The PlantBuilt Experience. by Sara Russert

We just returned from our PlantBuilt excursion in Austin Texas.  It was an awesome week and we took home many trophies, DEFINITELY making a strong statement for veganism. We have invited Sara Russert, donut queen turned champion vegan bodybuilder, to write a blog about her experience!
I am still gathering my thoughts and trying to fully absorb the emotional thrill-ride that was the Plant Built Austin Takeover Weekend. I will try my best to cover as much as I can for you here!

Most of the team arrived sometime on wednesday. I began getting texts from Dani and Mindy the minute I turned on my phone when the plane touched down. My support team, Trevor and Calen, picked up their rental car and we headed over to the hotel where we were greeted in the lobby by the girls. Mindy and the boys were my roommates and we were lucky enough to have an adjoining room with Dani and Giacomo- like one giant muscle apartment.

support team

We needed to get a workout in that night, but first I needed to complete my registration, do my weigh in, and take a polygraph. I was a little nervous about doing my weigh in immediately after my flight, since I always bloat a little from flying, but I managed to squeak into my weight class by about .2 lbs and sailed through the polygraph test. If you have never undergone that process before it can be a bit unnerving. You get straps and clips attached to you and are told to hold still and stare at one point in front of you while an examiner asks you yes or no questions. You start getting nervous that you will accidentally say no when you mean yes, or vice versa.

Teams first meeting

After I was fully registered I went back up to the room where we had amassed a few more team mates Ed and our friends Robert and Karen and headed to the little hotel gym for a workout. Dani had us doing a short circuit just to pump up and keep our muscles filled out for the competition. It was really fun and hilarious to play musical weight benches in this teeny tiny gym packed with vegan body builders.

When we completed our workout we met down in the lobby where even MORE team members had gathered. Tiffany, Yolanda, Will, and Bonebreaker had just arrived so we took some team photos and then headed out to the flagship Wholefoods Market. It was INCREDIBLE! I could write an entire post just about shopping at Wholefoods in Austin, but I will spare you. If you love natural food stores and grocery shopping it is definitely a place to try to visit. The vast bulk section and specialty deli sections- like the beans and greens bar, were truly outstanding. We all got groceries for the next few days and explored for about an hour. Then returned to the hotel room for a well deserved rest.

wholefoods 1  wholefoods 2   wholefoods 3

Thursday morning we were up early and headed over to Beyond Fit, a vegan gym in Austin owned by Chad Byers and the strong and beautiful Tricia Kelly . By this time almost all of the team was together. Stephanie, Derek and Marcella, and Pam had arrived and we met up with out Austin Plant Built members Chad and (aptly named) Austin. We had a team meeting and then did a workout and some playing around while Brenda and Brian from Vegan Health and Fitness Magazine took some photos for an upcoming special addition they are planning featuring the team. After our workout we turned around to find that there were special boxes with each of our names on one filled with special gifts. Robert had given each of us a Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness bag filled with goodies and Elana, from Beyond Fit, had reached out to a whole bunch of companies and literally filled a box with treats, books, magazines, and love for us. It literally brought tears to my eyes to feel so cared for.

bf workout 3    bf workout 1     bf workout 2

Following the photoshoot we went back to the hotel and I did a short interview with Brenda, then took a shower and a little nap before heading out to get my spray tan. The spray tan is kinda a crazy experience as well if you have never gotten one at a bodybuilding show before. They usually have these little domed tents set up and you get in and strip down naked and get sprayed with a misty tanning solution. It makes you dark immediately but then you continue to darken over night as well. So you get sprayed and then stand naked in front of a fan, waiting to dry and trying not to touch yourself at all so you don’t smudge your tan. I told them I needed to be dark- so my tan would match the tattoo cover spray I had brought, but that I wanted only a light coat on my face. I got two coats, and one coat on my face, and stood to dry for about 20 minutes. After that time the girl told me I could get dressed but when I went to put on my clothes I was very not dry and my tan started rubbing off on my clothes. They decided to spray me AGAIN and let me dry longer. Needless to say I was VERY dark. A little darker than necessary probably.

best coach

After my tan I headed back to the room, some people had gone for one more trip to the grocery store, but I had everything I needed so Stephanie, Dani, and I assembled our food for the prejudging while Giacomo did some last minute coordinating. I was really really looking forward to getting to eat my contest day food! When you are staying at a hotel and get a spray tan you have to be very careful not to let your skin come in direct contact with anything because it will stain walls, fabric, and toilet seats. Trevor and Calen had gotten us some sheets and towels while we were out for the day and Dani wrapped my toilet seat in saran wrap for me. What would I do without them??

toilet seat

Friday morning I woke up at 8 and had my breakfast in the hotel hallway by myself before a quick pump up. I made a point to take some quiet time to myself with my breakfast and coffee each morning before the day started. At home I am used to having my breakfast and coffee alone and it is kinda a ritual that helps keep me calm and grounded. We all got ready and piled into the vans to head over to the Palmer Events Center, where the show was. Prejudging was to start at 3 but there was a competitor meeting scheduled earlier in the day and we needed to set up our info booth. When I got to the meeting my dad was there and I got to see him. He came all the way from Seattle on his motorcycle just to watch me compete.

