How to go vegan-The right way

I have heard numerous stories of people adopting a vegan diet, having a terrible experience, and shunning it completely. There are also tons of stories of people going vegan, feeling amazing, and never turning back. So what’s the difference? Why do some people have a miserable time while others find El Dorado? While I can’t say for sure what exactly the difference is, I have some inclinations that I believe to be true. I want to share with you some tips that I think could make all the difference for your journey, or someone you’re helping along theirs.

First and foremost is the issue of calories. Calories=Energy. Animal products tend to have a much higher caloric density than plant-based products. This means there are more calories per gram of food. This is important because when you switch to a vegan diet you will tend to eat a lot less calories naturally. While this can be beneficial in some ways (namely weight loss) it can also cause a significant decrease in energy. If your body is used to consuming 2,000 calories per day, and you switch to 1,500 calories you will definitely feel the difference in energy levels. This is especially true if you workout with any sort of intensity.

To alleviate this issue it is important to include some of the more calorically dense plant-based foods in your diet. These include things like beans and legumes, grains, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. If you are eating all fruits and vegetables you are likely not getting enough calories in to fuel your body. If you are an athlete (competitive or not) you should take it to another level by tracking your food. Calculate how many calories you are eating per day before you go vegan, and make sure you are hitting that number after you make the transition. If you don’t it is likely that your performance could suffer.

A lot of people decide to go vegan and simply cut out all animal products without finding other foods to eat instead. Then you are left eating only what you had on the side, which is likely not enough. I believe you should start by adding in plant-based products before removing anything. Then you can slowly start shifting away from animal products. Or if you are the type who likes to make the big jump (myself included), then great! But at least plan ahead first. Set yourself up for success rather than jumping with no parachute.

I truly believe everyone can thrive on a vegan diet, and it makes me sad that making this simple mistake has turned so many people away from the lifestyle. There is plenty of energy to be found in plant-based foods (actually more than in animal products) so there is no reason a vegan diet should cause low energy or lethargy. We just have to make a point to find the right foods, as we are not used to needing to get energy from different sources. If you are thinking about going vegan, or someone you know is, make sure this is a top priority, as I think it will drastically affect the outcome.

 

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Using Caloric Density of Food for Weight Management

The caloric density of food is something that has a huge effect on our body weight, yet very few people understand what it is, much less the importance of it. I want to teach you how to use caloric density as a tool to control your bodyweight much more easily.

Caloric density is the number of calories per gram of a food. Foods with a high caloric density contain a lot of calories in a very small volume of food. Examples of this would be meat (850 calories per pound) and oil (4,000 calories per pound). Foods with a low caloric density have very few calories in a higher volume of food. The prime example of this would be vegetables which contain somewhere between 60 and 200 calories per pound. All other foods fall somewhere in between. You can see that this is a pretty extreme difference from one end of the scale to the other.

Now you should know that the most important contributor to whether you gain, maintain, or lose weight is your net calories.


Net Calorie Equation:

Calories Consumed- Calories Expended= Net Calories


If your net calories consistently comes out to a positive number you will gain weight, and if it is negative you will lose weight. So if this is the case does it matter where you get your calories so long as you eat the right number? Well, no. Technically you could get all of your calories from oil, and so long as it was less calories than you are burning you will, in fact, lose weight. But how awful does that sound? Like I said earlier, it is a tool to help make weight management much easier.

So how does it work? Well look at the example in the previous paragraph. If you want to lose weight and are burning 2,000 calories per day, you would have to consume less than that. If you don’t take caloric density into account you may eat 1,500 calories of oil every day. This would equate to drinking around 8 cups of oil (gross). Do you think you would be satisfied at the end of the day, or go to bed starving? On the other hand, if you ate 1,500 calories of broccoli, you would have to eat 50 cups. If you were even able to finish that in a day, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be hungry after.

