: Claudia Cuellar
: 37 DOB 2/28/70 I can't wait to be 38!
: 125 lbs (figure contest weight 115 lbs)
: Chicago, IL USA
: Figure Competitor, Bikram yoga, squash, rock climbing/bouldering, dance
Why did you become vegan?
It has been a two year evolution and it goes something like this; From an early age I was involved in sports and fitness and grew up on SAD - Standard American Diet and firmly believed that muscle came from animal protein, dairy and whey/casein products like Met-Rx, Designer Protein, EAS, Muscle Milk, Russian Bear 5000, etc. (just kidding, I never did RB5K but I have tried almost every protein supplement out there!). In 2005, I was introduced to the work Dr. Hans Diehl and the CHIP program (Coronary Health Improvement Project www.chip.com
) which led me to the work of T. Colin Campbell
and his China Study www.thechinastudy.com
and Dr. Dean Ornish and his Program for Reversing Heart Disease. I then became interested in making some huge lifestyle changes in the way of diet (eliminating dairy and meat) and thought it would be a good idea to do a detox. I did an amazing month-long detox program with Karyn Calabrese www.karynraw.com
who has the longest standing raw food restaurant in the US (she opened six months before Juliano) and is 60 years old and has been vegan for 37 years and raw for 17, and she is GORGEOUS and SEXY! So I'm like, OK I want to be gorgeous and sexy at 60 too - I am going to do whatever Karyn tells me to do! Though I was very interested in looking gorgeous and sexy and in long term health and disease prevention, I was not totally convinced that the plant based diet could support athletic performance and muscle development and held on to egg whites and fish for protein supplementation. UNTIL.... I was walking through a Whole Foods Market
, came across an endcap of Vega product www.myvega.com
and saw the cool logo and Brendan's picture and I thought, Whoa, this stuff looks awesome! When I read Brendan's story and I tried the product, I TOTALLY FELL IN LOVE. Brendan and Vega opened up a whole new world for me where being vegan could be athletic and strong and very very cool - it seemed like anything was possible! Finally, I could compete in figure and nourish and build my body in a healthy/positive/optimal way AND foster long term health and disease prevention.
When and why did you become interested in fitness?
Fitness, sports and any movement based/kinsthetic activity has been my primary passion since I was a child. I was always running and jumping and riding and throwing and hitting and catching and hanging and climbing, WHENEVER I had the chance. I was a gymnast and an ice skater and played on multiple sports teams in grade school, high school and college. It was in college that I discovered the movies, Pumping Iron and Pumping Iron 2, The Women, and my life was changed forever. Rachel McLish was/is the Ultimate Woman and Role Model for me, an icon for female athletes of all types, not just bodybuilders. She embodies strength and feminity, poise, discipline, toughness and yet still a certain softness, the softness that comes from being a woman. From that point forward, the gym was my home, the place where I became strong and created my body, where it was OK to be a girl and lift heavy weights - and I loved hanging out with big muscular dudes! There is nothing like the camaraderie, mutual respect, support and friendship that happens in the hard core/free weight section of a gym. The bigger the muscles, the louder the grunts and the more noise made from dropping big weights, well, that's the place for me. Finally in November 2006, after 16 years of training and trying to find my own path, I walked on stage in my first figure competition at the age of 36 and I did it vegan and raw. It was the proudest moment of my life. I came in 4th place (better posing technique could have gotten me 3rd place) out of 8 girls in both the novice and open divisions - pretty cool for my first competition - and I did it my way! Now that I have my first competition under my belt, I really know what to do for the next one - May 8, 2008 at the Heart of America Natural Classic www.hoanaturalclassic.com
How would you describe your nutrition program?
Vegan and raw, comprised mostly of Vega Chocolate meal replace and salads. My nutritional approach also includes Ionized water (pH 10.0), coconut water, Chlorella and Spirulina (tablet) and Barley Grass (powder), Vega EFA Oil, coconut oil, avocados, dulce, maca, goji berries, fruits, greens, nuts, seeds, sprouts, bananas, dates and of course raw cacao!
