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Welcome to episode #12 of the Off The Pole Podcast, in these interviews I talk to people from the pole community and beyond to help you Train Smart and Dance More. Today my guest is Michael Donohue, co-owner of Fierce Fitness Dance Studio in Dublin Ireland and international competitor.
He’s known for being a multi-disciplined performer – in things like flying pole, trapeze and even balloon making.I wanted to get him on to discuss his plant-based diet and how he incorporates that into his training.
Really hope you guys enjoy the 12th episode in the podcast series – you can subscribe to our pole podcast on iTunes to keep updated with all the latest episodes and it would mean the world to me if you could leave a review!
Hit play above or watch or read the transcript below.
Sarah: Welcome, Michael. Thank you for doing my podcast. Nice to have you on.
Michael: No problem. Thank you for having me.
Sarah: We’ve already discussed briefly, but you are in your car. Do you want to tell the people why- why are you in your car?
Michael: Yeah, I’m sitting in my car at the moment because I left the studio to run a few errands and to go to the bank, but also two of the girls are going through some rehearsals in there, so it’s quite loud. So even in our reception waiting room, it’s quite loud. So I said it’ll be a lot more quiet and easier to hear you if I was sitting in the car.
Sarah: I actually do some of my voiceovers in the car, ’cause it’s like good acoustics in the car, I think.
Michael: Yeah, I totally agree.
Sarah: It’s like a padded room.
Michael: Some of the old YouTube videos I would do on conditioning and stuff, I would always record the audio in the car because there’s no … It’s like a little sound room. There’s no echo-
Michael: There’s no outside sounds, so it’s really cool. I think it’s a good place to do interviews.
Sarah: Right, so I wanted to get you on because I wanted to speak to you a little bit about plant-based nutrition and plant-based training because you’re a big advocate for that. And I think it’s a really important message to spread, and it’s becoming more and more popular. A lot of people in the pole industry now are vegetarian or pescatarian, or wanting to move, not necessarily into putting a label on it, but definitely moving more towards that lifestyle. What was your first introduction to it, and what brought you to it in the first place?
Michael: Okay. Well briefly, I’ve been working in the fitness industry for about 15 years now. And I’ve always had an interest in … I’m one of those people that I’ve always never stopped researching or studying. I still haven’t.
What happened was, is, my other and father were vegetarian first. And through, just being at home with them and the meals they would give me, I just started becoming more open to some of the vegetarian type foods. But I wasn’t a vegetarian. I would still go out and eat meat, or whatever I wanted. But was my first kind of subjection to some of the plant-based alternatives to meat. And then, I was- decided that like I met Terri, Terri Walsh, or Terri First as she’s well-known at this stage. And she was vegetarian when I met her. And about a year before I met her, I started into my research into plant-based nutrition and its effects on our physiology, and biochemistry. And just my own personal ambitions. So researching and reading, listening to podcasts and so on.
And then when she was vegetarian, and I met her, I got the idea of like, “Oh, I’d like to try.” So I found myself just going from, making the transition into vegetarianism. What would still mean that I was still consuming eggs and dairy products, for example. And then I just started to kind of experiment more with vegetarian type foods. And then, I was vegetarian for a number of years. And then, through my continued research, I started trying to look at the idea of going whole plant-based. In other words, eliminating the eggs and the dairy products out.
This has nothing to do with veganism. This is purely plant-based. Obviously, veganism stems more into all sorts of other avenues as well. And then I had made the decision to go vegan. I’m four-and-a-half years now, vegan. So four-and-a-half years ago, around August time, I said, right, by January the 1st, I’m going to transition. So I started an intense kind of continuing my research. I started looking into experimenting more with different types of food, in preparation for when I transition, I wouldn’t be completely shocked.
Obviously I have had years of training and experience my own fitness and my own study on nutrition, and so on. So I kind of knew roughly what to play with. Then, yeah, four-and-a-half years ago, on the January, I just decided to go out and, yeah. That’s kind of where I’m at now at the moment. So I’m whole food, plant-based now at the moment.
Sarah: Is plant-based more like looking at the nutrition side of it, and vegan is looking more at like the lifestyle as well? Like more of the clothes you wear, and things like that as well?
Michael: I actually love that you asked that question, ’cause it’s a really, really good question.