Our bodies react to volumes of food much more than calories. Our stomach is full when we eat a large quantity of food, regardless of if it contained a lot or very few calories. We can use this idea to eat the right foods to hit both our calorie goal and feel satisfied at the end of the day. When trying to lose weight, it is extremely beneficial to eat foods with a low caloric density such as fruits and vegetables. These foods will fill you up quickly without racking up a ton of calories. This will allow you to eat in a caloric deficit without feeling miserably hungry. On the other hand, if you are trying to gain weight, you may want to opt for foods with a higher caloric density. This will allow you to get all of the calories you need to eat in a surplus, without feel uncomfortably full all of the time.

Now of course I’m not recommending you eat all veggies or all oil. You should definitely be eating a variety of foods, and be making sure you hit your macros. What I am recommending, though, is when you are hitting the proper calories and macros, if you are still feeling hungry opt for less calorically dense foods, and if you’re feeling too full choose more calorically dense foods. Making these adjustments will make for a much less miserable time cutting or bulking.

 

For help dialing in your nutrition for your goals check out our nutrition guide or nutrition coaching HERE !

Cutting on a Vegan Diet

I just finished up a cutting phase, as I had to lose 4 pounds to make weight for my powerlifting competition last weekend. I thought this would be a good time to talk about some important points about how to cut in general, and how to apply these points as a vegan athlete. Whether you are cutting to make weight, for a bodybuilding show, or just want to get leaner, this should help you figure out how to get there.

Check out our latest video  to see what I ate on my cut!

Cutting, on a basic level, consists of eating fewer calories than you are expending. So when you start a cutting phase, you will reduce the amount of calories you consume, increase the calories you burn, or a combination of both.

One super important point to keep in mind is protein consumption. When you are cutting, you will have to cut your calories, but you don’t want to cut protein much, or at all. (Unless you were eating an extreme surplus of protein.) I recommend staying around .8g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Keeping your protein high will help maintain your muscle mass through the cutting phase. When it comes to protein, especially when cutting, you should spread your protein consumption out throughout the day. Getting some protein in every 3-5 hours is ideal.

So if your protein remains the same that leaves carbs and fats to cut. Fats are essential to our diet, so cannot be eliminated completely. The minimum fat intake should be 10% of your body weight in grams. For example, a 150-pound person should not cut fats below 15 grams. This is a pretty low number, and should be easy to fit into your diet throughout a cut.

Carbs, on the other hand, don’t necessarily have a minimum intake requirement, but they are extremely important for fueling our bodies the best possible way. If you are working out, you want to use carbs to fuel your workouts. This is especially important if you are cutting for a sport. Carbs are also important for maintaining muscle while cutting. For these reasons I recommend keeping carbs as high as possible while consuming a caloric deficit and fats above their essential level.

Because carbs will have to be lowered during a cutting phase, timing them appropriately becomes even more important. In order to best fuel your workouts and prevent muscle loss you should consume the majority (or all) of your carbs in your pre and post workout meals. If you don’t do this you will likely see a decrease in performance, and increase your risk of catabolism.

Now what makes cutting on a vegan diet a little trickier is the fact that our protein sources are not pure protein. Eating chicken or fish allows you to add as much as you need for protein without affecting the other macronutrients. Plant-based protein sources will all have some fats or carbs that come along with them. For example, almonds have 14g of fat for every 6g of protein. Black beans have 18g of carbs for every 7g of protein. These are great sources of protein, but if you can’t afford the extra fat or carbs they may not fit your diet.

This means that you need to be conscious of your protein sources, and they may need to change as you progress with your cut. If you are looking to cut fats you can move to beans and legumes, which tend to be more carb heavy. If you are looking to cut carbs you can move to more nuts and seeds, which tend to be more fat heavy. Foods like tofu, edamame, and seitan are really great options, as they have more protein and less carbs and fats per serving. Plant-based protein shakes can also help increase protein without much affect on the other macros, but try to get the majority from food!

To sum up, make sure you are firstly controlling your total calories. You will not lose weight if you are not in a caloric deficit. Next, make sure you are getting enough protein, and spacing it throughout the day. Then figure out fats and carbs with however many calories you have left to spare. And finally, as a vegan, pay attention to the macronutrient make-up of your protein sources, and adjust them accordingly.

 

Join our email list to receive a free plant-based macronutrient breakdown document to help you choose your foods appropriately!

