Veganism, overcoming obstacles, and a killer core workout
Karina Inkster, MA, PTS
Vegan fitness and nutrition coach Karina Inkster tells us what inspires her to lead a vegan lifestyle while also inspiring others to reach their fitness and nutrition goals. Here, she gives us a “friendly kick in the butt” with her killer core workout.
In 1998, at the age of 11, I became a vegetarian to avoid supporting the inhumane treatment of animals. It wasn’t until 2003 that I realized the meat, dairy, and egg industries are one and the same: morally indistinguishable from each other. That’s when I committed to veganism—and I’ve never looked back! My transition to veganism felt very straightforward. Being vegan is easy when you understand the negative effects of animal agriculture (it’s even easier with the amazing vegan grocery and restaurant options available now!) and there’s no more powerful feeling than knowing my actions align with my values. But veganism wasn’t without its challenges for me. In 2003, the same year I became a vegan, I also started lifting weights. What am I training for? Life! And it’s still a work in progress!
One particular challenge I faced after making the transition to veganism and committing to weight training was—and still is—eating enough to fuel my daily energy needs. Healthy vegan foods are generally very nutrient dense, rather than calorie dense. I need a lot of fuel (between 3,000 and 3,300 calories per day), so I make food prep a priority in my schedule.
Another unique—and very inconvenient—challenge: an allergy to tree nuts and raw fruit and severe seasonal allergies and asthma that limit my outdoor activity for half the year, as well as a serious allergic condition called food-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis, which prohibits me from training within eight hours of eating allergenic food triggers.
However, with careful and consistent planning, I make healthy, active vegan living work for me. In working to overcome my obstacles (and helping clients to overcome theirs), I’ve learned that there’s power in consistency; small actions add up over time. Real, lasting results generally take a long time to achieve, which is extra incentive for me to make healthy, active living a lifelong endeavour.
Over the past 14 years I’ve focused on building habits I can be consistent with, all of which I intend to keep for life. I’ve realized that my training and my nutrition need to be a part of my life, not something I do in order to have the life I want later.
Another life lesson—and lifelong pursuit—is the maintenance of a strong core. Our core muscles are more than just abdominals, and training the core should be more than just achieving a chiselled midsection!
The core includes our low- and mid-back, hips, pelvis, and glutes. It acts as the link between our upper body and lower body, providing stability for the spine and pelvis, preventing and reducing back pain, and controlling our balance.
Here are five of my favourite core exercises that are part of my regular weightlifting workouts. To bulletproof your body against injury, improve posture, and increase athletic performance, perform these exercises two to three times per week.
Aim for three sets of the prescribed number of reps for each exercise.
Reps: 10 to 15
Target: Rectus abdominis, hip flexors, forearms, shoulders, back
This exercise is an effective lower abdominal strengthener. It’ll also help you get better at performing pull-ups: it increases your upper body and grip strength, and the start position mimics your body’s position during a well-executed pull-up.
Reps: Aim to walk at least 20 metres. Work your way up to carrying 75 percent of your body weight.
Target: Entire core musculature, shoulders, back
This simple movement builds muscle, torches fat, and increases athletic performance. It’s also very practical. We carry heavy things, such as grocery bags full of veggies, on a daily basis, after all!
Reps: 10 circles in each direction
Target: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, low back, shoulders
Popularized by spinal researcher Dr. Stuart McGill, this exercise activates the deep core muscles without putting the spine into unnecessary flexion.
Reps: 10 on each side
Target: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, hip flexors, low back, shoulders
Here’s a unique mountain climber variation that challenges your balance and stability, and works your entire core at once.
Reps: Hold for 30 to 45 seconds.
Target: Obliques, quadratus lumborum, glutes, shoulders
This move is a must-do for those with back pain. In addition to working your abs, it strengthens the quadratus lumborum (the side of your low back), which is often weak in people with back pain.
Good nutrition is essential if you want to support a strong midsection. Body composition is the name of the game: increase muscle and decrease fat (body weight doesn’t differentiate between the two, so ditch the scale).
Enjoy plenty of tofu, tempeh, beans, quinoa, seeds, and nuts. Protein is the building block of muscle and prevents muscle loss after strenuous workouts. Each day, over the course of the day, active people and athletes should consume at least 1.5 g of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.7 g of protein per pound)—and more if you’re doing strenuous workouts.
Eat plants in their most natural state (whole grains, fresh produce), prepared in your own kitchen. This is the best way to get your foods intact—with all the fibre, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need for a strong, healthy body—including a killer core. It’s also important to eat a variety of foods to ensure you get all the nutrients you need.
Water keeps our muscles firing at full speed and carries out the metabolic waste generated when we’re working out. Being properly hydrated is so important, our athletic performance immediately plummets if we sweat out just 1 to 2 percent of our body weight and don’t replenish it. Aim to drink water throughout the day—before you feel thirsty and well before your workout.