Marcella Torres

Student Spotlight: Marcella Torres

Marcella Torres is both a mathematician and a competitive bodybuilder. She is determined to prove the traditional practices of both the athletic and academic communities wrong by demonstrating the benefits of a plant-based vegan lifestyle. Torres, who is working towards her Ph.D. in Systems Modeling and Analysis at VCU, studies the effect of nutrition and fitness on the body through both her statistical research and her position as co-founder of Richmond’s only plant-based personal training studio, Root Force Personal Training.

Root Force works with clients to help them build muscle and get lean on a whole-food, plant-based diet. Their goal is to create fit, vegan role models in order to show that a plant-based diet is not only a possible substitute for traditional personal training strategies, but superior them.

Marcella Torres teaches“We’re not just vegan,” said Torres. “It’s possible to be vegan and eat nothing but garbage these days, especially here in Richmond there’s vegan donuts, there’s vegan anything you could ever want. We do whole-foods plant-based, so we eat mostly plants, mostly vegetables, grains, nuts, that kind of a thing. That food is full of antioxidants, full of phytonutrients – things that help you recover faster.”

She and her husband Derek Tresize, a fellow vegan and professional trainer, founded Root Force in 2012 after their plant-based vegan fitness and nutrition blog, Vegan Muscle and Fitness, gained a following online. The blog, which was created in 2009, provides subscribers with workout routines, vegan recipes, and lifestyle tips for staying healthy both in and out of the gym.

“If you’re eating food that helps you recover faster, that means you’re back in the gym faster than the other person. You have more energy than the other person generally because you’re not weighed down digesting a bunch of heavy foods, you’re light on your feet, energetic, and refreshed. That definitely pays off in the long run,” Torres said.

Torres applies her experiences both as a competitive bodybuilder and as a mathematician to her personal training services, providing them with scientifically-informed and personally tested tips for a healthy lifestyle. This methodology has caused Root Force to depart from the strategies of other personal training organizations, which don’t include nutritional guidance and rely on traditional weight loss plans that dramatically limit calorie intake and focus on cardiovascular exercise to improve body composition. Instead, trainers at Root Force emphasize the importance of a natural diet and stress the need for resistance exercises, meaning work against an opposing force, in maintaining weight loss.

M. Torres fitness“What we’ve seen with our clients is when they do resistance training they build up lean mass. Lean mass is energetically expensive tissue so it burns lots of calories when you’re doing nothing throughout the day. So, I wanted to see what would happen if you did that as part of an obesity intervention,” said Torres.

Last year Torres collaborated with researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to create a mathematical model simulating a resistance exercise program and comparing its effectiveness in improving body composition to that of other, more traditional exercise routines. Their research was published last month in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, and supported Torres’s hypothesis that resistance exercise should aid in the maintenance of a healthy body composition by preserving lean mass and metabolic rate.

Despite resistance to her resistance-exercise-focused research, Torres plans to continue her studies in the field in the future by analyzing the effect of a plant-based diet, compared to a typical Western diet, on atherosclerosis, or fatty deposits that clog arteries and lead to heart disease.

“It’s really controversial to think that resistance training is beneficial at all for body composition,” said Torres. “When I’ve gone to obesity conferences, people are really reluctant to believe that resistance training is a viable thing to include in any kind of obesity intervention but I know from business experience that that’s not true. With our clients we’ve seen a lot of success, with ourselves we’ve seen a lot of success doing that.”

By Megan Schiffres