morning pump   morning pump 2

dad   booth

Dani had all of her athletes on an eating schedule designed to have us in perfect condition when we stepped on the stage for prejudging (which is really just judging, always finalized before the public show). Giacomo was scheduled to go on stage shortly before me so I got to eat everything he did in half size about 20 minutes after he did. The anticipation of my sandwhich and peanut butter and jelly and vega protein bar was KILLING ME!

sandwich 1

sandwich 2

Little by little the team went on stage and were judged. The men’s bodybuilders Torre, Will, Derrek, Giacomo, and Austin were first. I didn’t get to watch them much because I was in pump up and being glazed while they were on stage. Women’s Bodybuilding was next and Marcella and I were in the Lightweight class together. The judges ran us through our mandatory poses so fast we barely had time to go back into our relaxed poses, but I didn’t feel too nervous because I was super prepared by my excellent posing coach Katy Wayman-White and I was on stage with a friend. Then Women’s Figure, where Pam had to stay in the line up for about 20 minutes, and Tiffany and Stephanie shined in the novice class, followed by Men’s Fitbody Models (which is like men’s physique). The class was huge but it was obvious that Ed and Chad were in the top 5. Finally Yolanda, Mindy, and Plant Built friend and fellow vegan Christy were on in Bikini. Of all the classes I never have any clue how that one will be judged. Any other class I am usually able to place the top 5 with decent accuracy. Not Bikini.

backstage 3backstage 1

backstage 2   backstage 4

It was a very long day and we were all out of food because the judging went on a little longer than anticipated so we went back to Wholefoods before returning to the hotel for the night. It felt like all the hard work was over though so I slept well that night, even though I was excited for the public show on Saturday.

Saturday morning we all headed back to the show site, sat through another meeting and then began to prepare for our posing routines and model walks. Everyone was on fire and it quickly became apparent that team Plant Built was gonna clean up. We were placing in every class and it was looking like we had a really good shot at winning both the open men’s and women’s bodybuilding overalls. All day long we got to watch and cheer for our team mates while they successfully proved the power of a vegan diet in building lean muscle and a fit healthy body. We didn’t get ALL the trophies… but pretty close. I will list the placing at the end of this post.

trophies   champs 4

champs 3


It was a thrilling and triumphant day for the team and I think we made a really large impact on everyone that was there. We needed to celebrate. The first bites of non meal plan food were blissful and luckily Kristen from Capitol City Bakery (Capital City Bakery) was there with cupcakes, cheesecake and cinnamon rolls! What amazing treats, and just what we needed to top off our victory!

food 1   food 2   cheesecake   cupcakes

We all headed back to our rooms to shower and take some down time before going out for dinner and ice cream. We went to Arlos Food Truck ( and had AMAZING vegan bacon cheeseburgers- and if you have followed my journey at all you know I have been dreaming of a veggie cheeseburger for months. Everyone came out and brought their families and it was such an awesome vibe. I finally got to talk to Tamara, Torre’s wife and I really hope she will join our team next year.

arlos 4   arlos 3   arlos 1   arlos 2

Then we went to Sweet Ritual Ice Cream where we ate them out of waffle cones and all had multiple items. I personally had 6 scoops of ice cream and 2 waffle cones. It hurt, but I had already proven I was a champion right? So I conquered the ice cream store. Miles, Marcella and Derek’s son had his first taste of sugary ice cream and lost his mind. Then proceeded to run in circles until the sugar ran out. It was adorable.

sr 1

sr 4

sr 5

Sunday morning, on little to no sleep I went and did a quick photoshoot for Tatted and Shredded, an online magazine for tattooed athletes that approached me at the supershow. Mindy and Stephanie came with me and were my little entourage for an experience that would probably have felt a little awkward for me without them.


After that shoot we headed over to Bonebreaker Barbell. Home and gym of Plant Built team member Big Bald Mike, aka Bonebreaker. We all visited and got to hang with Plant Fusion rep Scott who took such good care of us during our training and supplied us all with several tubs of protein. Then we got to PLAY in the Bonebreaker Gym. I have never had such a fun workout and I think there are going to be some amazing photos from that day. Mike, Gina and Kate made us all a huge feast of grilled tofurkey sausages, corn on the cob, fire roasted fresh salsa, bbq succotash and chili. Somehow Pit Master Mike made everything taste smokey and magical.

vegan proteins

hungry vegans

mike pulls the girls



We had one last night out and people slowly started to disappear as they boarded their planes and headed home.

I already miss my team and vegan muscle family. It feels like some very strong bonds were made and a huge wave of momentum was created that we can all harness to use to promote cruelty free health and fitness over the next year. I know we are all feeling very excited to spread the energy that was created in Ausitn last week into our lives and communities and make our message felt far and wide.

Thank you so much to anyone and everyone who has supported me personally and our team as a whole either financially, or with a kind word of encouragement or support. You have no idea how much a “like” or comment on a photo can help when you are having a rough day and feel like you want to stray from your diet. We, the plant built team of 2013, could not have done it without you, our friends, family, and supporters!

Especially the Bad Ass Power Cookie 😉

power cookie


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