Today, Vegucated’s Community Manager, Ashlee Piper is chatting with Rea Frey, the charming, ultra-fit author of the new book, Power Vegan. If you’re not already familiar with Rea, you should be.
She’s an author, certified nutrition specialist, and International Sports Sciences Association trainer. Her writing and wellness tips have been featured in Fitness, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Whole Living magazines. She’s also a new mom to a beautiful little (vegan) baby, Sophie, and she blogs about workout routines, recipes, and life as a vegan mom at www.reafrey.com.
When I first met Rea, it was via the internet. She’s the kind of person whose warm personality makes you instantly know that you’re going to be friends. When we met in a Chicago coffee shop, adorable Sophie in tow, my hunch was correct.
Rea is fun, kind, knowledgeable, and judging by her seriously svelte, muscular figure and glowing skin, this chick knows what’s up when it comes to vegan health and fitness. We sat down with her to get the skinny on her new book, Power Vegan (Agate Surrey) out now in stores and online.
AP: I love it when books boldly embrace the word “vegan” in the title. What made you decide to use that word, when other authors are opting to use terms like “plant-powered,” “plant-based,” etc?
RF: Ironically, I always say I am a “plant eater,” but I feel that “vegan” really does embrace a lifestyle. I want to break the stereotype that to be vegan means you’re pale, weak, thin, and malnourished. You can be strong as a vegan. You can have muscle and luminous skin and not be a weird hippie creature who freaks everyone out or eats “rabbit” food. I want to embrace the term and make it cool again. Vegans are cool, dammit!
AP: Heck yeah, we’re cool! And it’s very evident from reading Power Vegan that you are a maestra of all things plant-powered. How long have you been vegan?
RF: I’ve been vegan for 15 years (collectively), though I had a brief lapse in my mid-twenties when I went back to eating meat and eggs for a few years (I blame it on head trauma – I must have been insane). Ironically, the meat-eating years were the ones I felt the most stressed, incurred a few injuries, and felt generally pretty yucky.
AP: Power Vegan features cute anecdotes about you and your husband deciding to go vegan, but what reason really pushed you to make the transition?
RF: Since I was eating meat when my hubby and I met, I just found myself feeling very lethargic. I was staying sore after my workouts, holding a bit of extra weight, and I was pretty sluggish. After reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I decided I wanted to return to my plant eating roots (I first went plant-based at 13) to see how I felt. Though I was a vegan for many years, I now had the knowledge and tools to make sure I covered all my nutritional bases for my husband and myself. The results were incredible.
AP: Power Vegan takes a holistic approach to wellness. (i.e. focusing on emotional, physical, situational factors and how they relate to health). Tell me about your background and why you approach fitness and wellness in this way?
RF: I’ve always been interested in health. In my twenties, I was eating well and working out like a fiend, but I was in an unhappy relationship and beyond stressed. Because of that emotional strife, I didn’t feel healthy, no matter what I shoved into my mouth. So I started approaching health in a whole mind/body way that extended to all areas of my life. I began to approach clients the same way. To be healthy means more than what the scale says. It’s more than a dress size or a good job or a happy relationship. All of these areas come together to create wellness. We can work out maniacally but eat like crap (or vice versa). We can be in miserable relationships or jobs, which affect health. Or we can have a child who is the most active child in the world and squeals like a hyena and never stops moving and takes up your entire bed so you don’t sleep for a year, which makes you extremely tired (oh wait, that’s me!). You have to look at all aspects to get the full picture of health.
AP: Many chapters in the book ask the reader to do self-assessments. Why do you feel this is so important?
RF: Everyone wants a quick fix or a magic pill, but we are all different. I’ve had clients say, “But my friend did this diet and she saw results.” Or, “Yeah, but my sister does Pilates and she’s super slim, so if I do it, I’ll get the same results, right?” Or, “My friend only eats chicken breasts and veggies. That’s healthy, isn’t it?” And I tell people this all the time: We are all different. You have to pay attention to your body and the signals it sends you. Just because I feel great being vegan doesn’t mean you will.
Tune in, especially after you eat. When people take the time to sit down and study their habits with nutrition, fitness, or just in daily life, they often discover a lurking culprit (Wait, I eat cheese how many times per day?! I only exercise for thirty minutes and then eat a huge dinner out every night! I only eat one meal! I really do hate my job! My eyes get puffy after I eat wheat! Some of my friends are negative creatures who are the suckers of fun!) It’s pretty amazing when you drown out the noise and tune in to yourself what you may find.
AP: In the book, you talk a lot about ‘Power Foods.’ We hear about super foods and good-for-you foods, but what are some of your favorite power foods and why?