Sarah: I just don’t want the people to be like- ’cause I’m thinking like, well I thought plant-based kind of was like vegan’
Sarah: ‘Cause I’m vegetarian, but people then think that I’m then vegan. But no, there is a big difference between vegetarian and vegan. Like there’s layers to all of it. So, yeah, yeah. Explain, continue.
Michael: The layers. No, the best way to kind of explain it is that like obviously a person who is vegan in the correct term, is someone who follows a plant-based diet. The reason why veganism is great now, I would consider myself a vegan, in other words I don’t wear leather, I don’t wear silk. My personal hygiene products at home are all cruelty-free. Even my- the bleach I use now to clean the toilet or the floor, I buy now eco-friendly and cruelty-free brands.
Michael: That aside, a vegan diet does not necessarily mean a whole-food plant-based diet. For example, Oreo cookies, are vegan. Coca-Cola is vegan. McDonald’s fries are vegan. It just means, if a food has no animal derivatives in it, it is technically vegan. I always talk, like when I’m talking to you now, about whole-food plant-based diets or nutrition plans, because they are key. They happen to be vegan but they are key for optimum health.
What I advocate, then, is a whole-food plant-based diet because vegan diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. That’s why, when I re-tailor around whole plant foods and less of the processed plant foods. For example, vegan cheeses, vegan burritos, vegan hot dogs, things like that. They are plant-based but they’re not necessarily the healthiest approach, if you know what I mean.
Sarah: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s the struggle with a lot of people when they’re trying to move from a meat-based diet to a more plant-based diet is there’s a lot of vegetarian options but a lot of them are like, are like very, very processed. They’re meat substitutes, so yeah, they’re just highly processed things and I don’t tend to find that my body gets on with those at all. Like, a lot of soya, a lot of cheese, a lot of like fake cheeses, and, you know, a lot of sugar, and things like that. Lot of time you go to restaurants, the options is the vegan option would be like a bowl of chips or bread or things like that. So, people do find it really difficult. So, have you found-
Sarah: Just that your day-to-day meals, like, for example- so what, take us through maybe like an average day of eating. Like, what would you have for like breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you follow that system?
Michael: Yeah, I do. Okay. Just to answer the first thing, yeah, in terms of the approach to veganism worldwide now is obviously shops as are providing more plant-based alternatives. Like there was an announcement made, a report came from Tesco’s UK yesterday announcing that their profits have really soared and their market research has shown it’s due to the plant-based foods they’re providing. Because, again, veganism is coming a bit more into the open-market now, as such.
Sarah: Yeah, I’ve got loads of vegan stuff from Tesco’s. It’s great. They’ve got a whole range. It’s really nice.
Michael: It’s really good, but it’s not always necessarily the healthy approach and that’s when I kind of make the distinction, is that, in terms of the benefits to the planet, and the benefits to preventing harm to living beings, if someone wants to eat Oreo cookies and vegan hot dogs all day, that’s fine. But from a nutritional viewpoint, and especially from someone like myself and you, and I’m assuming a lot of your listeners who are involved in pole and maybe other sports, it’s not the optimum choice to make if your health or for your performance.
Michael: Now, yeah so, I’m very clear about saying whole plant-based. Very quick overview of my typical average day. So, I start every single morning with a shot of organic wheat grass. During the late spring and summer, I grow my own. But during the winter, I use- buy the packaged amounts in the shops. Reason for that as well as after fasting first, eating on an empty stomach, you’re dumping-in a concentrated source of amino acids, zinc, chlorophyll, which is what gives green plants its bright green colour. So it’s highly alkalized and highly beneficial blood cleansing and it’s just a really good thing to put through your body straight away.
I drink a shot of that or like a glass of it. And then, while that’s kind of going through my system, I usually feed my pets and do a few bits-and-pieces like kind of prepping the meals for the rest of the day. And then I’d have breakfast, which is a typical bowl of organic porridge oats with almond milk and some flax seeds or linseed, as it’s also known, and then, some cinnamon. That’s my typical breakfast.
In the middle, between breakfast and lunch, typical snack, I usually have a banana with some passion nuts, just to keep my kind of energy level stable, ’cause usually mornings I have private lessons for myself or admin work. Like you’re doing there, so I kind of need to be fairly alert.
