I'm very excited to share this interview with you! Erin Fergus is one of my teammates on the Plantbuilt Vegan Muscle Team, and she totally cleaned up at our event at the Naturally Fit Games in Austin, TX last month by bringing home two 1st place trophies! 

I hope her story inspires you as it has me, and look for more awesome interviews with other members of Team Plantbuilt in the very near future!

Enjoy!
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Erin dominating the stage at the 2014 Naturally Fit Games! Photo by Donovan Jenkins
Scott Shetler
Tell us a little about yourself.

Erin Fergus
I’m a 31 year old personal training instructor at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, SC. I grew up in  southeast AL before moving to Pensacola, FL, to get a B.S. and M.S. in exercise science. I lived there a total of 11 years working as a YMCA fitness director, personal trainer, group fitness instructor (mostly Spinning) and adjunct college instructor before landing my current career (aka dream job!) in December 2012. My certifications are ACSM Health Fitness Specialist and NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. I am also in the process of completing an online master’s degree in journalism from the University of Memphis.

SS
When, and why, did you switch to a vegan lifestyle?


EF
I grew up in the country in southeast AL and was surrounded by dogs, cats, bunnies, hamsters, horses, fish and even chickens at one point. My parents taught me to love animals and nature, and I spent most of my childhood thinking I would grow up to be a vet who could barely scrape by because she’d offer all spaying and neutering for free. Although I went to college for exercise science, it was the summer before college, in 2001, that I traveled to Washington, D.C. and saw some PETA posters and demonstrations. All it took was one picture of a cow’s face behind bars for me to say, “I’m an adult now, and I can choose to not eat my friends.” I told my parents the next day I’d stop eating chicken, pig, turkey and cow, and  I did. I was a pescetarian because I ate fresh caught Gulf seafood on occasion. By 2007 I had phased out seafood, eggs, and all other animal products at home and only ate dairy when I was in restaurants. I also became more educated about animal welfare and phased out products that weren’t eco-friendly or contributed to animal cruelty. March 1, 2013 I decided there really was no excuse for me to not be 100% plant-based and to be as much of an animal advocate as I could. Before then I mostly kept my lifestyle to myself, but now I make sure to promote it as best and as often as I can.

I don’t want ANY animal to ever suffer or be in pain. I could never go back to consuming animal products, and I hope to keep putting myself out there and engaging in more activism in the future.  

SS
What types of fitness competitions do you participate in?


EF
My “top” sport right now is bodybuilding (physique and bodybuilding categories), but I am a competitive person and strive to be a well rounded athlete. I tried adventure racing and powerlifting in last year’s off season, so I would like to take that more seriously in this year’s offseason. I also began running again after a knee injury last year. I was a runner and triathlete from 2007-2010 but would like to get into trail running now that I live in the terrain for it. In my dream world I would begin training for American Ninja Warrior, but a more realistic goal would be to win the constant battle of adding more stretching, foam rolling and yoga into my life!

SS
What is your competition history and have you won any titles?


EF
  • June 2013 - Carolina Supernatural, Spartanburg, SC, 6th place figure medium
  • June 2013 - OCB Emerald Coast Classic, Ft. Walton Beach, FL, 1st place novice figure short, 4th place open figure short
  • August 2013 - OCB Presidential Cup, Baltimore, MD, 3rd place open fitness model
  • June 2014 - Carolina Supernatural, Spartanburg, SC, 3rd place heavyweight women’s bodybuilding, 4th place figure medium
  • July 2014 - Naturally Fit Games, Austin, TX, 1st place open fit body, 1st place novice heavyweight bodybuilding
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March 22, 2013
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July 26, 2014 - Photo by Donovan Jenkins
Erin is proof that it is possible to build muscle, burn fat, dominate the stage, and experience abundant health by eating plants!
SS
How did you become involved with Team Plantbuilt?

EF
I followed vegetarian and vegan endurance athletes while I competed in triathlon, so I was already aware of and somewhat connected to the vegan fitness community. I saw Plantbuilt being discussed online, so I set trying to make the team for 2014 as a long term goal when I started competing in spring 2013. I remember staying home on the day of the 2013 Naturally Fit Super Show and constantly checking social media for updates. I competed several times so I could gain experience and strengthen my application. I was honored and humbled to be chosen by the 2013 team from a pool of applicants to be on the 2014 team.  

