Interview with Sabina Skala: Vegan Strength & Cond Coach
Written by Leigh-Chantelle
Created Thursday, 24 October 2013
Sabina Skala hails from Poland and is a certified and highly experienced Strength and Conditioning Coach and Sports Massage Therapist. Sabina has trained under numerous world top coaches including Mark Twight (Gym Jones), Mike Mahler (Aggressive Strength), Martin Rooney (Training For Warriors) and Gil Stevenson (UKSCA) to name a few. She has presented at national exhibitions and several workshops in the United Kingdom and worldwide that explore the potential of strength training for athletic development, teaching alongside Andy Bolton, Mike Mahler and Brooks Kubik.
Working out of CJS Combat, Sabina's stable of clients includes athletes from various disciplines ranging from endurance sports like cycling to professional MMA athletes and other top combat sports professionals. Sabina has also successfully trained top male models, military personnel, rugby players, climbers, and dancers. She has contributed to publications such as Men's Fitness and The Guardian, and also appeared as a guest on Super Human Radio.
As a former athlete herself - having competed in kayaking for five years - she has a great understanding of the demands a professional sport places on a contestant. Sabina is one of the founders of Fighters Development Program, which supports talented upcoming fighters in their training and career development. She works closely together with former Royal Marine Commando Jon Lewis from Balance Physiotherapy Clinic, they are both responsible for the conditioning aspect of the fighter's training, ensuring they have all physical aspects and resilience of a top combat athlete, stay injury free and/or are provided with physiotherapy assistance if needed. Sabina is currently based in London, UK.
Initially it was not a conscious life time decision. It was a wager for fun, which was supposed to last 1 month, instead it completely changed my view on nutrition.
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
It was by accident. One of my clients is a strict vegan. I was born and bred Polish and grew up on meat. One day we had a bet. He said I would not last a week on a strict vegan diet, I said make it a month. It was 2 years ago and I haven't looked back since. .
How long have you been vegan?
Over two years
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
I am much more aware of what I eat, and have become much more creative with cooking. Before becoming vegan, I didn't eat rice, couscous, barley or pasta, and hardly ever used tofu, that has changed. I had to spend some time researching and learning new recipes as at the beginning I felt a bit lost and limited with what I could eat. After the first month, I had it all in place. My energy levels are great, my training is going very well and I haven't noticed any problems with strength and recovery etc.
What does veganism mean to you?
The reasons why I became a vegan are mostly performance and health related. I guess what it means to me is to be conscious of how the quality and amount of food affects the athletic performance and health. It also transferred to the other parts of my life. I started seeking information about topics I was never interested in before like factory farming, GMO's, testing cosmetics on animals etc. I guess, I am more aware about how important it is to keep healthy nutrition and that unhealthy and stressed animals cannot provide us with healthy products whether it is meat or milk or eggs etc.
What sort of training do you do?
My training has changed during recent months. I used to do gymnastics training, however shoulder injury makes me unable me to continue. At the moment I strength train 4 times a week, Dance once a week, run 4 times and swim once a week. At the moment, in my strength phase, the training will look like: I concentrate on Deadlifts, back squats, weighted chin-ups, strict presses, power cleans etc. Supplemental work will include - 1 arm pushups, ab wheel roll outs, various mobility drills and rehab work.
How often do you (need to) train?
I train 6 days a week, mostly twice a day. The training intensity varies accordingly, after high intensity, heavy days, I will have a day of more recovery based activities, like mobility, easy runs, swims or dance technique.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
I work with combat athletes (MMA and BJJ), I also have some endurance athletes in my books (triathletes and cyclist) plus regular private clients.
What sports do you play?
My sports background is kayaking, which I have retired from. For the last 2 years I was preparing for a fitness competition, so the core of my training was gymnastics and strength work in the gym. However, shoulder injury doesn't allow me do continue with gymnastics or any ballistic work. At the moment, I am looking into doing Blenheim triathlon, which is going to change my training to more endurance based.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
Recovery after training - since turning vegan my recovery is much better.
What is your biggest challenge?
