Published by Ashley Palmer.

The following article was written by Ashley Palmer.

In this exclusive interview, Michelle Risley offers us an inside look at her vegan lifestyle and her preparations as a competitive female bodybuilder. A dynamic and inspiring individual, Michelle has dedicated her life to health and fitness. She provides an excellent example of a plant-strong life! Read below to learn more about her and get some advice if you’re looking to beef up (without the beef!) in 2012.

When and why did you first decide to go vegan?
I have always considered myself to be a huge animal lover. In 1999, I came across the documentary Meet Your Meat. To say that I was appalled and horrified would be a gross understatement. As I sat in tears watching what these beautiful, feeling animals went through in order to become my food, I began to question my so-called love for animals. Somehow, I had managed to live my entire life up to that point with a huge disconnect to the fact that, while I loved some animals, I completely disregarded those designated as “food.” It dawned on me that if I couldn’t imagine one of my beloved feline companions going through the horror and cruelty that “food” animals must endure, then how could I accept or participate in that treatment of ANY animal?!! I knew that I could no longer be a part of so much cruelty. I became a vegetarian that day! It took a few years for me to become vegan, which came as a result of learning the truth about the egg and dairy industries. Over time, I also learned of many other industries and businesses that exploit and abuse animals. To me, being vegan is as much a lifestyle as it is a dietary choice. It is a continual awareness as to what my actions and choices contribute to, as well as an intent to cause the least harm and live as kindly and compassionately as I possibly can. The health and environmental benefits of being vegan are also a nice bonus!

What was the biggest change that you experienced when you switched to a plant-based diet?
I felt a lightness and inner peace that I had never felt before. And physically, especially after completely giving up dairy, I realized just how drained and sluggish I had felt my entire life up to that point.

What is your favorite vegan meal?
Honestly, I don’t really have a favorite meal. But Thai, Ethiopian, and Indian are probably my favorite cuisines.

How frequently do you work out, and what do these workouts usually entail?
My training is a combination of weight training, cardio, and yoga. How much of each I’m doing just depends on my goals at the time.

Pre-contest training:
Cardio six days per week, alternating days of 30 minutes of pre-breakfast (low intensity) with 30 minutes of post-workout (high intensity intervals). If I’m not losing enough body fat as I get closer to the date of a show, I will do some “two-a-days” with both types of cardio in the same day.

Weight training five days per week:
Day 1: Chest/delts
Day 2: Quads/glutes
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Back/rear delts
Day 5: Bis/tris /abs
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Hams/glutes

Off-season training: 
I only do two to three days of cardio, alternating days of 30 minutes of pre-breakfast (low intensity) with 20 minutes of post-workout (high intensity intervals). I let my weight and how I’m eating guide me here. So it can vary somewhat from week to week, depending if I begin to lose weight or if I just “feel” like doing more or less.

Weight training, four days per week:
Day 1: Chest/tris
Day 2: Back/bis
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Delts/abs
Day 5: Legs/glutes
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest

What advice do you have for other people who want to lead an active and healthy lifestyle?
Educate yourself. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. But most of all, be patient and kind with yourself. You may not be perfect at first; it’s the intention that counts. If you stray off-course, recommit and begin again. Being healthy and injury-free is most important in any fitness program, regardless of your goals. If you’re a beginner, start out slow. We all began somewhere, and we all have to progress at our own pace. Use other people as inspiration, but don’t compare yourself to others. Give yourself a new (small) goal to reach every week or so. That way, it isn’t as overwhelming as trying to do everything that first couple of weeks. And choose an activity or sport that you enjoy doing. Then have fun doing it!

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