Muscle Is Change

Nikki Justice

“My purpose is still to be a light in this dark world and to help others.”

Nicole Justice

Activities: Spartan Races, Trail Races, Strength Training

Social Media: @fitnurse_nikki

Career: Nurse

Career Accomplishments: Spartan World Championships competitor, Spartan West Virginia Super – 1st place, Spartan Fayetteville Sprint – 3rd place

Restored by Lecrae (ft. 1K Phew, WANDE, Hulvey)

I met Nikki back in 2014 on the corner of 23rd and 7th in NYC. I had just started the MCBMI blog that Spring, so I was always looking for athletic women to potentially interview. I remember telling her about my blog, and asking her if she would be interested in doing an interview, and she said, ‘sure!” She didn’t have much time to talk because she was on her way to a casting for Under Armour, so I took her contact info, and gave her my card. We actually ended up doing the interview and it was published in November of 2014, the title, “Muscle Is Influential.”

I try to follow as many of the women I interview as I can, on social media and it’s been interesting to see the changes that have occurred in many of their lives over the years.

“Everything must change,
Nothing stays the same.
Everyone must change
Nothing stays the same.

The young become the old,
Mysteries do unfold.
‘Cause that’s the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged.” – Quincy Jones

I wanted to interview Nikki again to catch up, to see what things had changed and what if anything remained the same. In doing this interview, I knew there would be some changes, but the core of who she was in 2014 is still who she is today, just a brighter version. If you get a chance, check out her first interview, “Muscle Is Influential” and then read this one!

Thank you Nikki for catching MCBMI up on the many changes that have occurred, in self, career, and activity. Continue to be that light in this world.

Q:  I initially interviewed you back in November of 2014, you were living in the NY area and working as a fitness model, actress, and personal trainer. You stated you wanted to go back to school. Did you make that happen? If so, what career path did you choose?

Time sure does fly when you’re having fun! Yes, I decided to go back to school and earned my second bachelor’s degree in Nursing! 

Nikki and husband Phil both place 3rd in the Spartan Fayetteville Sprint

Q:  In following you on IG, I know a lot has changed over the past six and a half years. Tell us about a few of the major changes that have occurred in your life?

So much has changed! Where do I begin? I transformed from fitness model to mud runner! My husband ran a Spartan Race (obstacle course race) and I attended the race for mere support. It was so awesome that I wanted to sign up for one myself and I’ve been hooked ever since! I’ve also started to run trail races which are really great. In addition, I completely changed up my nutrition and essentially went from Carnivore to Herbivore. 

Q:  You have always eaten really healthy. One of the things I noticed is, you went Vegan. How long have you been Vegan and what made you decide to make the change?

Yes, I’ve completely changed my eating habits to a whole food plant-based diet! There were many reasons why I decided to become Vegan including my own personal health, the overall well being of animals, and the planet. I’ve always been an animal lover, so from an ethical perspective Veganism was the right choice for me. I’ve been plant-based now for nearly six years and I’m loving it! I’ve always been curious about eating plant-based nutrition, so I started educating myself further until I was ready to make the change. At first, I watched a few eye opening documentaries like “What The Health,” “The Game Changers,” and “Forks Over Knives,” to name a few.  I also found Dr. Greger, M.D. with nutritionfacts.org and his book How Not To Die and found the scientific evidence behind plant-based nutrition to be irrefutable. I decided that in order to fuel my body optimally this was a change I was prepared to permanently make.

Q:  Was it hard to adjust to a Vegan diet? Talk about the initial adaptation, finding the right protein combinations and variety in your diet.

