One of the first questions I get when people hear that I'm a vegan is "Where do you get your protein?" It's taken a few years of trial and error (see how different my meals were in 2016 when I wrote this blog "Lazy Vegan"), seeking out input of others, and doing my own research to find nutrition that works for my body and the demands I place on it. I don't have it all figured out, I'm no expert, but I feel like I've developed a solid structure that supports my CrossFit training and Ashtanga yoga practice and I wanted to share.
There is a misconception that vegans aren't strong. I think this comes from the fact that veganism is just now really starting to gain traction in the athletic world where we see pro athletes, Olympic athletes, Iron Man athletes, marathon runners, martial artists and the like choosing a vegan lifestyle.
So now that we know athletes can be successful with a plant-based meal plan, we must keep in mind that meal plans are very unique and should be customized to meet the individual's training demands and type of sport. So for example, a meal plan for a marathon runner would look different than a meal plan for a weightlifter.
Plant-Based Eating 101:
Different sources define "plant-based" differently. My definition of someone eating plant-based is someone who excludes meat and fish in their diet. I use "plant-based" and "vegetarian" interchangeably. Most vegetarians still eat dairy (i.e., milk, cheese, yogurt) and eggs.
Vegans take plant-based to the next level by excluding any foods that are derived from animals. Vegans exclude all meat, dairy, eggs, butter, and honey from their diet.
A healthy vegan or vegetarian is getting a wide variety of foods and eating a lot of vegetables. A lot of us who transition to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle at first go into carb mode and eat all the carbs. Why? Because they are delicious. No really, because they are easy and readily available when eating out (i.e., baked potato, French fries). Overtime, we realize we are getting a little fluffy and need to reevaluate our food choices.
My Meal Plan
I have played around with counting macros (protein, fat, and carbs); however, I try to not get too hung up on counting macros or calories. When I was first trying to get a better hold on my meal planning, I did count macros to understand my food choices and their effect on my energy during training and recovery time. So here we go, a peak into my meal plan:
5:00 am-wake and eat small breakfast of chia seed pudding (~1/2 cup) with about 15 raspberries.
8:30-10:00 am-practice yoga
10:30 am-eat breakfast which is tofu scramble (tofu cooked with kale, peppers, turmeric and other spices) with 1-2 pieces of cinnamon Ezekiel bread topped with maple syrup. Oh and coffee, gotta have the coffeeeeeeee. My coffee has non dairy creamer (non flavored) and I don't add sugar.
I base how hungry I am and what my training will look like for the day to decide between 1-2 pieces of bread. If I'm really hungry (usually the case) or know I have a hard workout in the afternoon, I'll go for two.
12:00 pm-lunch time! Approximately 3 oz of beans and broccoli or some sort of green veggie (asparagus and Brussel sprouts are my favs).
I get already prepared vegan Cuban black beans, or canned vegetarian refried beans. Both are delicious and this saves me time cooking.
In one meal, I try to eat the quantity of food that can fit in both of my hands so I just eyeball how many vegetables to eat based on my hands for portion sizes.
Also broccoli is lame by itself, so I've been eating it with Heidi Ho Smokey Chia Cheeze (it's not dairy cheese, and it makes the broccoli creamy and so good).
1:30 pm-Vega Sport protein bar.
2:30 pm-pre workout snack. I prefer not to eat too much before a workout, it just doesn't work for my belly. Whatever I do eat has to be really light otherwise I'm really uncomfortable during my workout. I'll eat some berries or a few dates or coconut date rolls.
Dates are really high in calories; and sugar too, but they work for me pre workout and dates are a good way to be sure I'm getting enough calories for the day.
4:00 pm-CrossFit workout at the coolest box around-CrossFit Rebels. Check them out here.
5:15 pm-post workout nutrition, which is a Vega Sport protein shake and a banana.
Seriously, some bananas are crazy big, and if that's the case, I'll just eat half.
6:30 pm-dinner is about 3 oz of beans (usually the opposite of what I had for lunch) with sautéed kale or spinach and some green veggies.
I use coconut oil to warm up my meals on the stovetop; avoiding the microwave as much as possible.
If my day is really crazy and I'm not in a place where I can heat up my meals (I can't eat that stuff cold) I'll grab a Vega Sport protein bar instead and plan my meals differently. I try to only eat one bar a day, if that.
I try to keep only one meal a day with tofu or soy product.
This meal plan would give me approximately 1800 calories with 51% of carbs (240g), 29% fat (61g), and 19% protein (90g).
Not all of vegan protein sources are "completed proteins" meaning they don't all have the nine essential amino acids we need in our diet. Soy is a complete protein, so is quinoa! Some vegans take the time to pair protein sources together to make them a complete protein. This can be ideal; however, it takes a lot of time. So, I just try to hit the easy button and eat a wide variety of foods, still allowing me to get full protein sources in my meals throughout the day.
I drink my Athletic Blend Herbal Tea daily. This tea is AMAZING! has herbs that are designed to support athletes in training and recovery and I personally feel a difference drinking the tea. Check it out here. Outside of my herbal tea I do not consume supplements, vitamins, or pre-workout drinks.
Keys to Success:
One of my biggest keys to success in staying on track with my nutrition is meal prepping. I prep my meals for the week all in one day. If I have to think about cooking dinner when I get home after a long day and a hard workout, pssssssshhh not going to happen. I'd choose something quick and easy and processed and not healthy. So, with having all of my meals in the fridge, I can just reheat them when it's time to eat ensuring I stay on track.
I try to keep junk out of the house. If it's around I'll eat it. Don't get me wrong, at times I splurge and eat some vegan ice cream or whatever, but generally I try to stay away from sugar.
I drink about a gallon of water a day. Staying hydrated has a ton of benefits to our minds and bodies, but I also notice when I'm thirsty my brain tries to trick me and tell me I'm hungry. Usually just the snacking kind of hungry where I want to munch on junk. So, staying hydrated keeps me from snacking and saving my calories for my meals.
I have to check in with myself occasionally and track my food for a few days on myfitness pal just to give me a true sense of what I'm eating. I have a basic template, which you see above, and I mentally go through substitutions and change things up weekly. However, to be sure I stay on track I check in with the app to get the full picture of what I'm eating.
I try to listen to my body. If I have times where I'm feeling weak or not recovering well from a workout, I start by looking at my food intake. In these times, I might check in and track my food macros for a day to see what's going on.
Hey, just a reminder that I'm not a dietitian and I'm simply sharing my plant-based meal structure that is working for me. We are all unique individuals and have different nutritional needs.
This post was originally published in April 2018.