Maria Lee: From Bodybuilder to Community Builder

For someone who works on the body for a living, Maria Lee puts plenty more focus on the mind.

The 32 year-old Tribefit owner and philosophy grad specializes in weight training, but her intuitive style blends it all together with strength, power, and high reps — setting her apart from other fitness coaches.

“If a client has been used to doing squats at a certain stance, we’ll change it up and introduce plyometrics to get [their] heart rate up, and we throw in back training,” explained Lee, who will be part of the VegFit Vegan Fitness Showcase at the upcoming Veg Expo in Vancouver. “One of my main priorities is to be effective in selecting the training methods and engaging as many muscle groups as possible.”

More importantly, Lee builds relationships with her clients outside of the gym, finding out what they want to achieve in their lives, aside from looking good. It’s this quality that likely contributed to her being ranked third for Most Popular Coach in Vancouver, and eighth for Most Popular Coach in B.C. by CanadianCoaches4You in 2017.

A few months ago, one of her younger clients worked up the courage to quit a job that caused her to relapse into depression.

“I told her you’re not weak if you decide to quit that job,” Lee recalls. “After a few weeks, she handed in the [resignation] letter. There’s a spark that’s been reignited [in her] and that’s the kind of shit I love. There’s nothing better than that.”

At the time she opened Tribefit, Lee’s diet was free of meat but she was still eating eggs and fish.  However, a vegan activist’s social media post struck a chord in 2015.

“He said, ‘How can you say you’re a good person and look at yourself in the mirror every day when every meal you eat contributes to some of the worst suffering in the world?’ That was it.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maria Lee

Since then, she’s been on a mission to bust the myth that eating vegan doesn’t mean not getting enough protein, or that a lack of protein causes malnourishment.

“Protein deficiency will probably never happen in North America,” she said.

Although the rest of the team at Tribefit doesn’t strictly eat plant-based, Lee is opening a studio in Spring 2020 and wants to build an inclusive community for everyone, including clients interested in plant-based eating.

She’s one of the rising number of fitness influencers who are leading the vegan movement on social media, having won 2nd Place in the Bikini Open BC Cup Natural Championships, and 3rd Place in the IFBB Bikini Open Vancouver Pro Qualifier in 2018 – a feat for a first-time competitor.

Photo: Ramirez Creative Photography, courtesy of Maria Lee

Her 16-week training regimen included a split six-day program with six meals a day consisting of Tofurky sausages and greens.

“I got to see what each part of me was capable of, but it’s not the type of training I prefer because it’s not functional,” she said. “Bodybuilding is not an activity where you use your muscles after.”

Lee met her role model, vegan bikini competitor Samantha Shorkey, at Vancouver’s Veg Expo a few years ago, and now finds herself in a similar position, telling others the benefits of eating plant-based to fitness and health.

“I’ve experienced more speed and power, less inflammation, faster muscle recovery, and overall improved functioning,” she said. “My whole body feels lighter. Your body will get way more energy because it’s not busy trying to fight off toxins that are in animal products.”

Photo: Veg Expo 2018

At Veg Expo on Sunday, May 5, at the Vancouver Convention Centre, West building, Lee will hold a meet-and-greet at the bodybuilding showcase. Tribefit will also have a space in the Social Zone, where Lee’s new apparel line will be sold.

Although her bodybuilding days are over, Lee is manifesting more for her future, and encourages everyone to do the same.

“Things don’t stay the way they are unless you choose for it to,” she said. “We have an abundance of resources and … it’s up to us to reach out and seize those opportunities and to manifest the potential that our lives have.”

For more information on Veg Expo 2019, visit vegexpo.ca.

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