Sophia Ellis speaks to Female First in an exclusive interview
Sophia Ellis speaks to Female First in an exclusive interview

Commonwealth powerlifting champion Sophia Ellis switched to a plant-based diet when she was at university and hasn’t looked back since.

After becoming the British and Commonwealth champion, she was selected for the World Championships last year – something which didn’t seem possible when she was younger.

Before she went vegan, Ellis struggled with her relationship with food and battled bulimia and anorexia in her teenage years.

World Vegan Month was marked last month and the British champion explained why she decided to start powerlifting, revealed what’s next for her and spoke about what people can do if they’re thinking of going vegan.

When and why did you make the switch to a plant-based diet?

I switched to a vegan lifestyle 10 years ago (before it was cool!). To start with, it was due to health reasons; I'm lactose intolerant and wanted to start reducing my meat consumption. But the more I looked into veganism, the more my eyes opened to the ethical and environmental side of this lifestyle - which completely sold it to me.

I didn't need to eat or use animal products to survive, so why put animals through unnecessary suffering? It just didn't sit right with me that we are causing so much damage to the environment and the animals just for our own convenience.

Once I made the switch, I found that my body really thrived off it! I also became more conscious of what I was putting into my body and how small changes in my lifestyle could have a big impact.

Why powerlifting?

Powerlifting helped to change my mindset; It allowed me to get excited about what my body is capable of, instead of focusing on what it looks like all of the time. You are not judged on your looks, your ethnicity, your size etc; its objective, you can either lift the weight or can't. That's what I love about it, you are showing just raw strength.

Everybody in the community is so supportive and lifting is honestly just so empowering, especially as a woman. That’s what I love about Brawn – it’s a dedicated platform for powerlifters that puts a real emphasis on the community. Lifting helped to pull me out of a very dark place in my life, it gave me a mental release and I feel I’m more confident and stronger in doing so.

How did it feel to be selected for the World Championship last year?

I was ecstatic. It has been a goal of mine to be at the highest level in sport since I was a child. But honestly at first, I had a bit of imposter syndrome! Even though I put so much time, effort and dedication into my training, at the time I felt like I didn't belong alongside all these great athletes, especially being so new to the sport still.

It wasn't until I won the British Classic Championships this year (three weeks prior to Worlds) that I truly felt like I deserved to represent my country at Worlds. I am so grateful to have been able to compete against the best lifters in the world, and I can't wait to do so again.

Sophia gives her advice to those thinking of moving to a plant-based diet
Sophia gives her advice to those thinking of moving to a plant-based diet

Do you think your vegan diet can be in small part be attributed to your powerlifting success?

It is hard to say because I didn't powerlift before I went vegan. But for me personally I thrive off of plant-based living. I feel more energised and fuelled for training. What I do know for sure though, is that you can be strong and vegan!

What are the benefits of having a vegan diet?

Well, the main ones are that it is cruelty-free and more environmentally friendly! In terms of health benefits, a vegan diet (when done right!) tend to be rich in nutrients, low in saturated fat, can lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and encourages you to eat more fruit and veg/ plant-based food sources.

I have personally found to have more energy/feel less sluggish and my skin is so much clearer since going vegan. It can only ever benefit you to include more nutrient dense and whole plant foods into your diet!

Even though you have a plant-based diet, how do you get your sources of protein without eating meat when competing and training?

There are plenty of plant-based proteins out there, and I aim to get protein from multiple different sources to maintain a well-balanced diet. The ones I tend to eat the most are seitan, tofu, tempeh, alternative meats/ soy products and vegan protein shakes for convenience.

What would you say to people who are considering going vegan but don’t know where to start or how to change their meals?

You don't have to go fully vegan straight away, even just switching to a meatless Monday is a great start! It should be your own journey of discovering new foods and options. Do it at your own pace, do your own research and do it for you. Enjoy it!

You should not be restricting yourself at all, make sure you replace what you are taking out of your diet and that you are eating enough. I would recommend checking out the Veganuary website as they have some great tools for going vegan!

What's next for you?

Oooo big question! Well, my next competition is the European Championships in Sweden, after that I will be back to preparing for the British Championships.

Next year will be busy in terms of coaching and competing, if selected, I will be competing and coaching at the World Championships in South Africa for Team GB and also at the Commonwealths in New Zealand for England, which will be exciting!

I guess to answer the question, back to training hard and bringing as much fire to the platform as I can.

Sophia is an athlete for dedicated powerlifting platform, Brawn.

Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.

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