 

 

If you want help with your plant-based cut check out our one-on-one Nutrition Coaching

Bulking on a Vegan Diet-Part 2

A couple months ago I published a blog post about bulking on a vegan diet. (You can check out that post Here). I set out to use my boyfriend to prove that you can get big on a plant-based diet. So we got him on a solid lifting and nutrition program in hopes to do so. Here’s how it’s gone so far:

Today marks 7 weeks since I started the LOTV Program. Over the last 7 weeks I followed the 6 week hypertrophy block as well as the programmed De-Load week. I had fairly good adherence to the program with the occasional shortened workout due to time constraints. Throughout the 7 weeks I also dialed in my nutrition and made sure to maintain a caloric surplus from plant based foods in order to make the most out of the hypertrophy block. My macro breakdown was roughly 20% Protein, 65% Carbs, and 15% Fats throughout the first 6 weeks and then I shifted to a few less carbs on my de-load week in order to adjust for the lower intensity. In practice that consisted of 5-6 meals a day plus one post workout shake which were all plant based sources.

To say that I was able to put on some mass while using a plant-based diet would be an understatement. My original goal was to go from 180lbs @9% Body Fat to 186 at 11%BF over the course of 15 weeks. However, in just half that time I went from 180lbs. at 9% Body Fat to 191lbs. at 12% Body Fat. Although my Body Fat percentage is a little higher than my original goal I’m not worried about it because I have still put on about 4lbs worth of lean mass. That is a HUGE amount of muscle gain within a few weeks for someone that has been training as long as myself (about 10 years of weight training). With all that weight gain has also come a huge increase in my working load. I have regained a lot of the strength that I talked about losing in my first post, and I think that I will be approaching my strongest yet, but I will not know until I decide to max again.

That said, I have decided to stay on the gain train! Instead of taking the next 6 weeks to do a strength block I will do another 6 weeks of hypertrophy. Over that time I plan on getting close to 200lbs, and although I will continue to put on body fat I should be able to keep it down to around 15%. After that I plan to take off all of the excess body fat with a mini-cut and continue into a strength cycle to progress the rest of my training year. I plan on continuing to post my progress every few weeks or as I approach landmarks within my training. Stay tuned and let’s see just how far a plant based athlete can go!

In 7 weeks of a plant-based bulking diet and solid training he’s been able to gain 11 pounds! His diet was mostly clean, with a few cheats here and there. This shows that gaining muscle does not require meat! It really just takes a solid caloric surplus with plenty of healthy carbohydrates, and hard training of course.

It has been shown time and again that you can get great gains with an omnivorous diet. That is common knowledge, and something I am not looking to disprove. What I want people to realize, though, is that that is just one option, and not mandatory if you want to see progress in the gym. You can choose a plant-based lifestyle for the sake of your health, the animals, and the planet, without sacrificing your fitness goals in the process!

If you need help on your plant-based fitness journey check out our programs Here.

Nutrition Guidelines for (Vegan) Athletes

I’ve received a number of inquires lately asking for tips on how to succeed as a vegan athlete. This is a challenging question for me to respond to in a broad sense, as there are many factors that play a role. Everyone needs different nutrition based on their lifestyle, training type/frequency, body composition, and goals. I will do my best here to bring up some points that are important for us all to be aware of in order to thrive as vegan athletes.

Note: I am focusing on the goal of athletic performance here, not body composition. If you are looking for fat loss these tips are not as applicable. If you are looking to get stronger and fitter, this post is for you.

Nutrition serves two main purposes for athletes. It provides fuel to allow you to perform, and aids in recovery. Both of these are extremely important aspects of training. If you do not have the proper fuel you will not be able to operate at your best during your training. If you do not recover after a training session, you will have too much fatigue built up to function optimally in upcoming sessions for the next day(s). So how do we properly fuel and recover from workouts? Here are a few considerations that play a major role in athletic performance:

#1: Calories

Total quantity of calories is probably the most important factor to consider. Calories consumed-calories expended=Net calories. If your net caloric intake is a positive number you are eating a hyper-caloric diet, and will tend to gain weight. If net caloric intake is zero you are eating an iso-caloric diet, and weight will remain the same. And if net caloric intake is a negative number you are eating a hypo-caloric diet, and will likely lose weight.

