Victoria Lissack, vegan bodybuilder
Victoria Lissack competes in bodybuilding. In a short time she’s made an impression on the sport. She’s competed in three shows so far: twice with the WBFF in the Fitness Model class in 2015 (placing third in her first show and sixth two months later at the World championships) and once with the NPC in 2017. After testing the waters in Bikini, she is now preparing for her first competitive season in NPC Figure.
She recently left a successful career as a litigation attorney after almost ten years to concentrate on her love for all things veganism, fitness and wellness.
“I consider my greatest achievement so far to be building my physique to a point that I feel confident competing in the Figure division of the NPC” she says. “Although I’ve been training for a fairly long time I came to the sport of bodybuilding relatively late. 2019 will be my first season competing in this class and I can’t wait to see how I get on.”
“I went vegan at the beginning of January 2016 after experimenting with a plant-based diet for a few weeks” Victoria told Great Vegan Athletes.
“Vegetarianism and veganism have always interested me” she says. “I was a dairy-free vegetarian for several years in my late teens/early 20s - not for any specific reason but because I just developed an inherent dislike for meat and for dairy. As I became more interested in fitness and heavy weight lifting, I bought into the idea that one needs animal products, and in particular animal protein, for optimal body composition.
“I reintroduced certain dairy products, meat and fish, basically adopting a “Paleo” diet, which I stuck to for many years. I dealt with my squeamishness by buying organic, grass-fed, locally sourced, etc. - convinced that this made all the difference ethically and from a health perspective. I’m sorry to say that the impact of animal agriculture and fishing on the environment just hadn’t occurred to me.
“At the end of my first competitive bodybuilding season in 2015 I was feeling what I think is best described as ‘dirty on the inside’ and extremely run down. I was tired all the time, my digestion was suffering, my skin, hair and nails were weak and my atopic eczema was flaring up – I knew bodybuilding diets were extreme and demanding on the body, but everything just felt ‘off’. I decided to put myself on a ‘nutritional detox’ for a few weeks. As part of this, I removed all animal products. The change in diet corresponded with a trip to visit family in Australia, where I was able to experience some really incredible vegan food. I started to feel really good again - very quickly.
“At the same time, conversations with a friend and fellow physique competitor who had recently switched to a vegan diet and lifestyle encouraged me to educate myself about the ethical, environmental and health arguments in favour of veganism. I started to read and watch everything I could find online. I was surprised by how deeply the video footage in particular affected me. It was like a switch was flicked and I immediately knew I knew too much to go back to my old diet and lifestyle. I went vegan first and figured the details out afterwards.
“Although I was primarily moved by the ethical issues, my decision to go vegan was affirmed by what I learnt about the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet.”
Now there’s no compromise.
“I am a committed ethical vegan” says Victoria. “This means that I not only never consume animal products but that I do not buy cosmetics, supplements, household products, clothes or other items that contain animal products or derivatives or that are tested on animals or otherwise involve animal exploitation. I strive to live a totally cruelty free lifestyle, 100% of the time.”
It’s a lifestyle which has to fuel Victoria’s demands. She describes her training as a mix of bodybuilding-style lifting, yoga and cardio.
“My lifting stays the same year-round, regardless of whether I am building or prepping for a contest – the only difference is that during contest prep I add an extra session each week (so am lifting six days a week instead of five). On top of that I layer different types of yoga depending on how I’m feeling (a certified yoga instructor and practitioner for over 15 years, today I switch between Bikram, Power and Yin styles) and do some type of cardio most days (the protocol changes depending on where I am in relation to a contest, but at the moment I’m doing a short HIIT session followed by 20 minutes of low intensity, steady state work)."
Eating to win
Victoria is gluten free as she was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2017. She concentrates on simple foods with higher protein levels and low levels of oil.
“I do eat some soy but avoid processed soy or soy isolates. I top up my protein requirements and keep things interesting with a few carefully chosen meat alternative products. Somewhat unusually for a vegan, I don’t eat a huge amount of fruit as I don’t function well on a high fruit diet (I stick to berries day to day) but I do eat loads of veggies.
“For carbohydrates, I tend to choose sweet potatoes, oats, buckwheat, rice and quinoa, for fats I opt for different types of nuts/nut butters, pumpkin seeds, avocados, nut milks and coconut and for protein I combine the ‘incidental’ protein that I get from the veggies and other foods I eat with non-GMO tempeh, plant-based protein ‘thick shakes’ or desserts, minimally processed meat alternatives and, occasionally, non-GMO tofu. I season all my food with plenty of herbs and spices, lemon and lime juice and sriracha (and if I want something sweet I use stevia). Recently I have started incorporating more fermented and sprouted foods into my diet.
“My absolute favourite food is raw, so I eat as much raw food as possible and if I’m looking for a treat or a meal out I will always hit up the raw vegan places first!”
Succeeding and making an impact means that Victoria is breaking stereotypes, although she’s had to fight against some of some of them before.
“When I first went vegan, I did find it difficult to find a contest prep coach who was comfortable coaching me as a vegan and knowledgeable enough with regards to plant-based nutrition to make sure I got a good balance of micronutrients, didn’t rely too heavily on processed foods, etc. I worked unsuccessfully with a few different coaches before my current coach John Meadows and I started working together. My vegan diet is second nature to us both now and last season I achieved my best condition yet. Despite my experience, from speaking to other vegan athletes and coaches it definitely seems that the vegan diet is becoming increasingly mainstream and that more and more coaches are able to cater for it, which is great news.”
“Other people are usually surprised when they find out I’m a vegan because they associate vegans with a ‘skinny’ frame and I’m stronger and more muscular. I love challenging the vegan stereotype!”