SS
What does your in-season diet currently look like and how has it evolved since you started competing?


EF
My in-season diet is made up of six meals per day, which is the same frequency I’ve done for years, and my lowest daily caloric intake is about 1750. I hadn’t worked with a nutrition coach last year and had never even tracked what I ate until working with Dani Taylor this spring. I tracked several days of what I was eating in the off season and was easily consuming 3,000 calories or more. We started there for my 15-week prep and gradually tapered down, and she introduced me to carb cycling, which my body responded to well. My vegetable consumption has increased greatly from my unstructured off season, and that helps with cravings because I have become accustomed to turning to green stuff when I’m hungry. I like the simplicity of eating similar meals, and my staples throughout have been oats, berries, tofu, quinoa, TVP, nuts and nut butters, grapefruit, kale, spinach, nooch, and protein powders. Oh, and lots and lots of salsa, pickles, mustard, liquid aminos, caffeine-free hot tea, pepper, garlic, and every flavor of Mrs. Dash!  

SS
What is your favorite off-season treat?


EF
This question really should say “treats”! I have a “freezer stash” that I have collected since the spring of treats that I will ration out throughout the fall and winter. I’m on a mission to bake all the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World flavors and do one batch a month, so a majority of the stash are those. It’s also sprinkled with limited edition Oreo flavors because life just wouldn’t be complete without sampling them all! My “pantry stash,” which a friend keeps, is full of fancy vegan popcorn, coconut bacon, flavored dark chocolate bars and dates. So clearly I don’t have a favorite. I’d be happy with anything from vegan pancakes or waffles to coconut-based ice cream to Mellow Mushroom vegan calzones to maybe just hand me a sampler container of Sweet & Sara marshmallows and we’ll call it even...

My major goal for this off season is to work in one weekly treat that I fully savor. I’m working to have a healthier than ever relationship with food, and I fully agree with the notion that people should eat whatever occasional treat they want as long as no animals are harmed in the process!

SS
Have you experienced any benefits (improved health, recovery, ability to train harder, etc) since switching to a vegan diet?


EF
My health has always been great, but the biggest difference is improved performance and recovery specifically after adding more green vegetables into my diet. The kale, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts keep my body more alkaline, which I’ve noticed decreases my lactic acid accumulation during training and inflammation and soreness after. I train seven days a week without rest days, and I doubt I could handle that training load without my plant-based diet. I also swear that my hair grows faster now, I wear less make-up than I ever have, and I regularly get told I look like I’m 24 or 25. I’ll take it!
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Erin makes ring training look easy!
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Erin likes to hang out in nature when not in the gym!
SS
What does your training schedule look like?

EF
In the offseason I train once a day, usually six or seven days a week, and usually the only cardio is a short warm up before lifting. During prep I usually do two workouts a day Monday through Thursday and once a day the other days so I can fit in all the strength training and cardio I need. I am lucky to work in a college fitness center and teach future personal trainers, because part of their graduation requirement is to train people in the final semester. I volunteer so I don’t have to try to go to the gym after work (my least favorite time to be there!)

The training schedule I’ve had for a while is Monday - legs and abs, Tuesday - back and bi, Wednesday - chest, tri, shoulders, Thursday - hips, glutes, abs, Friday - back and bi, Saturday - plyo and abs, Sunday - random mix of stuff which can include bench, deadlifts, pull ups, rowing, heavy ropes, and at least one or two exercises for each other upper body muscle group. I plan on completely overhauling that split in the offseason and adding in more Olympic and strong man movements.  

SS
What is your favorite body part and exercise to train? Least favorite?


EF
I’ve been asked this question several times and it’s still hard to answer. If I had to choose one as being the ultimate, it would be back day because that’s when I move some of the heaviest weight. But really, there isn’t a single day that I don’t look forward to because all seven days that I strength train are different. Right now I’m enjoying training biceps, abs, and hips/glutes because they are the areas I’ve built up the most this season. Being able to target specific areas that need improvement and then sculpting them the way you want them is a fascinating and rewarding process.

