean road for me.
Sonya: So how do you not be afraid of those consequences? Because I think that the fear of the consequences is what holds people back.
Giacomo: I think you’re right there. Well, so from my perspective, the theory of the consequences is not as bad as overthinking the equation so much to try to have the perfect solution that you don’t do the thing.
Dani: I think I think there’s two types of people. There’s dive in headfirst people and that’s Giacomo. And then there’s baby step people. And I don’t really think one is necessarily better than the other. But I do think you have to do something. Like he just said, we’ve, I’ve seen so many people stuck in what I call analysis paralysis, where they are just over analyzing something so much until they get the perfect plan. But you’re never going to have the perfect plan. It would be better to do something imperfectly and be doing something. So I’m always encouraging people to just take the first step, whatever that looks like for you. And course correct as you go. Basically, we always think we need to be motivated to do something in order to do it. I actually find that the motivation comes from the actions, not the other way around. So getting started is what gets you motivated, in my opinion.
Sonya: That’s something I talk about a lot, too. So when it comes to diet change, I heard you guys talk about different types of nut milks, or soy milk, as an intro for people when you’re at some of these conventions. What are some other ways that people can take a small action into exploring, potentially, eating more plants or a fully full blown plant based lifestyle?
Dani: Yeah, so the dairy one, I think, is just the easiest one right now. Because if you go into any mainstream grocery store, the whole dairy case, it’s like half non-dairy now, which is crazy, because 20 years ago, it was not like that. So now, I just think that’s a super easy swap. I actually think that if someone is not plant based at all, but they’re thinking about it and curious about it, I actually think they should try some of the meat alternatives that are out there now, because they are very different than they were a long time ago, to the point for the first time I had a beyond burger, I was kind of freaked out because it didn’t taste like… I was just freaked out that I accidentally had eaten meat. And I have served like the beyond sausages and burgers at our family reunions in the summer with like 40 or 50 people there. And nobody has ever said anything negative about them. They’re like, wow, these are really good. A lot of people don’t even recognize that it is plant based. So you know, while you could certainly argue, hey, those aren’t health foods? No, they’re not health foods. But I think that they can be a really great introduction into some things that can be possible on a plant-based diet, if somebody is really afraid of missing their burgers, or their hot dogs or their like buffalo tenders or whatever. There are plant-based versions of those now that are really convincing. So experiment with them, try something new, like you got to make it fun for yourself, or you’re going to be miserable throughout it. So I think trying some of those fun, vegan foods first is a good first step.
Sonya: Giacomo, do you have anything you want to add to that?
Giacomo: Well, in addition to trying those fun foods, like Dani said, I also feel like it’s important to be aware of how you just like the kind of meals that you will are already enjoying. So some people have never kept a food journal before. And some people just eat whatever. But there’s usually a pattern. And we’re creatures of habit more than we care to admit. And typically you have your go tos, whether it’s pasta, or a burger, or salad or whatever it is, and whatever it is that you like to eat that isn’t plant based, I can promise you, there’s a plant based option that’s just as tasty, way more nutritious and healthier for you.
Sonya: What about people that either are uncomfortable cooking, or have never cooked in their entire lives or are embarrassed to ask where things are in the grocery store even? Like how do people overcome those barriers?