RF: I think that any food that comes from the ground is powerful in some way. Eating foods that don’t have an ingredient list is key. It’s what nature intended. Berries, kale, collards, sea veggies, raw, cacao beans, coconut oil, sprouted nuts and seeds, hemp, lemons, apple cider vinegar, black seed… These are my daily staples because they work double time and make me feel great.
Often, we tout the benefits of omegas in salmon or protein in beef. But what about the plethora of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omegas and so much more you get in almost all plant foods? If you eat a varied diet, you are stoking your body with the nutrition to fight off disease, increase energy and aid you against ailments. It’s the most powerful gift we can give ourselves – good nutrition. But, remember there’s not just one “power foods” list – focus on how you feel after you eat sprouted nuts and seeds or hemp protein or maca. Do you feel good, or not so much? Just because it’s on some list doesn’t mean your body will assimilate it the way you want. Experimentation is key.
AP: You thoroughly cover plant-based proteins and supplementation of things like B12 and Vitamin D in the book. We get these questions a lot in the Vegucated Community. What would you tell someone who is just embarking on a vegan diet and is concerned about getting proper nutrition?
RF: Being vegan comes with a bit of responsibility. You have to do your homework. You can’t just cut out meat and dairy and think you are covered. Unfortunately, our food isn’t as nutritious as it used to be, so you have to be aware of certain nutrients that could be lacking if you aren’t paying close attention.
Getting enough protein should actually be the least of your worries – and I feel like this is what everyone focuses on: Protein. Getting enough protein is so easy (legumes, nuts, seeds, hemp-pea-brown rice protein, greens, tofu, tempeh, etc.). Getting enough of the proper vitamins takes a little digging, but it is completely possible.
Know your sources. Where do I get vitamin B12? Vitamin D? Iron? Zinc? How can I get these through proper food sources instead of just popping a vitamin? I thought it was very important to cover these areas in the book, since they are some of the most common concerns.
AP: You talk a lot in the book about eating for our ages and stages. What would you say is the biggest issue you see for women who are pregnant or nursing?
RF: I feel like we try and slap a general way of eating for the entirety of our lives. Have you seen the food pyramid? It’s ridiculous. We are brought up to believe that we must drink milk for strong bones or eat meat to stay strong and healthy. We aren’t born liking crappy food – it’s just what we’re introduced to.
I wanted to have areas in the book to highlight this (eat for your age, eat for health, eat for fitness, eat like an athlete). I think pregnancy does the same thing to women. We’re taught that it’s a free-for-all to indulge in whatever you want, but I look at it as the time to clear out the junk in your diet and focus on what you and your baby actually need.
Having a baby is hard work, and it’s even harder post-pregnancy when you’re exhausted and need extra nutrients to help repair your body. You don’t want to eat crap for 10 months and feel even worse when you have a screaming being demanding your attention 24/7. You only need 250-450 extra calories per day while pregnant and 500 while breastfeeding. That’s literally a giant apple with a few tablespoons of almond butter and a tablespoon or two of chia seeds. We need to start being smarter and kinder to our bodies with the foods we eat.
AP: In a sea of vegan health and fitness texts popping up, what does Power Vegan bring to the table that is unique? What did you want to bring to the market that people don’t already have access to?
RF: Um, because I’m awesome? Next question…
Seriously, this book isn’t just for vegans (despite its title). Power Vegan doesn’t really focus on what you cut out – it’s about what you add in, which I think is a lure for omnivores. And I feel like a lot of the leaders in the industry are men.
I wanted to approach this from a woman’s perspective. I’ve been a certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist for fourteen years. I’ve worked with every kind of client and circumstance. I’ve worked with athletes, mothers, senior citizens and children. I wanted to combine all of the common questions and concerns in daily life (not just diet) and put them into one book.
The great thing about Power Vegan is you don’t have to read it from start to finish. You can just flip to the chapter you want, as they are all stand alone chapters. PV also combines nutrition advice, recipes and unique exercises, which hasn’t been done in many books on this subject.
AP: In addition to writing this book, you’re also a personal trainer, a new mom, and the author of other books and a blog on vegan parenting. Whew! What has been your biggest challenge in vegan parenting and your biggest saving grace?
RF: The biggest challenge is that I want to prepare all of my daughter’s food and never have her eat anything that comes from a package. Doesn’t that sound super realistic? So my hubby and I make all of her food, which isn’t really challenging, since she’s starting to eat what we eat. But most days, I feel like I’m just making food, putting her on the potty (we started elimination communication at six months), and wrangling her for naps. So, the days fly by, and I often whine about it.
