Name: Erin Fergus
Year of Birth: 1983
Birthplace: Montgomery, AL
Current Residence: Greenville, SC
Sports: weight lifting, running, figure and fitness model competitions
Tell us a little about yourself, what you do for a living, what hobbies / interests / passions you have
I received my master’s in exercise science from the University of West Florida in 2007 and lived in Pensacola, Fl, from 2001 to December 2012. I then moved to Greenville, SC, to work at Greenville Technical College as a personal training instructor. My favorite thing to do here is waterfall hiking and taking my Cocker Spaniel (who is also vegan) on the trails. I also enjoy kayaking and stand up paddleboarding and hope to do more camping in the future. When I’m home I enjoy writing, journaling and playing piano. My other interests are cooking and baking and donating to environmental and animal causes. Some of my future goals include writing novels and obtaining my plant-based nutrition certificate.
Why did you become vegan?
I became vegetarian when I was 17 and visited Washington D.C. the summer after my high school graduation with my parents. I had pet chickens growing up, and seeing the literature posted around the city made me vow to never eat another animal. I became vegetarian the next day and never went back to eating meat. I became more interested in veganism after reading about World Go Vegan Day in 2007, and I made an effort to slowly phase out animal products in all parts of my life and purchase organic, cruelty-free products. I made the decision to go 100% plant-based in March of this year but realize I still have a lot to learn and a lot of activism in which I could participate.
When and why did you become interested in fitness?
I do not remember an exact “time” when I became interested in fitness; physical activity has just always been a part of my life. I played softball and basketball and danced and did gymnastics growing up. I became interested in strength training in high school and have always liked the look of muscle tone on women. I majored in exercise science in college, and I have worked as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and fitness director before I got into teaching. I know that I have made a personal and professional lifelong commitment to fitness! I had always thought it would be an incredible feat to compete in bodybuilding shows, and I did two figure shows and a fitness model show this summer. I plan on competing again in the spring and would love to eventually move into the fitness division. This fall I completed the Tough Mudder and Spartan Beast two weekends in a row and am now hooked on adventure racing!
How would you describe your nutrition program?
I try to incorporate a well-rounded amount of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, tofu, tempeh, quinoa and TVP, but I also rely on protein shakes for convenience during my busy day. My favorite fruits are grapefruit, apples, bananas and dark berries, and I usually eat fruit only in the first half of the day. I try to eat kale and spinach every day, and my favorite ways are baked kale with nutritional yeast and almonds and cooked spinach with onion, mushrooms and pepitas over quinoa or TVP. I have enjoyed green smoothies before and hope to get a Ninja or Vitamix soon so I can find my perfect blend. I like Clif Builder bars, Plant Fusion and Vega protein shakes and chia protein “pudding” after the gym. My other favorite treats are banana/nut butter “ice cream” and cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I eat small meals throughout the day ever 2-3 hrs, don’t even let myself get too hungry or too full, and don’t track calories.
How would you describe your training program?
I usually do something active every day, even if it’s an active rest such as hiking, but I am usually in the gym six days a week. I am loosely following the bodybuilding schedule that I was on earlier this year, and it is usually heavy legs/abs on Monday, back/bi on Tuesday, moderate legs/abs Wednesday, chest/tri/shoulders Thursday, plyometrics Friday and total body Sunday. I usually do 30-minute interval runs twice a week with my students and do fasted cardio for 15-20 minutes in the morning before lifting. I tend to do a lot of drop sets and compound training because like to maximize the work but keep my sessions short.
What kind of supplements do you use if any, and why?
I love all Vega products, especially the pre-workout energizer, performance protein and recovery accelerator. I also add maca powder to my shakes to help prevent burnout. Most of my supplement use is for convenience and to make sure I can handle the training load. My vitamins include a multi, calcium, B complex, iron, magnesium and coQ 10 (the last two are for migraine prevention and work much better than any prescription medication I’ve used.)
How do people react when they find out you are vegan?
One of my favorite reactions that people have to me is that they usually think I’m five years younger than I am, and I attribute it to a vegan lifestyle. I have gotten several of the stereotypical comments such as “You look so healthy…for a vegan” or “You’re so strong…for a vegan,” and I look forward to the day when veganism is accepted enough that the second part of those statements will disappear. Most reactions are very positive, and many people have asked me how they can transition away from meat in their diets. I encourage any step toward plant-based eating that someone is willing to take. My favorite reaction of all is how fascinated some of my students are about what I eat and what I am able to accomplish physically. I bake vegan cupcakes once a month to share with them, and they are always asking which flavors will be next.
