If this is the year you start eating a vegan diet, set yourself up for success by getting prepped now.
There’s never been a more compelling time to adopt a vegan way of eating, with potential benefits for the environment, your health, and your bank balance. But as you already know, any change in diet comes with challenges.
Before you throw out your steak knife and delete Barry the Butcher from your contacts, make sure you’ve considered these important factors about being vegan.
Protein intake will need more thought
The question of “where do you get your protein from?” belongs in the 2010s, but would-be vegans should still give the topic of protein intake some serious thought. We know that most animal proteins (meat, fish, eggs in particular) are “complete” proteins, containing all the key amino acids including the three BCAAs. The trouble with plant-based protein is that it will contain some – but not all – of the amino acids your body needs.
The solution? You’ll need to get a lot smarter about food planning and meal prep. Use two strategies: combining different protein-rich foods, and make sure your diet has a lot of variety throughout the week.
If you eat a variety of wholegrains, lentils, beans, tofu and edamame products you’ll have all the bases covered. Just don’t get stuck in a food rut – you can’t afford to do that as a vegan.
You’ll be missing some micronutrients
Vegan diets can be extremely healthy if you genuinely focus your meals around plant-based wholefoods foods and unprocessed ingredients. But you could still be missing out on optimal amounts of some key vitamins and minerals.
The main ones to think about are Vitamin B12 which only exists in animal foods. B12 is classed as an essential vitamin and helps keep blood cells and nerves healthy. If you don’t get enough B12 you can feel extreme fatigue, low mood, and loss of appetite.
Your vegan diet might leave you low in iron, too, which is an important mineral for active men and women. It’s a good idea to start taking these micronutrients in supplement form, whether you do it separately or as a daily multivitamin.
Find new favourite supplements
Talking of supplements, if you’re a fan of protein shakes and other protein supplements you will need to rethink your regular online order. Whey protein is still the most popular source of protein supplement, but it’s a dairy by-product. Instead, look for a protein supplement labelled as plant-based or vegan friendly. This is likely to be soya protein, pea, hemp or brown rice. It’s a good idea to either get a vegan protein blend or to rotate between different vegan proteins, to get as many amino acids as you can.
Eating and training
If you’ve got into a nice habit of eating before training, you may need to experiment with new timings as you make the shift to vegan food. Of course, plenty of popular pre-workout meals are already vegan (bananas, protein oats). But if your pre-training go-to is eggs on toast or a ham bagel, you’ve got a problem. You might also find that your new vegan meal takes longer to digest or sits heavier in your stomach. Play around with what you eat and when you eat it before training.
Check food labels
If you’re a fan of energy bars, intra-workout sweeties, or any other habitual snacks, take a look at the label. Whilst there’s more vegan-friendly food than ever on the market, your tried-and-tested favourite might contain animal products.
Big appetite problems
Are you a big eater? You might find it difficult to fill up on a true vegan diet. This is because a larger percentage of your plate will be grains, beans, leafy greens and vegetables than before – and these fibrous high-volume foods aren’t as calorie dense as animal products.
Experiment with your macronutrients so you eat a little more fat and a little less carbohydrate and this might satisfy your appetite!