But she’s liked everything we’ve ever exposed her to thus far. She goes nuts over broccoli and lentils and quinoa and sprouted tofu and hemp smoothies. She adores my nondairy blueberry hemp seed pancakes and zucchini pasta and sea veggies. So, that part is fun. But would it be easier if she could just eat crap and I didn’t have to worry about it? Sure. I dream of a world where all the fast food restaurants are organic salad and juice bars and every restaurant offers raw vegan fare and we were the “normal” ones. But I want to set her up to have a healthy base, so when she goes out into the world and does eat what others eat, it makes her feel terrible and she will come running to me and beg for some kale and quinoa and make me promise her I will never ever make her eat that crappy, salty, greasy food that the rest of the world is eating – ever again.
My biggest saving grace is that I know what deficiencies to watch out for. We’re not so rigid that if she does decide to eat meat or dairy when she’s old enough, we will throw a giant fit and disown her (though we might think about it). And while she’s absolutely thriving right now, if she isn’t getting something in her diet, we will expose her to what she needs. She is her own person and will someday make her own decisions. We’re just trying to help establish a healthy relationship with food so she can make smart choices down the line.
AP: You really know how to cut a rug in the kitchen. What’s your favorite recipe in the book and why?
RF: I really love pancakes, so the non-dairy chocolate chip blueberry pancake recipe is one of my favorites because I have such warm, fuzzy feelings about pancakes. My mother made the best banana nut and buttermilk pancakes growing up, and it’s been so fun to see how my parents have shifted their mentality (they are both 98.5% vegan) and how they now make delicious nondairy pancakes as well.
AP: Anyone who has seen you or a picture of you knows that you are jacked, in like, the prettiest way possible. You’re seriously fit. What is your fitness philosophy and how does being a plant-eater relate to that?
RF: You are now my favorite person ever. Thank you. Being active is just part of who I am. I believe you don’t have to be in a gym to get fit, but I happen to love the gym, so it works for me. I’m all about muscle confusion and functional training. Let’s flip some tires, climb rope, do some pull-ups, burpees, push-ups, box jumps, hip escapes, etc. Then let’s sprint up a hill and bear crawl backwards down that hill. (Though I did this the other day, and there was a giant python slithering up the tree that I almost touched. I’ve literally never run so fast down a hill in my life).
My husband and I love to get in and out of the gym in 45 minutes, but we try and stay active as much as possible. It’s all too usual to confine activity to just an hour a day and then be sedentary. We are made to move. My husband actually just built a giant desk in our office that allows us to stand or sit when we want to, since Americans spend so much of their time sitting down. Being a plant-eater helps fuel us in the best way possible! I can eat for energy. Plant-based proteins are easier to digest than animal proteins, so my body can use its time wisely for repairs instead of digesting my food. I don’t get sore. I can gain muscle in no time. I don’t hit that afternoon energy slump. And despite poor sleep over the last year (thank you, Sophie), we are still able to train as hard as we ever were and gain results. This way of eating and training go hand-in-hand for me.
AP: And you’re pretty as can be! What are some of your favorite cruelty-free, vegan beauty staples?
RF: Again, you are too kind (and right back at you). I love Mineral Fusion for makeup, Acure for skin care (their brightening face scrub with argan stem cell and chlorella growth factor is revolutionary). John Masters for hair care. And vinegar is my best friend.
We don’t keep any harsh cleaning products in the house (another safe instant baby-proofing secret), so I fill spray bottles with vinegar and water and literally clean everything with that. No toxic fumes or chemicals to contend with.
AP: Now I’ll break it down and get personal: What’s your favorite color and your favorite 80’s or 90’s movie crush? Mine are: Saffron Yellow and David Bowie from Labyrinth.
RF: Did you just crawl into my mind purse? My favorite color (to look at, not to wear) is yellow. It just makes me instantly happy. And David Bowie in those white tights from Labyrnth, with that Tina Turner hair? Are you kidding me!? He was my favorite. Though I loved Billy Idol as well. HOT!
AP: I love Billy Idol, too! Okay, if you had a slumber party and could only invite five people (but ANY five people, alive or dead), who would be there?
RF: James Joyce. Billie Holiday. Maya Angelou. Pablo Neruda. Alfred Hitchcock. During this slumber party, James Joyce and I would chronicle the evening (while painting each other’s nails), while Billie Holiday would provide the sick, sultry beats for a poetry battle between Maya and Pablo. I’m sure somewhere during the night, there would be a knife fight or a convoluted murder, in which case Alfred Hitchcock would be there to direct. It would be epic.
AP: Wow, that’s one helluva slumber party, girl. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. If people want to work with you directly, how can they get in touch with you or learn more about your services?
RF: They can close their eyes, say my name three times, and I will magically appear. Seriously. Try it.
People can contact me directly through my website. I always respond to every message, so if you just want to say hello or want nutritional or training help, I’m here!
I also just started plant-based coaching with a new wonderful raw, vegan company in Nashville (officially launching at the end of June) called Reboot Health and Wellness. They offer juice detoxes, meal delivery, and so much more.
And because Rea is just that cool, she’s also sharing some of her free workouts here.