For an athlete, the goal is (usually) to build strength or improve performance. If this is the case you will want to be on an iso- or slightly hyper-caloric diet. If you are eating less calories than you are burning you will not have enough fuel for your workouts and will struggle to recover after. On the other hand, eating too many calories will lead to fat gain, which will also hinder performance in the long run.

#2: Protein

I’m sure you’ve heard that proteins are the building blocks of muscle. In our bodies there is constantly a building and a breakdown of muscles, especially with hard training. Consuming adequate protein reduces the breakdown rate and increases the building rate. In other words, it allows our muscles to recover faster after we beat them up in training. In order to build or even maintain muscle mass it is extremely important to consume enough protein.

In many wonderful sources on plant-based diets we learn that we don’t need nearly as much protein as most people believe we do. This is completely true. We need very little protein to survive. But if we want to be big strong athletes, we need more protein than the average person. This is an important distinction that needs to be made. If you workout at moderate intensities just for health, you don’t need to worry as much about protein. If you are looking to maximize strength, size, and athletic ability, it is vital that you eat enough protein to do so.

For an athlete 0.8grams of protein per pound bodyweight should be plenty to gain and maintain muscle mass.

#3: Carbohydrates

The main role of carbohydrates is to provide quick energy sources, especially in higher intensity sport performance and training. The higher the intensity, the more we rely on carbs for energy.

When we eat carbs we store them as glycogen in our muscles. This glycogen is the best fuel source for our bodies. We will use these stores to fuel our workouts. After a workout we must eat enough carbohydrates to replenish these stores, in order for our bodies to recover and be ready for another hard workout.

As an athlete, if you are not eating enough carbs your performance will suffer, your recovery will suffer, and you can actually lose muscle mass. Many people do not want to over-consume carbs for fear of gaining bodyfat. As mentioned before, net calories consumed is the determinant of weight gain or loss. This means that so long as you are controlling your total calories, eating more of them from carbs will not lead to fat gain.

The amount of carbs you need is dependent on your daily living activity and intensity of your workouts. The general range is between 1 and 3 grams per pound of bodyweight. If you have a desk job and you are doing one low intensity workout per day 1gram per pound is likely plenty. If you have an active job and are doing one or multiple very high intensity workouts per day you probably want to stay on the higher end of that range.

#4 Fats

Fats are essential for life, but don’t play a huge role in athletic performance. Fats produce energy, but too slowly to be utilized in workouts, especially high intensity. They do assist with recovery, though, as they provide the slow releasing energy used while hanging out on the couch or sleeping.

So long as you are taking care of your protein and carb consumption, fats should generally take care of themselves if you remain within your calorie goal. I tend to consume and recommend a pretty low fat diet for athletes.

 

Putting all of this together should set up a good structure for your diet. Being vegan doesn’t change these guidelines, it simply means you have to find new foods to fit the proper calorie and macronutrient amounts for you. (Check out my nutrition guide for a list of macros of all the staple vegan foods).

But my #1 tip is definitely sign up for my Nutrition Coaching and/or Training 😉

I hope this helps you on your vegan athlete journey! Like and share the post if you enjoyed it and comment with any questions you’d like me to answer in the future!

Perfectionism

A perfectionist mindset is a debilitating disease when it comes to training and nutrition, yet it is one that most of us have. We tend to see our new lifestyle as an all or nothing venture, where we receive a pass or fail grade. We believe that we have to be 100% adherent to the plan or we have failed miserably. We eat one cookie or miss one workout and think the game is over, and we will try again next week, month, or year. We then proceed to finish off the box of cookies or miss the next 5 workouts.

This way of thinking is setting you up for failure. We are all human beings and WILL make mistakes. Not might. We will. And that’s ok! Eating one cookie or missing one workout does not ruin your progress. It will actually have little to no effect at all. What derails your effort is giving up after one negligible slip-up.

