Seagulls screech over the sea breeze bringing the wave racket into the sunlit room of Bondi Pavilion. This space feels huge as there’s nothing in the room but a trestle table and two chairs. All seems ready for my interview with Stan Veniaminov. The local legend vegan fitness trainer brings us here to get some privacy.
Born in the harsh climate of Siberian city Irkutsk, Stan now spends most of his lifetime on the shores of sunny Bondi. The modern day vegan's journey began when his family fled the Yeltsin’s Russia for the hope of a better life. His parents took him to the shores of NZ where he got a uni degree in accounting. Job prospects were meek there so, one day Stan hopped on a one-way flight to Australia.
- He chuckles at it as a self-motivation hack to help him land the "dream job” of an accountant in Australia. Grudging the office job for five years made him less happy than he had dreamed.
Stan's comfort zone boundaries were pushed yet again when he was made redundant. He didn’t take long to then qualify as a personal trainer. Little did he know that five years later he would create a local fitness group that would bring him respect and wide recognition among the Eastern subs locals. Unmistakably, you could find Stan training at the Bondi beach open-air gym which he helped the local government develop from scratch. That was just a few chin-up bars that transformed into something incredibly functional and iconic.
Accessible to everyone, no membership fees. The name says it all: Street workout - a great way of meeting new people who develop body physics and functionalities faster in a camaraderie and a positive environment, and that’s why I like it. This helps to build a more functional body, like the old school classic exercise. Always best to train with a friend using their weight. If you’re in the gym you pick up the weights. When training outdoors you pick-up your friend. You help lift each other up all the time - literally and physically.
At the launch of your fitness career, you were eating lean food but still had animal-based proteins in your diet. What brought you to become vegan? How long have you been a vegan?
I felt getting tired of eating meat. I went to a place that sold meat and made it at the same time. There was blood everywhere that made me feel more conscious and pushed to research into the topic. I felt like it was heavily affecting my digestion. After eating a big meaty dinner I would wake up in the morning feeling like there’s still food in my stomach. I don’t feel like this anymore. I used to have a lot of hefty migraines when eating dairy and meat products. Now they’re gone completely. I feel more energetic and happier translating this to my clients who feel more motivated as the result. The plant based diet is making me less sluggish and tired, making my mind clear at all times. This is most important not forgetting to mention the benefits to the environment and ethical reasons as well.
You shared that your life purposes is to motivate, inspire people around the world, improve lives through health and fitness. How does this align with your new project modern day vegan?
Modern Day Vegan project I created to make people realise that vegan [fad] is modern, not old-fashioned and [vegan] people aren’t weak and sick all the time. Now we’ve got more plant-based protein food available to shop for and dine out. For example, there’re a lot of places [in Bondi] where you can have healthy cakes made of raw ingredients.
On a priority scale between these three where would you nominate your primary reason to going vegan?
My health comes first since if you’re only focused on the ethical reasons, then you won’t really be able to support the cause when you’re unhealthy, right? Primarily good health makes one a productive resource to put for good use to make a positive impact on the environment and support the ethics. I don’t push myself everyday. It’s a lifestyle. I really enjoy people reaching out to me for nutrition and lifestyle advise on how always be full of energy. I am supported by friends from the vegan community.
What has changed with your new diet ( e.g. change in weight, proportions of fat and muscle mass. what’s your fat % change since the switch?).
Looks are secondary. I’d never gone to the gym to build a bigger chest and biceps. My priorities have always been to learn something and get stronger. So, I defiantly feel more functional now, more strength. Sometimes I train twice a day. My recovery times are much better. Of course, I still feel tired on some days. It’s normal as I’m not a machine. You always need to have one day off, at the least if you’re tired to reset your system. I don’t see any negatives, but rather positives.
What was the first few things that you felt when turned to a plant-based diet?
The first few months were really challenging. All of a sudden the pro fitness trainer had to learn what food to eat, when to eat it and where to get it.
The few things I would crave after going vegan are the goat’s cheese, eggs and milk. It took few months for the cravings to go away. It was challenging at the beginning (of the vegan diet) as I had to learn a new way of cooking and planning my meals. I even felt sick on a number of times when I’d make a smoothie. This is because I would put EVERYTHING in there. All the healthy nutritious stuff. It’s like chemistry in there. You only need to add one wrong element to the formulate to sprite a negative reaction.
The same rule applies to food. If you don’t mix food well it won’t go well together in your stomach upsetting your digestion. But now my stomach feels great as I mastered the mixology skill. My sleep has improved and got much deeper. I stopped waking up in the middle of the night interrupted by another migraine.
Even my dad’s migraines have passed away since he got inspired by my pictures of vegan food. I’ve only been doing this diet for two years. I’m not a professional (he chuckles). If it feels better than before then why should I stop it? Since this is the case, that means something’s working.
Do you feel like the society is become more accepting and less picky at your food preference at a dinner party?
They still pick on me but you learn how to defend yourself. It’s true that in most cases, these people just want to find out more about the vegan diet. The act of attacking you is a way to mask their true intentions of simple curiosity.
What motivates you?
People who are early beginners and may not be the best fit yet but seeing them pushing themselves make me ultra motivated. A little kid making first steps in their fitness exercise, making their first hand walk, this is what drives me.
What would you recommend to all aspiring vegans and those who’ve started their new diet?
Don’t be afraid to go out and taste different food learnt from new places. Experiment. Meet other vegans. Remember to praise yourself and never blame anyone for your results.
Make a plan for what food you’re going to make for the day. This will ensure you’ll not make poor choices when you’re hungry. If you've prepared, you are primed for succes.
Favourite coffee, vegan food and where to hang out?
The best coffe is About life in Bondi Junction. I love how they make a consistent coffee and it’s organic. I like to drink pure coffee - a single shot of espresso, no vegan milk.
Favourite food spot - Sadhana kitchen, Newtown - all raw and healthy.
I always hangout in the outdoor gym. I have helped build this place.
What’s the best way how to get in touch with you?
Stan will be happy to share with you his recipes and help you and answer any fitness and related questions about nutrition at @moderndayvegan.