The amount of people moving towards a plant based diet has skyrocketed in the last few years. Great news for animals (hopefully…in the long run) the environment (somewhat) and for your well being (um….it depends).
For 3 years I did 6 months on and then 6 months off of a vegan diet. Before my first 6 months I did about 3 months worth of research, because like any eating regimen, there is a right way and a wrong way. Just because you are vegan doesn’t mean you are healthy…nor does it mean you are saving the planet or saving the lives of animals. Veggie burgers are not the panacea to all the worlds problems. But yes, its a start. The good news is that a well thought out plant based diet may be the solution to many of your health problems.
The only things you need to concern yourself with, for any diet (by ‘diet’ I mean way of eating rather than temporary, crash diet) is the source/cleanliness of your nutrients and balance of these nutrients.
Just like a proper omnivorous diet, you want to make sure that the majority or all of your nutrients come clean and organic. By clean, I mean non processed. One of the reasons so many people are changing to a vegan diet is because we have made it an easier transition with all of the fake cheeses and fake meats. Are these better for you than real animal products. I would argue, probably not. If you can guarantee that your meat/dairy is antibiotic and hormone free and grass finished (for red meats) than, purely from a health perspective, it is probably better for you. This is, of course, staying within the confines of the second tenet – balance.
Instead of adjusting for the sudden lack of fat and protein in there diet, some people will fill the void with more carbohydrates, be they vegetable based or grain based. Neither does the job of replacing the macro nutrients you need, especially if you are very active.
One of the mistakes I made my first time going vegan was that I over consumed soy products in order to make up for the loss of protein from cutting out meat and dairy. Up until then, my soy intake was low enough that I hadn’t noticed my intolerance. I immediately had significant bloating and digestive issues. My initial assumption, as was my doctors, was that I just needed some time to adjust to the sudden increase in fiber from all the legumes and vegetables I was eating. This was not the reason I was keeping the bed warm at night! At the time I was training 6 days a week for an average of 90 minutes a day. My routine involved 4 strength training days and 2 sprints/cross training days. This was more intense than normal for me but not absurdly. I was trying to make a point that a vegan diet can support intense physical activity. Everything went great for the first 2 months, or so I thought. And then I developed tendonitis in both arms. What was happening was that my soy intolerance was negating proper nutrient absorption. If you want to train that often, and intensely, you really need to balance your nutrients. So, lesson to be learned here? Have yourself tested for allergies and/or intolerances. Whether you are changing your diet or not, the results might be life changing for your health. If you want to be healthy, you need a fully functioning digestive system. We are not just what we eat, but we are what we absorb.
Make sure you get enough protein by consuming more beans, lentils, chick peas, and tofu (if you are not allergic), and increase your fat intake with nuts, oils and avocados. b12 can be an issue for some people, so find a vegan source for a supplement and take it diligently. If you are doing some heavy weightlifting you will want to increase both your fats and proteins even more. If need be, add a mixed blend vegan protein powder to the mix. Blends tend to be better in the long run as reseacrh shows that we develop intolerances when consuming high quantities of isolated nutrients from the same source. This has been seen more for whey protein than vegan based sources but it is probably safe to say that the research is lagging on plant based protein powder consumption.
Another adjustment for those who are increasing their resistance training would be to add a vegan source of DHA/EPA. Some high quality seaweed oil tablets are available at most health food stores. The addition of these supplements may reduce your inflammation and ease recovery from your heavy lifting days.
Does your exercise regimen need to change? Nope, not because of your change of diet, not if you have found a balance of nutrients from clean sources. But, if you do not want to do the food allergy test and still change your diet with no transition phase, maybe you could ease up the intensity of your regimen for 6 weeks. See how your body adjusts to your new diet plan. It won’t hurt and maybe you are due for a nice recovery phase anyhow. Take the 6 weeks now and be safe rather than diving in and having to take 6 months later down the road when you get tendonitis!
Wait! your exercise regimen probably does need to change, but for different reasons. If you want to make progress, doing the same routine is not the most fun or efficient way to get results. Are you turning into a gym zombie? coming home and not remembering anything you did? It’s time to do some research, or find a good trainer and get a new program! You should be both physically and mentally stimulated by what you are doing. Focus begets flow and flow will transform your health, so make sure you find a way to exercise that is engaging and gets you results (want to know more about what I mean by “flow”, follow this link FLOW).
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