This is something I have struggled with a lot in my life. I had a hard time enjoying life because I was so worried about sabotaging my progress. I would never let myself slip, and this caused more stress than it was worth. Now I realize that this is not a pass/fail class, and it’s ok not to be perfect all of the time. When I am really tired or we are on vacation I let myself take a day off from the gym. When I am really craving something sweet I’ll have some vegan ice cream. And from this I have found that my progress is actually better! Probably because I am not as stressed out over every detail.

It is irrational to believe that we have failed our entire journey after one slip up. Stop exaggerating the negative consequences of the situation. One mistake probably has minimal consequence, but because we put so much weight on our mistakes we allow them to disrupt the rest of our journey. We pick out that single negative event and dwell on it, ignoring all of the positive experiences leading up to that point. Instead try to focus on all of the things you have done well and the strides you have taken toward your goal.

The most effective mindset is one that is focused in the present. Once you have made the mistake, it is in the past and no longer worth worrying about. You should focus on what you can do in the moment to move you toward your goals. You ate a cookie. That event already happened, but what can you do now to not make it worse? Not eat the rest of the cookies. Maybe you skipped your workout today. So now your focus becomes making sure you make it to the gym tomorrow, and not letting a whole week slip by.

In other words: Learn from your mistakes. If you use them in a positive way, to help you do better in the future, then they aren’t mistakes at all.

A mistake is not the end of your journey, and definitely not the end of the world, so don’t treat it that way. You do not have to be perfect to be fit or healthy. Progress comes with just being better. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to be 100% all the time. You can do a good job without being flawless.

Why You Need a Plan

Many of us are somewhere on our fitness journey, but are unfortunately headed nowhere fast. This often isn’t due to a lack of effort or even inconsistency but just a lack of planning. You need a plan because it’s the only way to ensure you get where you are trying to go.

For years I went to the gym every day with no plan at all or just a body part in mind. I would get there and start picking random exercises. Some days I would have an awesome workout, and others it was, “well at least I went, right?” And I made progress. I definitely got a little fitter and built some muscle. But I didn’t make nearly as much progress as I could have made with a plan. Now I write my programs weeks or months in advance.

When you go into the gym knowing what you’re going to do you will tend to get a lot more accomplished. You’ll spend less time debating what exercise you want to do next and more time getting the work done. Even on days you’re not feeling it, when you would normally do a couple exercises and leave, you get in there and check everything off your list. Planning ahead keeps you accountable every day.

Just as importantly, when you put a training plan in place everything within each workout is there for a specific reason, and each workout contributes to the bigger picture. When your workouts are strategically created to work together in a specific way, you will yield the best results. If you do not plan ahead, it is easy to leave important things out, or overuse certain muscle groups. Having a plan directs your adaptations to accomplish your specific goals.

Now let’s look at nutrition.

When you ask most people how their nutrition is they say it’s pretty good. But what does that mean? Do you think that you “eat pretty healthy,” but have no idea what you’re actually eating? This is the case for most people. And it could possibly work for some, but that based on lucky guessing. The issue is, if you have specific fitness goals nutrition plays a large role, and “eating pretty good” probably won’t cut it.

The main determinant of whether you’re gaining or losing weight is total calories consumed. If you have no idea how many calories you’re taking in, and it varies greatly from day to day, how do you expect to lose or gain the weight that you want? It becomes a game of luck. If instead, you track your food, and eat the same quantity each day, it becomes extremely simple to alter your plan to get the results you want.

Macronutrients also play a large role in both body composition and athletic performance. Not planning and tracking your macros can lead to undesired outcomes. Most often we tend to eat a lot more fat than we realize, and for most people, keeping fat pretty low is the optimal diet. If you want the best results you have to feed your body the proper way to get there.

 

If you take a road trip, you are going to reach your destination a lot faster if you have a route mapped out to get there, rather than driving around aimlessly. When we have no plan in place we are relying heavily on luck to achieve our goals. I think it is a better option to set a plan that will take you exactly where you want to be.

Ready to start a plan? Join the Herb Herd

Aesthetics vs. Performance vs. Health

I think most of us chase nutrition information from multiple sources and wind up confused. A major source of this confusion comes when we fail to distinguish between health, aesthetics, and performance. We lump all of these goals together under the umbrella term: “healthy diet”. Eating with each of these goals in mind, though, requires very different tactics.