Dani: Hmm, that’s a really good question. I actually don’t think anybody’s ever asked that specific question before. So one tip would be to download the Happy Cow app. It’s a free app, and it’ll find you vegan options at restaurants in your area anywhere. I’ve used this app all over the country, in some big cities, sometimes in the middle of nowhere. And it’ll point you to like if there’s a natural brochure like it can point you to there, or it could point you to like Taco Bell that has vegan options. So it really runs the gamut of different kinds of plant based options available in your area. But I found that we live in a pretty rural area right now and we can even order takeout here now, which is crazy, because we couldn’t do that before. So, I don’t think it’s the most budget friendly thing to do to order takeout all the time, but some people just don’t like to cook and that’s fine. And I think that you can experiment with new restaurants, new types of cuisine. I think it’s funny that plant-based diets get kind of criticized as being really boring and bland. But I actually find my diet is way more interesting now than it ever was before. I had never had Indian food. I had never had Ethiopian food or different kinds of Japanese, I had never had that stuff. So checking out different ethnic restaurants, a lot of times, a lot of the food is plant based by default, or just needs one tiny modification that they’re already used to doing. So I think it does come back to making it fun and exciting for yourself. I know for myself, like I said, I had not seen I had not even seen a lot of fruits and vegetables. So when I started learning more about nutrition, I made it a little mini challenge for myself to try a new piece of produce every week. And I would go to the store and I’d be like, never seen that before. And I’d pick it up and I’d bring it home. And then I would Google it, and find a recipe for it and try to make that recipe and sometimes I didn’t like whatever it was, but a lot of times I did. And I think that if you are uncomfortable with cooking, I definitely think that’s a skill worth learning. But I also think there’s a lot of stuff that’s really easy to just microwave. You can buy frozen pre-cooked bags of brown rice and frozen, steamed fresh vegetables. And, fruits are very, very portable. So if that’s something that is up someone’s alley, those are worth trying, because you just microwave them for a few minutes, and you have a relatively healthy meal ready to go for you. As for not being able to find stuff in the grocery store, I have no advice for that one. I would just I hate asking questions, Giacomo knows. So I will walk around forever being lost looking for something. And finally, he’ll be like I’m just going to ask somebody. So I’m probably not a good person to give that advice.
Giacomo: Yeah, I’m not sure if there’s anything I would add to that, because I’m usually the person asking them to special order something if something’s ran out, I’ll pull them over to side, and ask them put this in the aisle, please. But I’m not interested in speaking anybody at the grocery store. Fortunately, I already know where to find stuff. But if someone’s newer to it, what about order shopping online for food, or looking at food blogs, you can find free recipes on Vegan Strong, for example, or on our YouTube channel, and you can get Vegan Protein or you could just seek out community, wherever you socialize, Internet, whether it’s like Discord, or Facebook or wherever, you’re bound to find ia vegan community. And if there’s one thing vegans are not afraid to talk about, chances are you’ll get a recipe and to add somebody. We take pride in having recipes that are convenient and fast. We have five-minute recipes, for example, that are simple. So I think rather than encouraging someone to just do the thing, try to feel out the reasons why that person has a barrier to wanting to cook. Are they busy? Are they intimidated by making food tastes good? Stuff like that.
Sonya: Another thing I just noticed is because I’m a health coach, I help people change their behavior. And also we’ve helped some family members not go 100%, but just add in more healthy foods, is it they have this like fixed mindset around cooking, and they think that well, I’ve tried one or two recipes, and they weren’t good. I didn’t like it, or they didn’t turn out good, so therefore, I’m a bad cook. And it’s like, well, it might not be that you’re a bad cook, it might be that you just chose a bad recipe. Because not all recipes are created equal. Not all recipes are going to be delicious. And there’s times where you are going to invest time and money into trying something new and it’s not going to be very good. And you end up you’re like what is this, I don’t like this. And that’s okay. Like there’s an experimentation, no matter how you eat, really, when it comes to cooking. And there’s going to be trial and error and just having a sense of humor around that I think is really important.
Dani: Yeah, absolutely. When I first started making plant-based recipes, like real recipes, not just microwave frozen burritos, man did I have some doozies that were not good at all. I made this parsley pasta once it was just like way too much parsley, and it was gross. But it was funny while you’re eating it. But yeah, if you don’t like one recipe, there’s like billions of recipes out there. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. So if you don’t like one, try another one. Also, this is this is not a plant-based book. But this book called, I’m gonna get the words mixed up. But it’s like salt, fat, acid, heat is a book that kind of teaches like the principles of cooking, there’s not It’s not recipes in it, but if cooking is something that you want to learn how to do, when you taste something and you’re like this tastes off like one of these four things could probably fix that flavor quite a bit. And I love cooking now, it’s funny now because so different than before. But I find that a lot of the principles that are listed in that book are really helpful for anybody. But I’m plant based. So everything I make uses those principles, and it’s plant based.