I find vegan diet pretty easy to follow when I am at home and able to cook for myself. The biggest challenge so far was finding restaurants that cater for vegans when I travel. It is surprisingly hard to find a place that serves good, clean vegan food.
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
Everyone is very supportive. Some of my family and friends in Poland always try to tempt me with some grilled kielbasa (sausage) but I think they are about to give up soon.
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
Yes, other than just making fun of me during BBQs etc, they keep asking for some vegan recipes and have included quite a few vegan dishes in their diets as well. Also nearly all of my friends have either given up diary or at least replaced cow milk with coconut milk or cream.
What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
“What do you eat?” I say, “loads of yummy food.”
Who or what motivates you?
I am motivated by how I feel, I have never felt better and I love the way my nutrition looks like at the moment. I also look up to Mike Mahler a lot. He is by far the strongest man that I know who is on vegan diet. He is also a very supportive of animal rights, which I totally identify with.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:
Breakfast - Smoothie (this is the recipe I got from Mike Mahler) 1 scoop of pea protein, 1 tea spoon of cinnamon, 1 tea spoon of ginger, 1/2 tea spoon of nutmeg, 1 big spoon of coconut oil or nut butter, frozen blueberries, frozen spinach, juiced cucumber and celery, water or coconut milk.
Lunch - I don’t have a meal for lunch. It would be just coffee with coconut or I juice carrots, apple, beetroot and ginger and have it as a energy drink.
Dinner – examples would be veggie burger on a portobello mushroom (instead of a bun), with salad (lettuce, cucumber, avocado, tomatoes etc) or peas with home made pesto.
Veggie burger recipe:
Ingredients: (for 6 burgers)
2 cans of red beans
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of chilli
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
fresh coriander (cilantro)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup oats
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
2 spoons of olive oil
Blend oats and pumpkin seeds in a food processor, grate carrots and add them to the oat and pumpkin seed mix, blend it all together again. Rinse the beans and blend 3/4 of them. Combine all the ingredients together in a big bowl, add all the spices, chopped coriadner and olive oil. Mix until all of them combine evenly. Form 6 burgers and bake them for 40 -45 mins at 165 C, turn them once in the middle.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) - I don’t really snack, but I have made some really nice ice cream a couple of days ago for my guests.
What is your favorite source of:
Protein - I supplement protein with plant based protein powders (pea, hemp or rice), also I add nuts and seeds to my meals.
Calcium - kale - either added to smoothies or to salads.
Iron - lentils, cooked spinach and dried prunes.
What foods give you the most energy?
I feel very energetic after drinking my smoothies or juices - fresh ginger seems to be doing the trick.
Do you take any supplements?
Yes, Exclzyme, Myomin, Vitamin C, pea or hemp protein powder, Mike Mahler’s Magnesium oil.
What is your top tip for:
Gaining muscle - This can be tricky and depends on the individual. Some athletes are genetically gifted to put on muscle mass quickly, for some it is a struggle. It will depend on the person, but it requires increasing calorie intake and specific hypertrophy and strength/hypertrophy targeted training, also min 8 hrs of sleep and minimum stress. Assuming you are a well conditioned athlete, I would limit the long slow cardio (for me long and slow starts from 20 mins+) to minimum (1 session a week as a recovery ie easy swim or jog) and add short sprint intervals.
Losing weight - Weight loss starts in the kitchen. 4 hours break between meals, limit the meals to 3 times a day, remember about portion control and instead of counting calories, focus on eating fresh, local, organic produce. Eat loads of green leafy veggies. Early morning just after waking up drink warm water with lemon and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Maintaining weight - It depends, if you have lost weight and want to maintain it, you have to watch how you react to certain foods. Consuming some refined carbohydrate can cause temporary water retention and weight gain, so just be aware how different foods affect you. For anyone who has gained weight and wants to maintain it - monitor the training and sleep, make sure you get enough calories a day. If eating a lot becomes problematic, try to get more calorie dense foods in your diet eg. nuts, dried fruit, nut butter etc.
Improving metabolism - take min 4 hrs breaks between meals, if able add heavy weight training to your regimen and 1-2 session of sprinting (hill and chosen distance - I do 5 x 400m sprints 1x a week and 1 session of 10 x hill sprints)
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