What are some common misconceptions about veganism?
Probably the most common would be that we are “unnatural,” weak, or malnourished, but I also hear that people think we are too radical or pushy. One problem is that most people grossly overestimate how much protein our bodies need and that they have not been educated on the array of non-animal protein sources. I can’t wait to get my hands on the “Don’t ask me about my protein, and I won’t ask you about your cholesterol” shirt.
Have you had success in promoting veganism / vegetarianism to others? If so, how did you go about it?
I have realized that the most effective role models are the ones who stay true to what they believe in and let their positive energy radiate. I am never pushy or judgmental, but I make sure to mention my veganism any time I get a compliment. I take the time to answer questions and try not to get frustrated when people react negatively. One of the best compliments I got during contest prep was that I was always happy and positive in the gym, even when I was going twice a day. I told people it was because I loved the food I ate and never felt deprived or tired. I was lucky enough to compete with supportive people who thought what I was doing was amazing, and I loved having my veganism announced during my stage walks. I broke my pinky finger five days before my first show, but I put the word “vegan” on it in green glitter glue and wore it on stage to keep my spirits up. Wearing Vegan Bodybuilding and Meat Free Athlete shirts in the gym is also a fun way to represent.
What do you think the most important aspect of training is?
Training can be much more mental than physical. I thrive on the goal setting aspect of it, and I am always challenging myself to be better than I was before. I have also promised myself that I will listen to my body and will never force myself to exercise if I don’t feel like it, because I don’t want to ever make exercise have a negative connotation. You have to have balance in your training between resistance training, cardio and flexibility. It’s just as important to have a balance between your fitness life and the rest of your life. That can be a challenge with training for competitions, but you have to follow a plan and enlist support for those around you.
What do you like best about being vegan?
I have endless energy, I rarely get sick, and I recover quickly from exercise. I continually achieve my fitness goals and move onto the next one. I feel light and pure because I know I am reducing my impact on the planet. I also enjoy being an advocate and educator and debunking myths. I’ll change the world’s perception of vegans one mind at a time if I have to!
What do you like best about being fit?
I am a huge advocate for women lifting heavy weights and being strong both physically and mentally. I love that being fit helps me in every aspect of my life, from hiking on the weekends to carrying a week’s worth of groceries up the stairs in one trip to stress management and self-discipline. I am a morning exerciser and couldn’t imagine starting my day any other way. I also enjoy being able to work out right alongside my students and push them harder.
What advice do you have for people who are just starting out with training?
You can’t expect to achieve your goals overnight. Anything that’s worth having takes work and dedication. Track your progress and celebrate all of your successes, even if other people don’t find them impressive. It’s not about them; it’s about you. Gather as much knowledge as you can from fitness professional, and make sure to commit to maintaining your mobility and flexibility. Pay attention to injuries and get anything that doesn’t feel right taken care of. Lastly, taking time off every once in a while to reevaluate and recuperate doesn’t hurt you, it only makes you stronger.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking of becoming vegan?
Veganism is not a diet, and it’s not something short-term or trendy. It’s a lifestyle and something that changes the way you view yourself and the world. You have to be willing to do some research before you make the switch, and you should be fully committed to making it a priority. You will have to put in a lot of effort in the beginning, but you will get the hang of it quickly. There are plenty of websites and social media options to connect you with like-minded people who will support you and give you advice. The vegans I have met, both in real life and online, are some of the most interesting and compassionate people I know.
What motivates you in
I have high intrinsic motivation and always have. I truly believe in the mantra “hard work pays off,” and I love the reward of achieving a challenging goal. I strive to be the best that I can in my career and my fitness lives because I enjoy being a role model. I like tackling new challenges because I believe that if you aren’t improving, you aren’t growing. There’s so many things that I want to accomplish that I often run out of time. I’m still working on inventing the 25th hour of the day.
What do you think of veganbodybuilding.com? Has it helped or inspired you?
The best thing about veganbodybuilding.com is that it erases the frustrations I have about not having a thriving vegan community where I live, and I don’t have to feel alone. All the information I find on the website is written by people who feel the same way I do about fitness and animals, and all of the profiles are incredibly inspirational. I love seeing people who are knowledgeable and experienced in fitness because it motivates me to push myself to the next level.