Sonya: So the next thing I want to talk about is making your health a priority because a lot of times we get really busy and then the first thing to go are spending time in our relationships, like Giacomo you you kind of touched on having a very like mono focus, intense passion that can sometimes make it hard for you to have balance and you’ve done a really good job like learning how to focus on different things in your life. So whenever you’re doing that, whenever you get busy and you like are super focused on something and you forget like, hey, I actually need to spend more time planning my meals, I need to spend more time cooking, I need to spend more time exercising. How do you make that a priority whenever you have these deadlines, or you have people looking at you wanting to spend time with you?
Giacomo: Well, sometimes I need to be realistic and know that I can’t. And I do feel guilty about that. Most of the time, though, I’m making up for those periods of time where I know that I can’t. So I understand that. But I would say on the whole, that it’s intentional. I intentionally carve out time in my schedule, so that I don’t wind up becoming hyper focused on something that arguably need that narrow focus for. When you want to do something that’s extreme, you need that kind of focus, that kind of commitment. So it’s very easy to fall into that trap, where you’re just throwing all your productivity at one thing. So I intentionally start to balance myself out and say, what are the areas of my life are going to not be prioritized, right now? What can I do about that, whether it’s paying attention to the world around me, whether it’s being here in my marriage, more present in my marriage, whether it’s spending time with family, whether it’s hanging out with a friend, whatever it is. These are things that you can justify avoiding, then you turn around three years, and you’re like, damn. But it’s okay, because I’m this very well accomplished person. Or you could do the alternative, where you do all that, and you just get addicted to like needing to perfectly program everything into your life. I feel like that’s been my trap in the past. So what I’ll do is I’ll be intentional, I’ll try to balance out. And then I’ll just let things be instead of needing to control everything.
Dani: I have kind of a different approach than Giacomo> I like to sort of map out an ideal week, I guess, is the best way to put it. And it’s not any one specific week. It’s just like, if I got everything that I wanted to get done in this week, here’s what the week would look like. And it includes, my physical health, my training, my meal prep time, my mental health time, I think is really important. Anything that I need to do for that, family time, relationship time, time for myself, and my other non-health related hobbies. Putting all of that into my ideal week, and then trying to get as close as I reasonably can to that on a regular basis and reassessing, just continuously reassessing and being flexible with it. If something is getting skipped over and over and over, I need to either get real with myself, like, does this really matter to me and ask myself if it really does matter to me. Because sometimes the answer is no. And then I don’t have to stress about it anymore, or I need to refocus, maybe move it around somewhere else. And if the week doesn’t go perfectly, it’s a learning experience, it’s not a reason to beat myself up. It’s like, okay, maybe this wasn’t my best week. But here’s what I’ve picked up from this week. And here’s what I’m going to do better next week. And that kind of helps me, keep my head above water in all of the various areas that I want to.
Sonya: Yeah, it seems like whenever we get so intensely focused on something, where we start trading away our health, our diet, our exercise, like we’re trying to achieve something, we’re trying to feel a certain way and we think that going all in on this one thing is going to do that. And there are times where you need to be really focused. But really, when you take care of yourself, and you prioritize exercise, health, food, sleep, like those types of things, then you have more to give to that thing that you’re trying to be intensely focused on, and you feel better because of it. But we so often forget that.
Dani: Yeah, yeah, it’s really, I mean, it’s so easy if you’re not kind of keeping track to have stuff slipped through the cracks. And like Giacomo said, then a year goes by and you’re like, oh, wow, I barely called my grandfather this year, just as an example, because it’s so easy. It’s 2021, we’re all very busy people trying to accomplish a lot of great things for ourselves. But that just means, there’s more stuff that can slip through the cracks. So I balance is so important to me. Because there have been times where I’ve been hyper focused on work and everything else slipped through the cracks are hyper focused on bodybuilding and everything else slipped through the cracks. So, you know, I have to kind of constantly assess and make sure that I’m actually doing the things where my priorities lie, like, am I actually living out my priorities and try to make sure that I’m doing that.
