GUT HEALTH + REGULARITY
This is where I noticed the most immediate and biggest improvement. Normally I consciously need to think about how to hit my fiber goal of 25g+ but, with a vegan diet, I averaged 40g+ of fiber a day without even thinking about it. With the increase in plant-based foods and fiber, I found that my gut felt “cleaner”, bowel movements were more regular, and I just felt good overall in this department.
Adopting a vegan diet, almost innately, ensures that you’re eating more vegetables than ever before. But, it’s really easy to eat like an a**hole on a vegan diet. Oreos. Potato chips. AirHeads. Fritos. They’re all vegan. On days where I was short on time, I found myself eating rice and bean burritos, hummus wraps, and vegan waffles. So it’s 100% possible be a vegan and never actually eat a vegetable. However, on days where I was prepared, I found myself eating lots of colorful plates filled with lentils, chickpeas, leafy greens, eggplant, and more. Because of this, I’d say on average the quality of my diet was about the same than before I decided to experiment with a vegan diet. You either give a sh*t about the quality of food in your diet, or you don’t. Being a vegan doesn’t change that either way.
PROTEIN INTAKE + AESTHETICS
Because I was adopting a vegan diet, I changed my protein goal from 140g/day to 119g/day. I wanted to maintain as much of my lean muscle mass as possible in a way that was realistic for a vegan lifestyle. Even with dropping that goal, I found it difficult to get in enough protein without blowing through my carbs and fats. So more days than not, I was overeating by 400-600 cals. And what happened? You guessed it: I gained weight. In fact, I feel the fluffiest I’ve felt in a long time. So that’s fun. Overall, I was much leaner with a more balanced diet that included things like animal protein, Greek yogurt, and the occasional slice(s) of pizza. 🤷🏽
PERFORMANCE + ENERGY LEVELS
This one is interesting. Generally, I felt pretty good on a vegan diet. I certainly felt a million times better than I did when I experimented with a keto diet (read more about that here, especially if you like complaining 😜). But why wouldn’t I? I was eating plenty of carbohydrates, which is the main energy source for my activities, like CrossFit. I was eating plenty of vegetables, which helped me load up on tons of micronutrients which have a direct impact on performance. So feeling good made sense.
But did I feel a drastic difference from before my vegan experiment? Did I think for a second that maybe I was a potential Olympian who never unleashed her true potential because I enjoyed chicken thighs? No.
One day, I PR’d my hang squat clean and I thought, “Wow, there really might be something to this vegan thing”, but that dream immediately got crushed a couple of days after when I questioned my entire existence while trying to squat 85% of my max and almost failed. So the jury’s still out on this one.
MY THOUGHTS ON “THE GAME CHANGERS”
While I think the general premise of the documentary makes sense, there are a couple of logical fallacies that are worth discussing:
- THE DOCUMENTARY SPENDS A GOOD AMOUNT OF TIME ARGUING THAT PROTEIN IS NOT AN ENERGY SOURCE. WELL, DUH.
The first part of the documentary argues against the claim that protein is an energy source. While watching that part, I thought to myself, “Wait…do people actually think that protein is an energy source?” So I asked my friends and all of them were aware that carbohydrates and fats were energy sources, while protein isn’t. So the documentary literally spent a good chunk of time arguing a claim that literally no one is making. Cool, bros.
- THE DOCUMENTARY DOESN’T ADDRESS THE FACT THAT THE INCREASE IN PERFORMANCE COULD HAVE LESS TO DO WITH REMOVING ANIMAL PROTEIN AND MORE TO DO WITH INCREASED CARBOHYDRATE CONSUMPTION.
The documentary claims that adopting a vegan diet (while they never actually use the word “vegan”) leads to improved performance. But we’re failing to address the fact that most plant-based foods are carbohydrate dominant. So, doesn’t it make sense that those increases in performance have something to do with the fact that these people are eating more carbohydrates overall.
- THE DOCUMENTARY ISN’T MAKING A FAIR COMPARISON BETWEEN A HIGH-QUALITY, ANIMAL PROTEIN DIET TO A VEGAN ONE.
The documentary compares apples to oranges. It low-key compares a vegan diet to the highly-processed, unhealthy Standard American Diet. Let me explain. American heavyweight boxer, Bryant Jennings, is featured on the documentary speaking about his transition to a vegan diet and the benefits to his performance. He continues on to talk about his diet growing up in Philadelphia where his staples included “spinach in a can, collard greens and Popeye’s, KFC…”. Best line in the movie (and I actually laughed out loud to this) was “I grew up not even knowing about half these other vegetables. Asparagus, to me, just came out like five years ago.” So, doesn’t it make sense that the improvement in his performance, health, and well-being has to do more with the fact that his diet now is much more high-quality than it was, and less to do with the fact that he doesn’t eat animal products?
WHO A VEGAN DIET IS RIGHT FOR
Studies have shown, over and over again, that a largely high-quality, plant-based diet can create major positive impact on markers like blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. That is very powerful considering chronic diseases are a major leading cause of death in America.
So, if someone is experiencing thing like high blood pressure and cholesterol, it makes sense to switch to a higher quality, plant-based diet.
That being said, there’s not a single clinical study that I’ve found that can conclusively deny that the same positive benefits can’t happen with a heavily plant-based, high quality diet that also includes animal protein in moderation.
For example, no one can deny the health benefits of a Mediterranean Diet, a style of eating based on plant-based, whole foods that also allows moderate amounts of chicken, dairy products, fish, eggs, and red meat.
If you have strong feelings about eating animals, the environmental impact of meat production, enjoy eating plant-based and so on, then a vegan diet may be totally appropriate for you. There are certainly appropriate applications for it.
But to demonize food and create fear around food groups is largely unfair and incorrect. In fact, it’s exactly what’s wrong in the nutrition arena – people advocate for extreme styles of eating based on logical fallacies that can create confusion, poor relationships with food, and in extreme cases, disordered eating.
It ALWAYS comes down to this:
Eat well (most of the time).