Specific exercises that I enjoy the most are any form of pulldowns and rows (the more variation the better, and best when the weight is so heavy that the machine tries to pull me out of the seat!), deficit sumo squats (standing on two platforms and holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in the middle), weighted hip thrusters (usually with Smith machine for convenience), and forced preacher curl negatives (using a moderate weight, a partner tries to pull the bar down while I resist it, and then at the bottom she lets go and I bring it up quickly.)

As far as least favorite, whenever I find myself thinking “I don’t want to do that,” I automatically challenge myself to at least try it for one set. That’s my rule, and it works! If there is any exercise that I think might give me trouble, I put it at the beginning of the workout when I’m my strongest.

SS
You did exceptionally well this year at the 2014 Naturally Fit Games, bringing home 1st place wins in two different events. Tell us a little about that experience.


EF
It seems like the theme of that competition was redemption. Three of my other teammates took home their first big 1st place wins, and several others placed higher than before. It’s a beautiful thing to watch hard work pay off!

I’m usually standing on an auditorium stage with a perma-grin while the lights blind me from anything but the judges down in front of me. This was in the convention center, the stage was smaller, and the lighting allowed me to see my teammates in the front row cheering for me. I haven’t placed in the top of most of my previous competitions, and I took last place in two classes in a show six weeks  before the Plantbuilt show. It was a “warm up,” and I knew I wasn’t contest ready. I’m still thankful for doing it because I proved to my students the importance of following up on your commitments and doing what you say you’re going to do. Because of this, I have a humble approach to competing. I tell myself in my mind that I’m going to place last and be ready to smile when I receive the news. That’s what I did for both classes at the NFG, and it was a shock to hear I took 1st place. My eyes teared up for the first class because I could see some of my teammates getting emotional and others were cheering like crazy. For the second class I wanted to jump up and down because it was the ultimate achievement.

I accepted those trophies for myself and my team, but I also accepted them in honor of the first judges who ever gave me feedback. They told me I had a LOT of work to do to ever be competitive because I had a straight torso and thick waist. The first thing I said to my teammates was, “From the bottom to the top,” and it wouldn’t have felt so fantastic if I hadn’t been used to not placing in the top. I compete because I love the challenge, though, and I’d keep doing it even if I never placed first again.  

SS
One thing I noticed is your physique is well balanced, how important is symmetry in physique competition and how does it vary from bodybuilding, to figure, to bikini, etc?


EF
Now that’s a huge compliment considering the aforementioned judges’ feedback! The main criteria the judges look for in all the bodybuilding categories include balance/symmetry/proportion (meaning that the top and bottom, right and left sides, and front and back of the body seem to “match” each other), conditioning (leanness and muscularity), and posing/presentation (how accurately you hit the mandatory poses and how confident you appear on stage.) The body types and areas of the body that are scored vary greatly between the classes. The bikini competitors typically have a “softer” look but are still very lean (but not muscular), and the main areas they are judged are the upper back, waist, glutes and legs. A figure competitor has more muscle and needs to have a “V taper” - deltoid “caps” on the shoulder, wide lats/upper back that “flare out,” a narrow waist, a curve in the hip and a lean leg. The physique class is the newest and is a segway between figure and bodybuilding. The posing has “open hands” instead of closed fists, and the muscularity is not as pronounced as on bodybuilders, but all the muscle groups are taken into consideration. Bodybuilding requires competitors to be the most lean, with a “harder” look, poses are with the hands in fists, and the body should have an “X” shape of a wide upper back and thick legs.

Although I don’t want to give up on competing in figure, my body type is better suited to physique and bodybuilding. I prefer the fluidity of the posing, using my dance background to create posing routines for the night show, and being able to go barefoot instead of cramming my feet into 5” heels.
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Erin showing some love for the powerlifts!
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Erin taking on the Spartan Beast!
SS
Why is it important for people to consider a vegan lifestyle?