Of course trying something new always has it’s challenges. I went “cold tofurkey” 😉 right into Veganism which has its pros and cons. Remember, nutrition isn’t about perfection, but about progress. So, I knew I was all-in, but as you can imagine I felt I wasn’t sure where to start. I used an abundance of resources to point me in the right direction to fuel my athletic body correctly. I never had any issues with variety—in fact, there are over 20,000 edible plant sources in the world! I’ve been far more adventurous with my food than I ever was which always keeps my meals interesting and exciting! I love that I never feel restricted anymore and I never count my calories. I eat an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and seeds and don’t count a single calorie. If I’m hungry, I eat, it’s that simple. Unfortunately, everyone is hung up on “how do you get enough protein in your diet?” which is a question I’m frequently asked. Protein deficiency is nearly unheard of in America. If your daily nutrition comes from whole plant-based foods, you’re likely to be eating far more nutrient dense food than you would be by eating predominantly meat. The real question should be “where do you get your fiber from?” as only about 5% of Americans reach the daily recommended fiber goal of ~25 grams per day by eating a typical Western diet.

Q:  What benefits have you seen from going Vegan?

Gosh, too many to count! Obviously my energy levels have significantly improved, as did my athletic performance. I’m able to workout longer at higher intensities and my recovery time is shorter. Furthermore, plant-based nutrition has also significantly improved my skin! My relationship with food is the healthiest it has ever been. As a former bikini competitor and fitness model, I felt as though my world revolved around my food and I was constantly counting calories and macros. I love the food that I eat each and every day and I am just as excited to try Vegan renditions of my favorite foods at year six as I was on day one of plant-based eating. Plus, I feel like I’m making a difference for the planet by choosing this lifestyle which doesn’t just benefit me by what I choose to put on my plate. 

Q:  Is your husband Vegan as well?

He sure is! He makes some amazing plant-based dishes as well! 

Nikki and Phil- The Justice League training together

Q:  What advice would you give someone looking to become Vegan?

Pretty much every Vegan says “I could never go vegan,” yet here we are! My greatest piece of advice would be to not be so hard on yourself and aim to improve a little more each day. Additionally, I think it’s important to educate yourself with reputable sources, such as published scientific journal articles. A great  example is, “The China Study” it’s the most comprehensive nutritional study and its impact on long term health. Read the actual book and decide for yourself! The internet is the “wild wild west!” Think about it– just because someone’s sister’s cousin’s best friend tried Veganism one time and got sick or some weird story, that shouldn’t dissuade you from trying it if you’re curious. Our food today for a traditional Western diet is so calorically dense, but nutrient poor! I want to emphasize that there is a right and wrong way to eat vegan. The key really is to stay away from processed foods (though they are tempting) and to eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Sure, you can load up on Vegan pizzas or processed mock meats, but if you’re trying to improve your health you should stray away from these or eat them as little as possible. By adopting a diet that emphasizes an increased amount of nutrients, you’d never have to worry about portion control or even counting calories.  If you’re scared to make the switch because you think going vegan is “expensive,” you should reevaluate your thinking. A pound of dried beans will always be significantly cheaper than a pound of ground beef! So which diet is really the expensive one? If anyone has any questions about Veganism or where to get started, you can always reach out to me and I can try my best to help find resources to point you in the right direction! 

Spartan Race training

Q:  A common belief among many who focus on muscle hypertrophy is it is more challenging to put on and maintain muscle on a plant based diet. In your experience, do you find this to be true?

It’s a misnomer to believe that you can’t build muscle on a plant-based diet. I urge you to think about the largest animals in the world. Elephants? Rhinos? Hippos? Bison? Horses? How do they all build muscle? Plants. Many elite athletes are switching to plant-based nutrition to improve their athletic performance and give them an athletic edge to be a cut above their competition. Society fixates on one macro-nutrient, which is protein. When we eat food, it is such a dynamic and complex process of how the nutrients get to where they need to go! What about all of the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that our body requires? The complexity goes far above and beyond mere protein. I personally haven’t had any issues with building muscle while on a plant based diet. In fact, I’m building muscle on a vegan diet just as I would have on a meat based diet. My fitness goals have completely changed and my body has adapted beautifully! 

Q:  Are there any foods you miss? If so, have you been able to find decent substitutes for them?