Let’s start with health. I actually think that eating for health is the simplest, but it has been severely complicated by the both the food industry and the fitness industry. Here is the secret to good health: Eat REAL food. The food industry has created billions of food like substances that now make up the bulk of most Americans’ diets. These foods have been processed with unwanted chemicals and the nutrient balance has been altered. As creatures of this Earth, we were meant to consume the food created by the Earth, not in a lab. If you eat a variety of plant-based whole-foods you will very quickly improve your health.

Aesthetics is a very different beast, as it is focused completely on the outside appearance and inner health is irrelevant. This is where an “if it fits your macros” or “flexible dieting plan” works well. Simply altering your calorie intake and macronutrient balance can drastically alter your body composition, regardless of the quality of food you are eating. This is why we see body builders with amazing physiques eating poptarts and pancakes to get their carbs for the day. It works, I’ve lived it, but remember that just because you look good on the outside does not mean you are healthy on the inside.

Performance goals are my favorite, as they require the most thought. The first necessity to perform well is eating a proper quantity of calories. Food provides us fuel for our workouts, so if you don’t eat enough you won’t be able to perform at a high level. The next step would be finding the proper macronutrient balance. We use both carbohydrates and fats to produce energy. Carbs are utilized for high intensity anaerobic activities. Fats will be utilized better in a long, low intensity aerobic workout. It is important to eat the right type of fuel for your workout to optimize performance. The final consideration is the quality of your food. Our bodies are enduring and will learn to function on almost anything, but that does not mean the “anything diet” is an optimal one. The better the fuel you put in, the better the machine will run.

I think too often we look to people who diet for different goals than us because we don’t realize that there is a difference. You need to decide what your goal is and eat according to that. Can you improve all three areas simultaneously? Absolutely, yes. BUT if you want to take any one to the extreme I believe you will have to make a small sacrifice to the other two.


For help with nutrition plans based on your goals sign up for our nutrition coaching here: Plant-Based Nutrition

But where do you get your protein?!

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked this question since going vegan 5 years ago. It has been ingrained in our society that we must eat meat, or else we will surely be protein deficient, and probably die. I have fallen victim to this way of thinking, as well. I went vegetarian when I was 9, but continued to eat fish because; how else would I get my protein? It wasn’t until 13 years later, when I finally learned the truth, and went completely vegan. So here are answers to some questions that most people are confused about.

Plants have protein?

All whole plant-based foods have protein. Yes, ALL of them. If you are eating a variety of plant-based foods, and getting enough calories, you are more than likely getting enough protein. Fruit has the least protein per calorie, but most still are more than 5% protein. The higher plant-based protein sources like beans and legumes are all over 20% protein. Soy products like tofu and tempeh are closer to 40% protein. And a fun surprise: Spinach has more protein per calorie than ground beef! So as you can see, contrary to popular belief, you can get plenty of protein from plants.

How much protein do you actually need?

Protein is currently severely over-consumed in a typical diet. Studies have shown that humans only require 5-10% of calories from protein to meet their bodies’ needs. Note that almost all plant-based foods have at least 5% protein. The standard American eats more like 30-40% of their calories from protein. This includes the unhealthy Standard American Diet as well as the “health-conscious” omnivorous diet. While protein is a very important nutrient to consume, that does not mean you need enormous quantities of it to survive.

What about “bulking” season?

If your goal in the gym is to put on muscle mass, or even maintain it, it is true you will need more protein than the general population. This does not mean that you need meat, though. It simply means you may have to be more strategic in how you pair your foods together to make sure you have a higher percentage of protein in each meal. You will need to have more of the protein dense foods with a bit less of the lower protein foods. Aka, a little more beans with a little less rice. There are also plant-based protein shakes if you still aren’t convinced.

Are you sure?

I have been a vegan athlete for 5 years now, and have never had an issue with protein deficiency, or struggled to get enough protein into my diet. I have actually found that I still tend to eat more protein than I really need. Who woulda thought?

*If you want to learn more about plant-based nutrition check out my nutrition guide being released tomorrow morning!*