Lunch time varies. Most time I prep my own lunches but I’m also fortunate that there’s two places now close to my studio. Organic, whole-plant food kind of restaurants, which are really, really good, they’re not your typical, like you said, they just have chips on the menu. I just put on my InstaStory, there, the guy had made broccoli and coconut soup.
Sarah: Yeah, I saw that today. You have always really good pictures of food from those cafes. I’m so jealous.
Michael: Yeah. This guy gets up at four a.m. His actual kitchen is right next to our studio, which is amazing. And the café itself is down in the town. When he gets up at half-four, everything is made fresh. And this guy doesn’t even use OXO vegetable stock cubes. He refuses. Everything is just fresh food.
Michael: Yeah, but when I’m prepping, my typical things there is I prep food on a Sunday for the week. So, my main staple carbohydrate, complex-carbohydrate source, would be one of typical three scenarios. Number one is black rice. Now, regular rice is good but black rice is a little more wholesome, a bit more nutrient-dense. You’ve got millet or quinoa. They are the three I choose from the most. Millet’s a great grain for any of those who are gluten-intolerant. It’s very energy- it gives you a lot of energy but doesn’t cause any bloat or kind of irritation to most people.
Michael: I would use- That’s my typically lunch is a carbohydrate and I would mix that with beans. Now, I advise experimenting with all different types of beans. My favourite is the likes of cannellini, pinto, and mung beans. They’re just my own personal favourite. But using a variety of beans then. And then, I would mix that together using either organic tomato sauce or else I would kind of add in some vegetable like [phonetic 00:10:47] pruscet, maybe with a carrot. It’s just like this kind of- I wouldn’t call it a stew, but it’s just a-
Sarah: Like a mix-mash
Michael: Yeah, a complex-carbohydrate and then the beans and then a little bit of your veg. And then, alongside that, I would have the first of my two salads. I have two salads per day, which are mainly greens. Now I- the way I advise people on salads is go nuts. Do whatever you want to do. But try to make 70 percent of your salad bowl greens, so that’s either like ruckas or arugula as it’s known in most places in Europe. You’ve got spinach, you’ve got kale, you’ve got watercress, you’ve got lamb’s leaf lettuce, just greens basically. And then you can add your onion, your tomato, your mushroom, whatever you feel like doing. I would have that for lunch.
After lunch, then it’s more admin and then I usually train, I train six days a week for three hours a day, so my training’s typically three to three-thirty til six P.M., before my classes start in the evening. That’s fueled me up then for my training but sometimes I would add in a rice cake or two with some of the almond butter or [inaudible 00:11:55], sometimes. But if I’ve had a big enough lunch, I’m kind of okay. Then I train, I train away, and my training varies between pole, peas, and then conditioning.
Then I’ve got- usually I give myself a window of approximately 30 minutes before my first class I teach that evening. I teach most evenings from about seven P.M. til ten. Before I do my class, I need to eat again so I make my power shake, which I’ve also put on the InstaStory a couple of times. That’s comprised of some porridge oats, another portion of flax seeds, some spinach, kale, portion of Blue Breeze, a banana, and I have sponsorship by Pulsin who send me pea or hemp protein powders, so I throw a scoop of that in, then I pour almond milk on top of it. Sounds crazy. When you whisk it up, you’ve got pretty much a kind of a nice chocolatey liquid flapjack kind of taste. And that gets me then through my training.
And when I get home at half-ten, I’m starving again. But again, I don’t eat as much ’cause it’s late at night. I usually do stir fry. I just portion stir fry veg, that’s usually broccoli, pruscet, mixed peppers, whatever I have in the house and I add a little bit of lentils into that and then that’s what I have before bed with some water.
And then, that’s me pretty much for the day, that’s my average day.
Sarah: Cool. Now, I asked in the Facebook community group- the Off The Pole community group if anyone had any questions for you and a lot of them were asking like what do you have before training, what do you have after training and so that definitely answers a lot of that stuff, I think.
Crystal wanted to know are there any foods that you stay away from when training for performance? And I was going to ask a similar question, like do you switch it up around a competition, like would you increase anything, would you decrease anything, or do you literally just kind of looking at your body and seeing what energy levels are like?
