What do you eat? Where does your intake of protein come from? How do you get enough calcium, iron and vitamin B12? Fellow vegans, and vegetarians, will know these questions all too well. When meeting new people, our choice of diet often comes under attack. We, as a collective, must be prepared to answer these questions fluently to make the choice seem viable. Even though, if the questions were flipped, the people asking them wouldn’t know where to start when it came to talking about their diet, and vital micro and macronutrients. But this perpetual questioning actually serves us, as meat-free consumers, very well. From experience, vegetarians (and particularly vegans) are incredibly clued up on, not only nutrition, but also how to transform these vital nutritional components into delicious and creative culinary delights. So to you meat-eaters out there, keep the questions coming – it keeps us on our toes.
So far, I have used the terms vegan, vegetarian and meat-free. These are all commonly used to describe different diets that eschew meat and animal products to differing degrees. A term that has been adopted of late, one which I prefer, is plant-based. Matt Frazier, in his excellent book ‘No Meat Athlete’, coins this term and I feel it is more apt for covering a broader group of people. It can be used to describe anyone that has a predominantly plant-based diet. So in other words, most of their food comes from plants, rather than animals. It also includes those who occasionally have small quantities of meat or fish, and those at the other end of the spectrum – like vegans – who do not eat any animal products whatsoever. From a nutritional point of view, we are concerned about the majority of what is consumed, so it makes sense to group these different people together (the same could not be said if taking a moralistic view).
I have been plant-based for four years now. In those four years, I have not consumed a single serving of meat or fish. I have eaten completely vegan on about half of all those days, and I’m now doing my best to make my diet fully vegan. I have even tried eating only raw food for a day (that didn’t work out) and am keen to take up the rapidly growing Raw ‘til 4 diet. When I first took all meat and fish out of my diet, I lost a total of 10kg. I have now stabilized out at 70-72kg. I am 6’4” (194cm). That makes me fairly skinny, with a BMI of 19.1.
Going plant-basedcoincided with my take-up of running. Back then, I only really ran at night to clear my mind of the university revision. Now I run every day, and I’m even shooting at a 2:30 marathon in London next year. And, I am of the firm belief that a plant-based diet really does give me a considerable advantage over others.
Staying light on your feet
It is much easier keeping the weight off when following a plant-based diet. In fact, I have the opposite problem – trying to keep weight on. When looking at the back of a packet, I’m trying to get in as many calories as possible and not the other way around. Plant-based calories are, for the most part, better for you than the norm. Whilst it is possible to be overweight on a plant-based diet, everyone I know that has experimented with the diet has lost weight, and fast.
Keeping vitamin and nutrient-rich
Going plant-based means that you will inevitably eat more fruits, vegetables and different pulses, nuts and grains. By cutting out the easy option of a slab of meat for dinner it forces you to be creative with the different foods you now have to choose from. You cook with foods you never even knew even existed. This means you’re getting all sorts of vital vitamins and minerals from a whole range of sources. You begin to realize that iron and calcium can be found in abundance in leafy greens, whilst your potassium is more than taken care of by a few bananas. Complete proteins can be found in grains such as quinoa, but also easily made up by making creative combinations of other grains and pulses.
Easier digestion & recovery
Meat and dairy products are acidic, whereas whole plant-based foods are alkaline. Excessive consumption of these acidic animal products can result in inflammation due to higher blood pH levels, thus slowing recovery. And, meat and dairy take an age to digest. Our bodies struggle to get the nutrition we crave from them, whereas fibrous vegetables and whole grains go down a treat. A bowl of noodles, with a tonne of vegetables, mixed nuts or tofu post-run, will leave you feeling nicely full – and not bloated or laden. The one downside: you’ll be going to the loo quite frequently, as all that fibre means your digestive system will be working incredibly efficiently.
A winning combination
In summary, a plant-based diet is a viable alternative for many animal product consumers out there. Small changes over a prolonged period will make a huge difference to both your health and athletic performance. You might grate on a few pals walking around with a constant glow for a while, but sooner or later they’ll start coming around to the idea themselves. So, get out there and start killing those carrots!