I honestly love my nutrition now, so there isn’t anything in particular that I miss. Every now and again I throw a Beyond Burger on the grill topped with Follow Your Heart   Gouda Cheese which does the trick! Otherwise, the foods that I make are so jam packed with flavor, that I much prefer them to my old way of eating! Plant-based eating has become far more streamlined than it was six years ago. There is a plant-based alternative for just about everything these days!

Q: I know you started competing in Spartan Races. Are you still doing those and if so, what has training been like during the Pandemic?

The pandemic has significantly changed what racing has been like. Just like everything else, racing was essentially shut down. As the world gradually opens back up, so will racing. Spartan just had an event down in Florida a few weekends ago, but my husband and I couldn’t attend. We certainly plan to still race, but perhaps when the world fully opens back up! Otherwise, my training looked a lot different over the last year. The pandemic helped me to realize how much I love working out at the gym! I found it difficult to stay motivated while doing home workouts. When the pandemic first started, my husband and I were running outside anywhere from 25-40 miles per week, no matter what the weather looked like. Unfortunately, I started dealing with a long-standing overuse injury of my Achilles tendon, so I scaled back the running and started working on rehabilitative exercises. The gyms in my area opened back up, so we’ve been back to a regular weight lifting regimen and I’m back to running, too!.

Q: 2020 was a pretty difficult year for millions of people.  In what way, if any were you affected, good or bad?

2020 was mostly tough for me because I was in Nursing School during the pandemic. We had to switch to online for the summer semester which took away from our ability to attend live clinicals in the hospital. Thankfully, we were back in clinicals for our final semester, but with very strict guidelines. I feel as though I persevered despite adversity and completed my Nursing program and still passed my NCLEX Licensure Exam on my first try!

Spartan race competition

Q:  Life always throws us curve balls. I believe them to be a test to make us better people and oftentimes we keep getting thrown the same, or similar curve balls until we choose the right way to deal with the situation. What is your initial response to the curve balls of life?

Stay in the game and keep your eye on the ball. Sometimes we strike out, but sometimes we knock it out of the park. Therefore, in life we need to try, fail, and adjust. Just because life throws us curve balls, that doesn’t mean you need to throw in the towel. When that curve ball heads your way be ready to swing!

Q:   As I stated, I initially interviewed you in 2014, Looking back on your ideas of life, who you were, and what you believed your purpose to be, has anything changed? If so, in what way?

Of course! I’ve matured and see life differently than I used to. I think outside of the box and I’m not easily influenced by others. I made decisions for myself and I follow my own moral and ethical compass to guide me. For example, I catch a lot of flack for being Vegan where I live, but this doesn’t deter me from what I believe in. Fundamentally, who I am as a person is still the same. I just don’t let petty things bother me like I used to. My purpose is still to be a light in this dark world and to help others. I still believe in empowering women and encouraging everyone to be their best self! 

Q: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Five years from now, I’d like to have completed my Family Nurse Practitioner degree and be working towards owning my own clinic!

Q:  Give me a song that inspires you.

Restored by Lecrae ft. 1K Phew, Wande, Hulvey

Q:  Give me a healthy lunch or dinner recipe.

I have so many! I feel like I’ve been on a wrap kick lately, haha! An easy and absolutely delicious quick meal that I make is a Smoky Chipotle Black Bean Wrap. I mix a tablespoon of Organic Veganaise (vegan mayo) with Smoky Chipotle Paprika seasoning to make my version of Chipotle mayo and spread it on a large spinach wrap. I add ripe sliced avocado, Sweet Vidalia onion, fresh salsa, arugula, and ¼ cup (or more!) of black beans! It is such an easy and quick meal to make, especially if you are crunched for time. 

Q:  Why did you agree to do this MCBMI interview again?

I enjoy helping people in any way that I possibly can and I love helping individuals reach their goals! I love discussing plant-based nutrition and how it can help improve their overall health and wellness. I enjoy helping individuals find reputable resources to allow them make decisions for their own health. We all deserve to live to our fullest extent! If my story inspires just one single person, then I feel as though I have accomplished much!