Michael: A really good question. The- Typically before I train for a competition- Well, the first thing I would do is like- First thing I have to say from the beginning there is like I don’t count macronutrients, I don’t count calories, I don’t like that. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what your goal is and certain sports and activities deem that kind of discipline. I just do what- I eat regularly throughout the day, every three to four hours minimum, and the basic rules that I think every man, woman, and child knows on the planet, make sure you get lots of greens in and good complex-carbohydrates. Keep your refined sugars low. Personally, I try to keep caffeine low, like I don’t drink coffee if that or take pre-workouts.
But in terms of before a competition, I would eat very, very similar. The only things I would differently, I wouldn’t be out drinking alcohol. Now, my alcohol consumption’s not crazy, at all, but I would stop altogether. The meals would stay pretty much the same but before a competition, about three to four days before my competition day, I would increase the carbohydrate contents, just to increase more glucagon store in the muscle because I know the amount of pressure they’re going to be going through on stage as well as accommodating the nerves and so on. Before a competition- Like, what I’ve given you there is a brief overview of what I typically would eat most days and I don’t think I change too much for competition, other than getting rid of alcohol, being a little bit more strict on- like at the moment, Saturday comes along and I feel like going out, having a vegan pizza with a big bowl of chips, I will. Whereas, I would definitely not do that pre-competition as well.
Sarah: Yeah. That’s a good answer. Do you find- Or have you found that there’s a lot of misconceptions about, especially someone like yourself who is predominately known for like your strength and things like that, when people hear that you’re vegetarian or vegan or, this is especially what I’ve found, people are like “Oh, how do you- like where do you get your protein from, number one, that’s always the first question. And two, has it affected your strength?” Like, have you found any of the misconceptions people have come across when they hear you’re plant-based or do you just get the normal questions, and then, how do you answer them?
Michael: Yeah, well I get the protein one all the time and like same as yourself and same as every plant-based or semi-plant-based athlete on the planet-
Sarah: See how big my shoulders are? There’s no problem, there’s no problem there.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. And it’s- I have to just- Like, that point is, in my opinion, it stems from absolutely phenomenal, amazing marketing by meat, dairy, and egg industries.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s a lot of propaganda around protein.
Michael: Yeah, that’s all that stems from. It’s being like you’ve had it, your parents have had it, your grandparents, great-grandparents. Mine are the same, everyone who’s listening to this, is the same. And it’s literally all these things- This is one of the areas I really researched deep into and you uncover that like it’s all just based on propaganda. When you actually try to orientate the original source, it’s like someone literally just had this idea and they just went with it and people have bought it. Again, I don’t shove information down people’s throats. I find that by just people knowing plant-based and seeing the feats you do and the level of training you do, I always just say the same thing that like all amino acids they originate from the atmosphere and then through biochemistry, they’re conforming to the soil, and then they’re in the soil, they come up through the soil in terms of plant materials, the animals eat the plant materials, and then we either eat the animals or we eat the plants. But amino acids can be sourced, you don’t need to consume animals or anything else to obtain them, you can obtain them fresh from the ground, if you choose to.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly, and I think that’s a big thing people with people, especially, sorry to say, especially vegans, have quite a bad rap at the minute for being quite preachy to people and I think that there’s a line, isn’t there? It’s like it’s really good to try and educate people and it’s nice to stand up for your point of view and to have an opinion, like everyone’s entitled to their opinion-
Sarah: On the internet. It’s just sometimes people, I think, can maybe take it too far or people aren’t ready to hear that information or they’re just at a different point in their or a different point in their diet or training and things-
Sarah: And I think we all have to respect each other’s choices but at the same time it’s like, there are some underlying things that I think ethically and sustainably that, you know, people should be moving a little bit more towards at least trying a plant-based diet for a few days a week, one day a week, you know. I’ve got a great recipe book, which is just meat-free Mondays, which is just trying to eat less meat on a Monday, you know, just little steps. And actually, the more you start researching it, the more you actually cut down, and cut down, and cut down, it goes pescatarian for a while and then, now my brother’s doing a Master’s degree in marine conservation. Now I know more. Now I’m more vegetarian, just ’cause as soon as you know, you’re just like “No more fish for me then”, you know. Ignorance is bliss sometimes…
Michael: Yeah, no, you’re right. You’re absolutely right and one of the approaches I take towards veganism or plant-based diet is that, like obviously you’re a vegetarian but if I happened to be sitting across the table from you at a restaurant and you ordered barbecue spare ribs and you were snapping them apart and chewing them up and all, I wouldn’t open my mouth to you-
Michael: I wouldn’t pass any remark.
