I’m sure some of you have seen the title of this blog post and thought ‘Oh no! Here’s another preachy vegan!’ but I’d like to start by saying you can eat what YOU like! Eating meat doesn’t make you a bad person nor does being veggie or vegan make you a good person, plus…there is no perfect diet (if there was, we’d all be eating it by now!). I changed to a plant-based diet just over a year ago and it changed my life! I just wanted to share with you my journey over the past year and some tips and tricks I have picked up so that whether you’re thinking of becoming completely plant-based or just swapping your dairy milk and cheese for a plant-based alternative, your decision is a little bit clearer and easier.
My first experience came from a client of mine. He had recently changed to a plant-based diet to help with his Triathlon training and as I didn’t have much experience of working with anyone vegan I did my own research into this sort of diet. I wasn’t in a great place mental health wise (that’s a story for anther time); I didn’t feel good about myself, I wasn’t training well, I wasn’t eating well, I wasn’t sleeping well, something needed to change and after what I’d read I thought that becoming plant-based was the change that I needed!
I went all in; I literally went from an animal-based diet one day, to a plant-based diet the next! Now this isn’t something that I recommend but that is the type of person I am, if I’m doing something, I’m doing it 110%. I noticed an immediate difference! I felt more energetic, less groggy, somehow lighter, more productive, my mind was clearer, not so overly full after eating, and just better in general. As a PT my days tend to be long, I start early in the morning before people go to work and tend to finish late at night after people have been to work. I would nap religiously during the day; I wouldn’t make it to the end of my day without it! The major difference I noticed was the increase in my energy levels. I would wake up at 5am and feel ready to take on the day! I no longer needed my nap during the middle of the day, which meant that when it actually came to the end of the day I was tired and slept better during the night.
My work improved as well. I wasn’t dragging myself through my sessions, I felt present in what I was doing again. My aim is to help my clients as much as I possibly can and I felt like I was doing this again. My sessions felt more productive and I was also more productive away from my sessions, doing extra learning and extra work for my clients.
Furthermore, I saw a huge improvement in my training. I train in CrossFit/Functional Training (whatever you want to call it), which can be gruelling, I’ve done some of the toughest workouts of my life through Crossfit, but so rewarding knowing what you can achieve! I no longer felt like I was dragging myself through training sessions, due to my increased energy levels I felt like I could actually perform and I’ve gained massively in terms of my cardiovascular fitness, strength and power. The other difference I noticed was my ability to recover. I usually train 5-6x a week and sometimes twice a day with all the different aspects of CrossFit I need to be training all the time. My muscle soreness is less meaning I can train back-to-back for a number of days and I feel like I’m performing at 100% every session.
All these changes helped improve my mental health as well. I don’t think the improvement is down to specifically eating less animal-based food or eating more of certain foods (even though there is research for this) but I was more energetic, I was more motivated, more productive, sleeping better, training better, feeling better about myself, more focused, which massively changed my mood for the better and helped with my depression.
Don’t get me wrong, the change was hard at first. Food shopping became twice as long. If the food wasn’t already labelled vegan I would have to read the ingredients to see If I could eat it or not but after about a month I knew what sort of things I could buy and had some staple foods that I would always buy and always had in my cupboards incase I needed to make something quick. Plant-based meals can take a long time to make, there can be a lot of preparation but after I’d bought a few recipe books (Bosh!, Five Ingredient Vegan, 15 Minute Vegan), meal prepping became easy and I had options for if I was in a hurry. Also, like may of us, I like to eat out! Things are getting much better (I’d have hated to be vegan even 5 years ago) but most big cities now have vegan only restaurants (Vertigo & Allotment in Manchester, Whins Green Kitchen in Chorley) or have vegan only menus (Malthouse Farm & The Hinds Head in Chorley).
On an animal-based diet we obsess about our protein sources. We tend to make our meals thinking about our protein source first than everything else after. Protein IS an essential macronutrient and I still make sure I hit my protein goal for the day but since turning plant-based my meals are so much more varied! I make food based on how good it looks, how good it tastes, what ingredients it has; I’ve eaten food I would never have thought of eating before, used herbs and spices I’ve never tried before and if a meal doesn’t have that much protein in, it’s now not the end of the world…I enjoy eating and its improved my relationship with food!
I will always stand by the difference going plant-based made for me, my family and I now all have one vegan meal together a week, but like anything to do with nutrition it might not make you feel the same way. However, surely it’s worth a go! So whatever change you want to make, however big or small, here are my top tips…
- Come up with your why: do your research into the pros and cons of a plant-based diet. From there you can make a much more informed decision and you’ll be much more motivated to make the change and stick to it.
- Start small: when making the start it can seem like ‘where the hell do I start?!’ Replace products in your diet step-by-step, have one plant-based meal per week, have one plant-based day a week or try vegetarian first.
- Be prepared: we do not live in a vegan world yet. It’s hard to nip out to the shop and just buy something so plan ahead with your meals, make a shopping list, have staple foods to always eat and buy cookbooks.
- Educate people: you may receive negative feedback from friends and family about going vegan but like anything this usually stems from a lack of knowledge. Help people understand the benefits or cook for them. There’s nothing better than a meal to knock their socks off!
- Protein intake: there is a misconception that you can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet however there are plenty of different protein options (beans, lentils, chickpeas to name but a few).
- Supplements: you will have to supplement vitamin B12 as you will not be getting this from milk. Most plant-based milks are fortified so contain calcium and cruciferous veg will give you plenty of iron.
- Weight loss: you may notice an initial weight loss due to less calorific meals but if you manage your energy balance: calories in vs. calories out you will be able to maintain a healthy weight.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me! Look out for the incoming podcast from myself and Mr Fitbox himself, Nick Jones.