When not competing, I do one to two Vega shakes a day, one big salad a day and a couple of snacks. Closer to competition (about 8 weeks out), I eat 5-6 smaller meals on a more structured time schedule, every 2.5 to 3 hours, alternating between 1/2 servings of Chocolate Vega with 1 teaspoon of Vega EFA Oil and chlorella/spirulina tablets (5 tablets @ 500 miligrams = 2,500 miligrams or 2.5 grams). I have one big salad a day and try to be more diligent about ionized water intake throughout the day as well.
How would you describe your training program?
In a word, multidisciplinary. Traditional strength training, functional training, bodyweight training, plyometrics, cardio in the form of running, cycling/spin classes, dance and squash and offloading/recovery activities include yoga, swimming, Power Plate and inversions/inversion table work. Since my next figure competition is on May 3, 2008, this gives me a nice 16 week cycle to work with. I will do more cardio and leaning the first month, build more the second month, tweak specific body parts the third month and practice posing/stage presence and nourish on a very very tight schedule the last few weeks leading up to competition. Sleep is an important part of my training as well.
What kind of supplements do you use if any, and why?
Vega, which isn't supplement but just milled whole food. My lifestyle is very active and busy and I don't really want to think/worry about food all day. I do Vega Chocolate meal replace as a snack or meal in the am and/or lunch or after training. It is a great blend of hemp protein, brown rice protein, yellow pea protein, Omega 3 and 6, fiber, vitamins/minerals, probiotics, digestive enzymes, maca and chlorella. It is not just protein or greens but a really nice balance of all the things I need to nourish, build and help my body recover from training. I also love taking chlorella, spriulina, barley grass for added chlorophyll and protein.
What are some common misconceptions about veganism?
Ask me two years ago what I thought about vegans and I would have thought of a non-athletic person, skinny fat, no muscle with yoga being their only athletic endeavor possible. I grew up very traditionally and in a hard core athletic and gym environment. I loved hanging around with plate heads and big muscular dudes. I worship Arnold and Rachel and Cory and Kiana. I never thought being vegan and having muscles could ever go together.
What do you think the most important aspect of fitness is?
The most important thing is EVERYTHING you do. Fitness includes exercise, nutrition, flexibility work/yoga, adequate sleep, adequate hydration, positive mental attitude, meditation, visualization/intention.
What do you like best about being vegan?
The way I feel and look. I really feel great and I look better than ever - I can't wait to be 40! For the first time in my life, I have confidence in who I am as a person, inside and out.
What do you like best about being fit?
The confidence that it gives me. I want to be an inspiration to women, to show them that they can use strength training to be strong on the outside which builds confidence on the inside. Exercise/strength training/being in the gym BUILDS CONFIDENCE!
What are your strengths as an athlete?
My strength as an athlete is that I LOVE being an athletic/kinesthetic person. Training for me is FUN - anytime I am moving/challenging/pushing my body, I am HAPPY. When it comes to fitness/sports/exercise/training, I LOVE IT ALL!!!!
What advice do you have for vegan athletes who are just starting out?
Find a vegan athlete you admire and follow their example - for me it was Brendan Brazier, his example and experience was such an inspiration for me. Find your vegan role model!
What advice do you have for people who are thinking of becoming vegan?
Read two books; by Brendan Brazier, Thrive Diet (www.thrivediet.com
) and T. Colin Campbell
, The China Study (www.thechinastudy.com
). Those two books have had the most influence on me and leave very little room for doubt without being freaky or preachy.
What motivates you to continue to be a successful vegan athlete?
In the world of figure competition, to show that it's possible to compete in a healthy positive way and not abuse the body through crash dieting, dehydration and acidic foods which acheive the short term stage result but with long term physiological damage.
How has the website www.veganbodybuilding.com helped or inspired you?
To know that there is a community of vegan athletes out there that are setting an example and inspiring others and providing a network of support for each other. Thank you Robert for creating this website and community!