Sarah: It’s someone else’s choice.
Michael: It’s not the way it works and also like, I am only four-and-a-half years at this, like I’m 36 years of age, I had to go through a cycle of life. I find the best way to approach people is by being gentle and just kind of if- I never bring up- It’s really interesting, I never, ever bring up veganism at a dinner table, it always gets brought up to me-
Sarah: Yeah, especially when they’re eating meat and you’re like “Do you want to talk about it now or do you just- let’s just not- I’ll tell you later, just don’t ask about it now.”
Michael: Yeah. I don’t like talking about it because like I’m so- I’ve bee researching this so much in terms of the physiology and biochemistry and nutritional end of it and also now, in the last two years, the, as you’re talking about, marine conservation, the environmental impact, is I don’t really necessarily at the same time want to make people feel too bad so I’d rather just stay quiet about it. But, I find my approach of posting information on nice places to eat or good foods to eat that are plant-based and I’m posting videos of training and living a good lifestyle, that, to me, encourages people more to be opened up to the idea than maybe sticking a video of cows getting their throats cut and so on. That’s some people’s approach and that’s fine. I think the animal rights activists are doing a huge amount to help. But, in my opinion, from my viewpoint, the advantage I have is the level of training I do and what I eat to try to help people understand that absolutely you can do the same.
Sarah: Exactly. And how have you found- ‘Cause you also do multiple things, you do pole as well, which is what you’re most known for in the pole industry, but you also have your studio, you have- well a playground basically, you have like trapeze, you have hand-balancing stuff, balloon making I’ve seen there as well. Do you find that they compliment each other or do you find that it helps balance, like they all have to balance each other out or is it just you’ve always done a mix of everything so that’s what you continue to do?
Michael: Yeah. I think it’s on an individual basis. If you just want to train pole seven days a week for five hours a day, then train pole seven days a week, five hours a day. Do what makes you happy. I started off as a break dancer and I was training- I just happened to be training break dancing in a gymnastics facility, a lot of people think I’m a gymnast, I’m not. I just trained as a break dancer in a gymnastics facility and I just became open to their side of training and I just started asking more questions and then I started getting coached in gymnastic rings by one of the many coaches. And that’s where my ring journey started from. And then, I worked in the fitness industry, like I said, I did a bit of power lifting, a bit of this, and a bit of that. And then, I just saw pole and was like “Oh God, that looks awesome” and I tried that. At the moment, yeah, I’ve taught myself quite a lot of different disciplines and arts and I’ve just been like that since I was young, like when I was 15 and 16, I wasn’t out on the corner drinking, I was in my bedroom making balloon animals and stuff. It’s just I was interested in doing more alternative types of things to teach myself-
Sarah: It’s a good life skill.
Sarah: Obviously, you’re using it now!
Michael: I used the balloon modelling not now for the- I do a class with special needs people and-
Sarah: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Michael: For the children, for the circus classes for the kids. They do all their hard work and then I finish the class by teaching the class how to make a balloon and so, then they all beat me up with a balloon. But-
Sarah: You should do that in your adult classes too, that’d be popular.
Michael: Yeah, probably. But yeah, pole would be my main thing. At the moment, I’m focusing a lot on flying pole, ’cause I’ve got a couple of performances coming up and I just adore flying pole because I came from pole and the challenge of the flying pole is just- the entire biomechanics are different. Like learning a deadlift handspring on a flying pole is fantastically harder than a regular pole ’cause the thing is moving. But anyone out there, if you’re learning multiple apparatuses, hundred percent, your original question, they do compliment each other. Like the basic method of inverting, your tuck support invert on a set of rings is identical to the way you would do it on a trapeze or a aerial hoop. The same mechanics to your lats and your biceps. But like, a chopper on pole is the same as doing a chopper on core release except a rope- except it moves a little bit. They a hundred percent will compliment each other and the more you do, I think, and especially my big thing with everyone, I’ll say it now, is whatever apparatus you’re training on, whatever your main source of training is, you must do conditioning. You must keep your body in top form in terms of mobility, your flexibility, and then, some form of resistance training to compliment- It’s how you reduce your risk of injury. I definitely think a big mix is a good idea, if that’s what you want.
