If someone were to have asked me 5 years ago if I would ever consider giving up meat and dairy, I would have tactfully responded with a prompt snicker and, likely a middle finger. I considered the vegetarian, let alone vegan, lifestyle to be strange and goofy. That is based almost entirely on misconceptions I had about what it truly means to be a vegan. My good friend was a vegetarian, and constantly told about the horrors of meat processing facilities. I naturally responded like any good-natured, ignorant person. I made jokes and shrugged it off as nothing more than the ramblings of a crazy hippy. It took a dare from a friend to put me on the path to veganism. She essentially dared me to go without meat for a month. Competitive as I was, I took the challenge in stride. That dare essentially didn’t end. My dare led to curiosity, then personal research. I became both fascinated and horrified at the atrocities animals are subject to in the name of meat or dairy products. Essentially, I want to go through just what I experienced as a new vegan, and how my veganism helped shape my physical fitness, but also my moral compass. I also want to debunk a few popular misconceptions about veganism.
“Oh, you’re vegan. So where do you get your protein?”
This is often the first question an omnivore will ask you if you are vegan. It is an understandable question, given the age-old paradigm of “meat=protein”. We are brought up on the all-American tradition that a hearty meal is defined by a giant slab of meat surrounded by some little corn and a small (and I stress small) salad. That salad is what most people think vegans eat. Again it is more a result of a lack of education and a reluctant to learn the facts, than a true belief that plants don’t have protein. However, one can’t help but feel frustrated when constantly answering this question. When you think about it, protein is one of the easiest nutrients to get enough of. It is present in almost all whole, unprocessed foods. Hell, even vegetables have measurable protein levels. A cup of steamed broccoli has 4 grams of protein.
Last year, I started bodybuilding on an all plant-based diet. This lifestyle requires even more careful dietary habits, one of which is to make sure that my body is constantly supplied with a generous amount of protein, much more than the RDI (Reference Daily Intake) of 50 grams a day. I try to shoot to get anywhere from 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Of course, not all proteins are equal. Meat, for all of saturated fats and high cholesterol levels, is one of the most complete protein sources. A complete protein is one in which the ratio of essential amino acids is optimal for absorption in the body. However, plant proteins can also possess such an amino acid profile. Legumes (lentils, beans, peanuts) contain suboptimal levels of the amino acid methionine while grains (buckwheat, brown rice, kamut) are low in lysine. When combined, the amino acid becomes excellent. Below are some of my favorite protein staples.
-Legumes (lentils, peas, beans, peanuts)
-Nuts (almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts)
-Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, flax, sesame)
-Soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame)
-Dark Greens (broccoli, kale, spinach, asparagus)
-Protein Powders (brown rice, yellow pea, hemp)
-Specialty Foods (chlorella and spirulina algae, nutritional yeast)
It must be expensive, right?
Yet another common misconception. How much does meat cost on average? Around $8 per pound. Couple that with how often most people eat meat in this country. Now that is expensive. On the contrary, a pound of black beans runs on average about $1.99 per pound. Black beans are, gram for gram, some of the cheapest protein sources available. If you can find them, fresh fruits and veggies are dirt cheap. At my local Kroger supermarket, spinach runs $2.25 a pound. And seriously, how many spinach leaves would need to get to a pound? Granted, my bodybuilding regimen keeps me constantly buying food. Also, I also regularly buy supplements like protein powders, enzymes, multivitamins, and algal powders like Spirulina and Chlorella. I choose to buy these products because of the wonderful fitness benefits they provide me. However, the basics are not only plentiful, healthful, and downright delicious, but they are incredibly affordable. Trust me, I became vegan while in college. Thus I had to really prioritize my food budget.
The other myth I often get tossed my way is that all vegans must be tree-hugging, drug-addled, hacky sack-kicking hippies. I’m not exactly sure where this rumor originated. It may simply be tied with the aforementioned American tradition of meat at the dinner table. That was the way of the world. Hippies were radicals who opposed authority. Maybe meat represents authority? Whatever the reason, I will provide myself as the perfect counterexample. I have not taken anything more than a sip of alcohol in my entire life. I have never used recreational drugs and find them counterproductive to any forward progress in society. And hacky sacks? I find them incredibly annoying and, honestly, boring. I have never hugged a tree, but I may do it one day. Ok, so that one may be true. The bottom line is that veganism shouldn’t come with any stigmas. It is like any other stereotype perpetuated based on preconceived prejudices (black people are good at basketball, Asians are bad drivers, etc). They are completely unfounded. Even though I spoke of being frustrated by the “protein question”, I respect those people for attempting to understand. If people really are curious, I will chatter on end about veganism and plant foods.
This seems like a good point to mention that I am not a militant vegan. I live the way I do according to my morals and my priorities. Diet is unique to the individual. Sure, certain trendy diets like low-carb diets and raw food diets do work to reduce weight, but one must consider personal motivation. If you don’t really like what you’re eating, then the diet won’t last or yield results. I love being vegan and, more importantly, I don’t even miss the meat and dairy products of my past. Some people don’t have any aversion to eating dead animal flesh. It is not my agenda to “convert” these people, but rather to educate them. If they take in this information and still decide to eat meat, who am I to judge them? I only ask that people keep an open mind enough to realize that there is no set way to eat or live. The definition of “right way” is malleable, not static.
I’ll just wrap up my vegan expose will a sample of a typical meal plan on my training days. I’ll use Monday as it is my most intense gym session. I work my entire body hard, resulting in a greater caloric need to build muscle and recover from my workout. I usually consume 6-7 meals on Monday. A sample is as follows:
Meal 1: Large bowl of oatmeal with vanilla pea protein powder, peanut butter, and a banana
Meal 2: Faux turkey sandwich on sprouted grain bread with alfalfa sprouts, spinach, and some nutritional yeast. I also have some sort of fruit, usually an orange or apple
Meal 3: Some sort of curry with loads of lentils, dark greens, cayenne pepper, and some seeds
Meal 4 (pre-workout): a medium apple and a tablespoon of coconut oil (keep it light when working out)
Meal 5: large weight gainer protein pudding with protein powder, spirulina/chlorella algae mix, flaxseed, coconut milk, grape nuts cereal, dates, berries, and some agave nectar for sweetness
Meal 6: A large salad complete with as many veggies as I can fit, tofu or tempeh, handful of nuts and seeds, avocado, nutritional yeast, and sprouts
By: Shae Valko