By Haley Cahill
Feb. 2, 2015. Walk into Anytime Fitness in Boone and you may hear the gentle buzz of cardio machines, rock music playing quietly throughout the gym and clinking iron weights. Beyond the treadmills and stationary bikes, you will find Shauna Godwin, personal trainer and vegan body builder, lifting heavier weights than many of her male counterparts.
While the Anytime Fitness trainer can easily lift hundreds of pounds, the road to bodybuilding was not always an easy one. With a lifelong passion for dancing, Godwin said she always tried to maintain a slim figure of a dancer, which later resulted in body dysmorphia and an eating disorder.
Veganism is a diet without any animal products, such as meat, eggs or dairy. Animal products are high in protein, which contains amino acids that are vital to growth, development and cell repair.
Intense exercising, like weight lifting, causes microscopic tears in muscles. The body relies on amino acids from protein sources to repair the tears and rebuild the muscles, which in turn increases the size and strength of the muscles. Because vegan diets do not include high protein sources like milk, eggs and meat, there are critics that suggest that vegans do not get adequate amounts of protein to properly build and repair cells.
Once Godwin was able to find the right balance of macro and micronutrients in her diet, though, she shifted her primary focus from food to fitness. She began participating in programs such as P90X and Insanity, and found her way into the gym shortly after.
“I used to hate the gym, actually; it was like, the worst thing ever,” Godwin said.
“But then, once I started to figure out how to lift weights properly, I found a different love for it.”
While Godwin’s passion for fitness developed several years ago, she attributes her interest in bodybuilding to Pilates and its developer, Joseph Pilates, a well-known bodybuilder.
“I studied Pilates when I was at App[alachian State University] and that inspired me to lift more because I started to feel stronger and I started to understand my body more and how muscles work,” Godwin said. “After I did that, [weight] lifting was a totally different animal.”
From there, Godwin took her weight lifting program to the next level and became a competitive body builder.
By definition, bodybuilding is the act of doing exercises, like weight lifting, to make the muscles of your body stronger and larger, but Godwin said many people are unaware of this and have a stereotype that all bodybuilders are extremely bulky.
“To me, it’s exactly what it is – you’re building your body,” Godwin said. “It’s just like when you build a house. Just because you’re building a house, doesn’t mean you’re building a mansion or a castle; you could be building a shack. You’re customizing your body to whatever it is that you want it to be.”
Bodybuilding is not just a lifestyle for Godwin; it’s a sport. Godwin trains and competes in the “bikini” category of bodybuilding competitions and said that her vegan lifestyle contributes to her overall success and performance.
“I never feel weak or like I can’t muster out another set,” Godwin said. “I lift heavy.”
Vegans make up a small percentage of bodybuilders, said Melissa Bryan, nutrition and healthcare lecturer at Appalachian State. Bryan said building muscle requires adequate amounts of protein and macro and micronutrients, so vegan bodybuilders must educate themselves and be very conscientious when it comes to their diet.
“They have to be a lot more purposeful and thoughtful about their eating,” Bryan said. “I don’t think you’ll find a lot of vegan bodybuilders just because it’s hard, but it can be done.”
Godwin said that when she started competing, she received criticism from people about her diet, but she has never let that hold her back. SHe said diets are personal choices, just like religion and how you raise your children, and she said she wouldn’t let the judgements of others change her choice to be a vegan bodybuilder.
“I had a coach for my last competition, and I was so scared to tell him that I was a vegan because I thought for sure he would say I would have to change my diet, and of course I was going to say no.”
Godwin was a vegan long before she began bodybuilding and said she didn’t have to change her diet much, nor did she want to, when she started lifting heavy weights to stay healthy and achieved her desired results.
“I have friends that legitimately think I don’t eat, and that’s all I do all day!” Godwin said.
Raw fruits and vegetables, black beans, chick peas, buts and tofu are key ingredients in Godwin’s vegan diet. She said she can more easily build muscle because she is getting all the vitamins and minerals her body needs from fruits and vegetables. Additionally, Godwin said she has never been protein deficient.
“You’re still getting protein,” she said. “You’re just not getting crazy amounts of it.”
The body can only handle so much protein before it starts to reject it. To build muscle, the body needs amino acids, which are readily available in raw fruits and vegetables, without having to go through a middleman, which is protein, Godwin said.
Bryan agreed with Godwin and said that most people go overboard with protein because the United States is a country that has access to plenty of animal products, so it’s not as common for people to rely on a grain-based diet. However, Bryan and Godwin agreed that veganism is becoming more mainstream and accepted.
Godwin has overcome many personal struggles with her vegan bodybuilding lifestyle and continues to train and prepare for upcoming competitions.
Photos by Haley Cahill