EF
I knew that my decision to go vegan wouldn’t end all cruelty, but I know that my actions make a difference and create a ripple effect. A vegan lifestyle is one that is informed, aware and compassionate. We try to create as little harm and impact on the planet, and we make this choice because we know that animals were not put here to be factory farmed, worn, tested on, or used for entertainment. I see so many things that make me ashamed of humans, but connecting with other vegans has shown me that goodness still exists.

Even if someone doesn’t make the ethical connection right away (although many people eventually do), the health benefits are undeniable. I am vegan 100% for the animals, but I am comforted by knowing that I have a reduced risk for cancer and other diseases in my family history. My diet allows me to train as hard as I want, but it also makes me feel “clean” because no living creature had to be confined or killed for me to fuel my workouts. I’m in the best shape of my life, and it gets better as I get older.

I try my hardest to not be the “preachy” vegan that all omnivores fear. I have been exposed to so many delicious fruits, vegetables and grains that I never knew of before changing my diet, and I love to show other people how vibrant and delicious my food is. I show them how strong I am inside and out and how much I thrive on plants and whole foods. I consider the lifestyle a gift that you give to yourself, the animals, and the environment. Several of my students, my supervisor, and some of my family members have made steps to becoming more plant based, and it’s wonderful to see them enjoying it and feeling better. If it’s the single best thing you can do for everyone involved, why wouldn’t you?

SS
What do you like to do with your free time when you are not in the gym?


EF
What’s free time?! I try to spend as much time as I can with my 10 year old Cocker Spaniel, Jezabel. I love reading, so I actually read a book while walking her to save time (I know it’s weird, but I’ve been doing it for years and have never hurt myself!) I am trying to visit every hiking spot and waterfall within a three-hour drive because I love escaping and decompressing in nature on the weekends. I don’t do it enough, but I’ve played piano for 25 years and try to do that when I can. I have kept a journal since I was 11 and keep up with that every week or two. I try to reserve watching Hulu and Netflix for when I’m doing food prep, but I’ll admit I’m a fan of horror movies, documentaries and trashy reality shows. I still have plenty of interests that fall on my “if I had time” list, such as learning how to play more instruments, taking pole fitness classes, writing a novel, and cooking and baking with protein powder, among others.  

SS
What does the future hold for you?


EF
I am floored by how much I changed my physique from March 2013 to July 2014, so my main goal is to see how much I can continue to develop it for the 2015 season. Between now and then I hope to complete some adventure races and trail races, set new powerlifting PRs, do yoga regularly, settle into a routine of structured eating during the week and cooking and baking my heart out on the weekends, and hiking and exploring SC, NC and TN as much as possible. I’m also really enjoying my work with the Definition for Ladies magazine team and hoping to seek out more writing opportunities. As far as education, I also have the plant-based nutrition certificate and a PhD in exercise science in the back of my mind...

SS
Is there anything you would like to add for our readers?


EF
I have seemingly endless motivation to push myself and to train, and it all comes from wanting to fight the good fight for the animals. Any time I need extra motivation I visualize the horrible animal cruelty footage that is permanently in my memory. I remind myself that I have choices and so many freedoms that so many creatures don’t. I know it’s morbid, but I channel the anger I have toward how animals are treated into my workouts, and it provides fuel for my fire. Being able to compete with Plantbuilt showed me that I now have a family who feels the same way. We will train harder and last longer in this sport because our motivation is far greater than looking good on stage.  

If you would like to connect with me and follow my journey, I can be found on Facebook as Fergielicious, the Girly Vegan Bodybuilder and IG @veganfergiefitness. I am featured in the Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine trainer directory and can be emailed directly for online consultation/training services at fergie823@gmail.com.  
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Team Plantbuilt members: Christian Garcia, Dani Taylor, Erin Fergus, Ashlee Harrison, and Giacomo Marchese
SS
Thanks for your time Erin, and best of luck to you in all of your future endeavors!


EF
You’re welcome! Thanks for letting me share my story with you!

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First, and foremost, we do what we do for the animals! If you would like to help Plant-Based Performance please click here and buy a print copy, or ebook download, of our book "Plant-Based Performance: A Compassionate Approach to Health and Fitness" - 100% of all book sales go to benefit Mercy For Animals.

Thank you all for your support and helping us promote a compassionate lifestyle!

-Scott