Vegan Body Builder and Fitness Trainer Lisa Koehn Interview

Image Credit: Lisa Koehn
Image Credit: Lisa Koehn

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Lisa Koehn is a vegan bodybuilder and fitness trainer based in Hawaii. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about her training and diet.

1. What did your diet used to be, and what is it now?

I was born and raised in the Midwest, so it was meat, potatoes, and gravy.

2. What made you change?

My grandma died of a massive heart attack at the age of 62. They did an autopsy and found out her cholesterol was through the roof and probably ran in our family. I started cutting red meat out of my diet then and started focusing more on vegetables. I think I was a sophomore in college. My mom died at the age of 54 of lung cancer 13 years ago. Although I have never smoked and she had smoked for 35 years, it made me look at what parts of my health I could control — diet and exercise. I started lifting weights more seriously and started running. I cleaned up my diet even more, but I was still eating chicken and dairy products.

Six years ago my husband and I separated, and I moved to Hawaii. My brother and sister-in-law have been vegan for over 20 years, and I wanted to see if I could be vegan and maintain the muscle mass that I had developed. My brother was (and still is) my best vegan mentor. What started out as an experiment became my lifestyle. My fitness level improved dramatically as well as my whole outlook on life and how we as individuals impact our world.

3. How often do you train, and what do you do?

I train 6 days a week, and I teach an hour-long body conditioning class 3 times a week. My personal training is a pretty traditional bodybuilding/weightlifting regime working different muscle groups on varying days. I started competing in NPC competitions in the fall of 2010, moving from Figure to Fitness. In April of last year I tried the Women’s Physique Division, and I placed 3rd in Honolulu. I did a competition in L.A. in October and placed 3rd there as well. I really like this division because it’s women’s bodybuilding like it was back in the early 80’s – no steroids. The focus is symmetry and femininity with some nice muscle. We have to do a posing routine both with and without music. I like that creative aspect.

4. How much protein do you consume daily, and from what source?

I try to get in at least 100 grams of protein a day. Most foods have a little protein in them, so it adds up. My primary source, however, is soy. Here in Hawaii tofu (in various forms) is very prevalent. I also supplement with a soy protein powder primarily because it’s convenient and quick when I’m at the gym training clients for 5 hours. I throw a Builder’s Bar by Clif in my backpack once in a while. I also eat a lot of nuts, legumes, beans and whole grains which all contain good protein.

5. Iron?

I don’t really track my iron, but I’ve never been anemic and my blood panel is always good for iron. Soy is high in iron, so that’s probably the reason. I also eat kale, spinach, and whole grains, etc. which are good sources of iron as well.

6. What are your favorite foods?

I’m human. I like cookies, but I make my own so I know what’s in them and I don’t have them very often. I actually consider oatmeal my comfort food. I have it every morning for breakfast with a tablespoon of flax seed oil and some cinnamon. I also really love all the local fruits. Hawaii has a year-long growing season, so there’s always something delicious. My clients and friends bring me bananas, tangerines, avocado, purple potatoes, etc., all from their own yards!

7. Were there any particular websites, books or movies that helped you in the beginning when you decided to follow a plant-based diet?

As I said before, my brother and sister-in-law helped me the most. Matt’s website is I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense Of Food. Both books were very informative and sometimes uncomfortable to read (with regard to the abuse of animals and the insanity of our food industry). As I got more into the bodybuilding, I read Robert Cheeke’s Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness. His book was full of great information and helpful websites.

8. How long have you been training people?

I became a certified personal trainer through the NSCA in December of 2004. I started training some friends after my “day job” (I was a lawyer at the time). In August of 2006 I also became a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA. Shortly after that I moved to Hawaii. Personal training became my new career around March of 2007. I can honestly say I love what I do and I can’t wait to go to work every morning. My clients are wonderful, and the gym I train out of is awesome — shout out to Resolution Gym in Hilo!!

Image Credit: Lisa Koehn

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