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Now my pro athlete aspiration are behind me and I’m just a self confessed exercise junkie, I feel like now could be the time to look the plant based diet straight in the face and really see what it’s all about. So this Veganuary I’m going fully vegan for a week whilst trying complete a big week of exercise. I’ll be documenting every step of the day.
Now to be honest, this feels a bit daunting, especially for someone that loves food & exercise as much as me. And i know it’s only week as well, but i honestly feel that will be a big enough challenge for me. I have my concerns and preconceptions on plant based diets but i know these haven’t be formulated through anything remotely factual, so before my vegan week commences, I thought I better do some research.
One of my preconceptions with a vegan diet is the idea that I’ll be hungry all the time. Throughout my 4 years of studying Sports Nutrition, it was also drilled into us that protein was satiating and animal based products provide the best sources of protein. Now not wanting to give away my age (a lady never tells), admittedly this was a while ago now, certainly before Veganuary was ever a ‘thing’ and I’m in no doubt that if I went back and sat my Masters degree now, plant-based would probably have its own module. So removing meat & dairy from my diet certainly leaves a big calorific hole that needs to be filled to keep my general energy levels up, but also my energy to carry on consistently exercising.
After being lost in google for good few hours surrounding this concern of mine, I’ve loosely concluded there is no reason why I should feel like I have less energy. In fact many claim that I’ll have arguably more energy, as the foods I’ll be consuming are less dense and more easily digestible. The emphasis seems to be more on quantity. Plant based foods usually have lower amount of calories, so seemingly I’m going to have to pile more on my plate to hit my daily calorie requirements; not necessarily a bad thing in my eyes. Also lucky for me, OTE does have a wide range of vegan friendly products, from Anytime Bars, to gels and even a Soya Recovery Drink; so this should help to meet the demands of my exercise too.
One overwhelming theme with the vegan content that I’m reading online is the lack of scientific evidence. There are studies, but most are understandably done on subject groups with help conditions and not the healthy, regular exercising portion of the population. So I think this ones just going to fall down to documenting how I feel day to day around work and training.
I touched on it above, but I think this is one of the main concerns for most athletes when converting to a plant based diet. And that’s quiet understandable too. It’s often debated, but the consensus does seem to be that athletes require more protein than the average person. In fact a review titled ‘Vegan Diets: practical advice for athletes & exercise’ by David Rogerson covers the topic really well, I’ll link it here for those who want a more in depth read.
Protein is present in a lot of plant-based foods; beans, lentil, tofu, all packed full of the good stuff. The problems being that these don’t always lend themselves to every meal (but if you can stomach lentils for breakfast, then you do you) and also the quantity needed to reach the 20-30g aim protein intake per meal or snack, may be quite over facing.
Then there is the issue with the ‘quality’ of protein. Plant based protein sources often miss important essential amino acids (EAA) that are more readily present in animal based protein. This doesn’t mean EAA can’t be obtained from plant based diets, but what it does mean is you need to consume a wider variety of plant protein sources to make sure you’re meeting all your amino acid requirements. I’ll make sure this is factored in when planning my meals for the week, but also I can call upon the OTE Soya recovery drink to get in 25g of protein with added amino acids after my training sessions. It does seem that supplements can be a big help when it comes to a vegan diet.
This one might seem less of a big deal, but for me it’s a big one. I’m such a foodie; I look forward to my meals that we always tend to cook from scratch. Good food has always been a big passion and huge morale booster to me. Particularly breakfast, best meal of the day FACT (I have no research to back this up though).
So I’ve put a lot of time and effort into planning an interesting and varied week of meals, because I know if I don’t probably after a few days I’ll be reaching for the Greek yogurt, extra mature cheddar cheese or just smashing a huge homemade burger.
The plan is below & if the recipes stack up I’ll share them along the way too:
Saturday – Vegan Sausage Casserole
Sunday – Bean Chilli Chimichangas
Monday – Falafel Pitas & Roast Veg
Tuesday – Red Lentil & Coconut Curry
Wednesday – Bean Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries
Thursday – Green Lentil Shepards Pie
Friday – Pea & Asparagus Risotto.
Doesn’t sound too bad right? I found hitting the supermarket online to be the easiest way to negotiate this alien shop, certainly in a global pandemic anyway. Although it took me so long to compile my order that my ‘click and collect’ slot expired and I had to frantically click round to find another.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out both Oreos & Speculoo’s Caramel Biscuit Spread are vegan, this plus the OTE vegan Anytime Bars should satisfy my sweet tooth. Which leads me on to another misconception I have/had. A plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy diet like I thought. You still have to make good choices!! So as much as I could probably quite easily smash Speculoo’s on a bagel for 7 days straight and remain 100% vegan; that is not going to do me any good. So I’m pushing for the best vegan experience possible for health & morale. Another one I’ll report back on.
There are a number of vitamins and minerals that are much more plentiful in animal and dairy products. And these simply need to be accounted for when leading a plant based diet.
Vitamin B-12: This is important for our nervous system function & is rarely found in plant-based foods unless they have been fortified with it, like breakfast cereals. This seems to be one that most vegans are deficient in and so a supplement is often a good option to keep on top of this.
Iron: Although iron is rich in many legumes and leafy greens, this form is mainly non-haem iron which is not as readily absorbed as haem iron (which is found in animal products). Also vegan diets tend to contain some dietary inhibitors that actually block iron absorption too. These two factors may potentially lead to iron deficiency particularly in women. Again this is something that may need to be supported with a supplement.
Calcium: Calcium is most notably available in dairy products & so intake can be problematic for vegans. This is particularly important for vegan athletes given calcium’s impact on healthy bones. It’s important to be aware of this, and design your meals to include calcium rich beans & leafy greens or use a calcium supplement to help.
Vitamin D: Not only is this important in many physiological processes but it’s also essential for calcium absorption. It’s usually synthesised from sunlight but can also be found in animal products. So for any vegans who don’t see much daylight, this should be another supplement consideration.
Naturally with my vegan trial only being a week, serious deficiencies are unlikely to form, however it’s really important to understand that these, and other vitamins and mineral intakes, may not be satisfied through a plant based diet so you can put things in place to change that.
So all that remains is to get going with my Veganuary week! I’ll be kick it off from Saturday.
I’ll keep you up to date with progress on the OTE social media platforms, plus I will be keeping a video diary and of course will report back with a full debrief at the end. Let’s go plant based!!
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