Sonya: So the next thing that I want to talk about because whenever you see somebody that has an incredible physique, most people think, wow, that person has a lot of discipline, that person has a lot of self-control. Maybe even that person can limit things in their life. They like suffering because they can limit things in their life or cut things out. What are some of your thoughts on that? And then tips on how to be more either, I don’t even know if these are the right words, but like disciplined or consistent or just true to what you’re trying to accomplish?
Dani: Yeah, well, first of all, I think some people are right. When they say like, wow, that person is really good at suffering. Listen, we have seen people that love suffering for the sake of suffering. I don’t get it, but I’ve seen it, so I know it exists in the fitness sphere. But I do think that for most people, some people seem to just be able to achieve a great physique with very little effort, but for most people, it does take quite a bit of effort to achieve a “great physique”. Takes a lot of effort, it does take a lot of discipline. And I think it takes more discipline than takes motivation, honestly, because motivation is fleeting, that comes and goes, but the discipline, you kind of got to have that every day. So you said, how could somebody kind of develop that discipline? Habits, creating habits that you do every single day, I think is really, really important. And these can be health related, or they cannot be health related. One we hear all the time is like, make your bed every day. That has nothing to do with your health, but it does absolutely have something to do with building your discipline muscle, so to speak. So picking some I mean, really easy habits, not I’m going to run three miles a day, that’s a hard habit. But I’m going to put my workout clothes and my sneakers on at 8am every morning, that’s an easy habit. And once you’re in your workout clothes, in your sneakers, probably going to be ready to run. So setting up super simple habits. And when I’m when I’m learning a new habit, I put it in my calendar, my journal, every single day to check it off to make sure that I actually did it. Because once you’ve been doing something for a few weeks, it becomes habit, it becomes much more routine, and you’re much less likely to skip it. So sometimes that’s I’m going to have a smoothie for breakfast, like a superfood smoothie, with all these great things in it for breakfast could be that. It could be, I’m going to prep my vegetables on the weekend so I have no excuse not to eat vegetables throughout the week. But whatever it is, you got to hold yourself accountable for doing it because every time you say, I’m going to do this on Monday, and you don’t do it, you chip away your confidence and your ability to do things. And over time, you just start to learn that whatever you say you’re going to do, no, you’re not going to do it. So setting really small goals, I’m going to make my bed tomorrow. Then the next day you wake up, you make your bed, boom, you just gave yourself a tiny bit more confidence that what you say you’re going to do, you’re going to do. And that works itself up to bigger things like I’m gonna run three miles a day, like eventually you can get to a place where you could say that and you believe yourself and you do it. So sorry, I just totally stole that question.
Giacomo: A lot of good points there. For sure. I think the other thing is, once you have that habit, and it’s routine, don’t be afraid to adjust the way that you get the habit done. People get really fixated on routine and structure and schedule when they’re disciplined. And it just does not make room for life. And all kinds of things can and will continue to happen in your life that will throw you off. And some will throw you off against your will and others you will choose to throw yourself out of whack for something or someone. And when that happens, and you can’t do something on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 12pm every week, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do that habit, it means okay, well maybe do it on different days or different times as a simple example. I mean, obviously, it gets a lot deeper than that. If being a check the box kind of person has worked for you, great, good job. It’s a very useful strategy. But sometimes that strategy can also work against you when you need to keep doing something and your habits be more adapted.
Sonya: It sounds like having a plan B if you’re you know if you say I’m going to do this Monday, Wednesday, Friday at noon, but either that constraint makes you resist it even more, which happens some personality types, or just sometimes life happens and gets in the way like having a plan B and having accountability around Plan B whatever that accountability looks like for you. And Dani it sounds like for you, accountability looks like putting it in your calendar and having something to check off. And Giacomo, I heard you say like, yeah, sometimes we might need to change our habits a little bit, but being flexible and knowing that you’re actually doing it and finding what works for you is important too. So what happens if you get off track?