Sarah: Yeah. And the conditioning side of it, again, is like that’s kind of what the whole Off The Pole movement has been about is like it’s not always the fun stuff but it’s actually the most important stuff and it’s not necessarily Instagram worthy but it’ll give you the foundation to be able to do all that crazy stuff on the pole and if you just do the crazy stuff, then you’re just kind of shortening your longevity on the thing that you love doing. I think that’s really good advice. And you cannot say it enough, we all need reminders to be, you know, to balance- We all get sucked in to just doing the stuff we enjoy, not necessarily the things that we should be doing. I don’t think you can say it enough.
Michael: I go through it all the time with my students, like every day, that if they are learning a muscle on the ring, like some of my advanced class now at the moment, in circus field, are working on all their last parameters that are prerequisites for the final muscle-up phase, where they all have to do their external rotate or stretches, they all need to do their- Like you can’t just dive in to it. And the same with pole, you know, yourself, like if you’re going to practise Phoenix for an hour and you haven’t warmed up or trained or conditioned your rotator cuff, you’re going to run into a spot of bother.
Michael: So some form, even if you don’t do any conditioning, start off with a little bit. Start off with like two or three times a week to start and even very basic foundation movements, like pushups and squats and so on, just something to keep your body in-tune. And as you get used to it, then, you can delve a little deeper into more complex patterns and movements to- ‘Cause a hundred percent, it will definitely help your performance on your apparatus and it will significantly reduce your risk of injury on your apparatus as well.
Sarah: Yeah. Bonus, double win. Cool, that literally- The time has like flown by, we’re already at like nearly 30 minutes but I did want to finish with this question that Joe from the group, I did warn you about this at the beginning. He would like to- When you eat seeds, do you ever get scared they’re going to grow a tree inside you? Very serious question…
Michael: That’s a really good question. I like that one, I never heard that one before.
Sarah: I don’t know if that’s a real question…
Sarah: I just want to give you the questions that the group told me!
Michael: No, I like the question. My dad always said when I was small because when I was very young, I was obsessed with eggs, he said someday I’m going to wake up with feathers out of my ass but that never happened. No, I don’t think you’re going-
Sarah: I think you’re safe, I think you’re safe, Joe.
Michael: It hasn’t happened yet and hopefully it won’t ever happen but, interesting enough, he does bring up- That funny question, as funny as it is, has reminded me of a point that I actually wanted to state.
Michael: For those who asked about nutrition and so on. And that’s people obsessing and worrying about omega-3 and 6s and all these- You have to get your own omega-3 and so on. Like the most concentrated source of digestible omega-3 fatty acids on planet Earth is in flax seed. Interesting to his point there, that’s why I said to you all I eat two portions of flaxseed a day, in the morning and later on in the day- the afternoon, because it’s extremely easy for your body to digest them and it’s the most absorbable source of omega-3. But I don’t think it will make you grow a tree inside you.
Michael: I don’t.
Sarah: Good. Well, you heard it here first, ’cause that’s a big worry for me.
Michael: If it ever happens, I’ll let you know and you can let him know that.
Sarah: Anyway, right. I’ve taken up enough of your time already, much appreciated. I will- Yeah, you’re going to watch this video on YouTube. The podcast will be on the blog session of the website along with the transcript and I can link anything, like your social media and your website and bits and pieces of that so people can find you, and follow along all of your café food stories.
Sarah: That I’m jealous of.
Michael: The Instagram would be the best one in terms of following kind of closer inspection of my training style and kind of food. Facebook, I obviously post on Facebook quite a lot but Instagram would definitely be more and easier to see, like it’s easier just to see a picture, a little description of what I’m doing.
Sarah: Cool, perfect. Thank you, Michael, much appreciative of your time.
Michael: Thank you so much for having me, it was amazing. It was fun.
Sarah: It was. We’ll speak soon. Bye.
Michael: Bye. Bye-bye.
Facebook: Michael Donohoe