Dani: It happens. So I think a lot of people think that high, high level athletes never fall off track and that is so not true. It totally happens. The most important thing I think is to not beat yourself up about it too much because you can really get stuck in that. You can really get stuck in that negative mindset. And like we’ve said a bunch of times, it’s like life happens. It’s gonna happen. I think once people get out of college and stop doing their college sports, then you know grownup life starts to happen and they’re like, whoa, this didn’t happen when being a student of an athlete was my full time job. But it does. My key thing is just, when you recognize it, try to get back on track at the next interval, whatever that is, maybe you’re on vacation, and you’re just gonna be off track while you’re on vacation. But when you get back, try to get back to the routine as quickly as you can. Maybe it’s like you just realized, a lot of people are, if their goal is to lose weight, they’re like, man, I totally over ate at this Christmas party, rather than be like, screw it, I’m just going to do whatever I want through the weekend, I’ll start again on Monday. No, no, the next meal, the next morning, try to do the next good thing. Don’t restrict don’t swing the pendulum super far in the other direction, just have a healthy, balanced meal. The next time it’s time to have a meal, get your next workout in the next time you’re able to get it in without judgment without ridicule of yourself, I think is really important.
Sonya: Yeah, never miss twice.
Dani: Yes, yeah. If possible, never miss twice. And that, that for me, the same way that we can build habits, we can also build bad habits pretty quickly. And the bad habits seem to build faster than the good habits. So yeah, I don’t like to miss something that’s in my routine more than a couple times, because it’s very easy to have that turn into your new habit. That’s just me. I know, everybody’s different here.
Giacomo: Well, there’s different scenarios in my head, depending on that person who’s fallen off track, if there’s someone who’s done something for a while, I feel like not being afraid to look back at how much you’ve done. Not in terms of oh, I could do this, again, because I’m doing a lot. I’m not losing my progress. But you can sort of plan. You can say, all right, well, in the moment, this feels like this, that’s valid, what am I going to do in the next five years? It’s not going to get undone that easily. I have a path? And how is that path gonna look different from you to continue to get toward my goal. So when I think of someone’s track, I think of their life path, I think of their career. Even when someone comes to me, and they’re very new to whatever their goal is, I say, I want you to be able to do this in a self-guided way for the rest of your life. That is the goal. So to me, even if they don’t have a specific goal, if they’re if they’re “off track” right now, is that it for them? Is that the end of the line? Are you done for the next 20 years? Because if the answer is no, you still have to go after this. And how can you plan ahead while you’re still in it? As far as whatever’s taking you off track? So those are some of my thoughts. I look, I look ahead, rather than overthinking what I’m what I’m working through, that caused me to fall off. And it helps me plan for the future.
Sonya: It’s been great having both of you to get dynamic answers and conversation going. And I think that we’ve talked about a lot of really important things, a lot of actionable takeaways for people, whether they’re into bodybuilding or whether they’re not even an athlete at all, and they just want to make positive changes in their lives. For those people who are interested in bodybuilding or strength training and maybe even building more muscle or getting working with you guys, what kind of stuff is on your website for people to find?
Dani: So on veganstrong.com Ttere’s free recipes, articles, workouts. We have a holiday box right now that we’re probably going to still have through January. But if anybody’s looking to work with us directly veganproteins.com is actually our coaching website. So that’s for plant-based athletes specifically, that’s who we work with. So if anybody’s interested in that, that’s the best place to find us.
Sonya: And you have some courses and you have ebooks book – what’s actually on there?
Dani: So we have a like a kind of get back on track program called the 28 day Overhaul. That’sreally, really accessible to everybody. We have one on one coaching. We have a fat loss course that not just it’s not just like meal plans and workouts, it kind of teaches you how and why fat loss works for the long term. We also have our podcast called Muscles by Brussels radio, if you want to hear any banter about vegan bodybuilding, and we have a YouTube channel Vegan Proteins with lots of high protein vegan recipes, recipe videos on there too.
Sonya: Well, that’s a lot of information for people if they want to continue, you know, growing along their path or if they’re just curious and they want to see what you guys are up to. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing such important and insightful information that is going to help people be better.
Dani: Thank you so much for having us. This was a lot of fun.