Something I’ve long thought would be useful to write about but have just not had the knowledge to is training whilst eating a vegan diet. What are good meal ideas, energy boosters, what do you even eat at all to get enough calories when your training hard? So I’ve teamed up with Les Mills instructor (and vegan) Ellie Radford to get some practical tips for and one who trains often and is either already vegan or considering the switch.
Ellie is a Human Biosciences student from Crosby, Liverpool studying in Manchester Metropolitan Uni. She’s also a part time fitness instructor and teach Les Mills Body Pump and Body Combat.
Here’s what she had to say:
How long have you been vegan?
I’ve been vegan for just under 4 years! I went vegan in May 2016
Were you vegetarian before or did you go straight to vegan?
I was veggie before yeah. I was vegetarian for 10 months before I went full vegan, and I think that slow transition made it so much easier.
What made you make the decision?
Lots of things contributed! I always wanted to be veggie when I was younger but my mum always said no because all I ate was bacon and chicken nuggets haha! I wanted to be veggie because I didn’t like the idea of eating animals, so generally for ethics, but as I’ve grown up I’ve started to become conscious of the environmental impact too. Lots of my friends are also veggie or vegan, and one day I went to a vegetarian cafe with them. I literally didn’t like any food on the menu (fussy eater to THE MAX) but I ordered something and it tasted sooooo good. That was my first ever fully vegetarian tea and after that meal I realised I could actually do the whole veggie thing. Crazy, right? So yeah it was a whole bunch of reasons – ethics, environment, I started to think about eating more healthy (being veggie has definitely helped me with this), and ease due to friends being veggie or vegan.
Do you ever miss any foods?
Yes! When I first went vegetarian, whenever I got drunk I always ordered McDonald’s chicken nuggets haha. That’s why it’s a good idea to slowly cut meat out if you ever transition. I missed bacon a lot at first too. Now if my family is cooking it I still really appreciate the smell, but it’s been so long that I don’t miss the taste anymore.
What do you love about the vegan diet?
I love how good it makes me feel. I definitely noticed a big energy shift when I cut out animal products, but by cutting out products it meant I ate more veg so this isn’t necessarily due to meat being bad! Just a solid fact that we could all eat more fruit and veg, no matter what your lifestyle. I also love how accessible veganism is nowadays. I can eat in most places and that’s great! There’s been a huge growth since when I went vegan 4 years ago.
Are there any downsides / struggles?
Although veganism is becoming a lot more accessible, there could be more done. Food on the go is a big factor, but this is massively improving. Another big struggle is feeling like I have to justify to people why I follow a vegan lifestyle, and the fact that vegans get a bad rep in the media.
How do you find hitting your TDEE each day- is it hard? In other words- is it hard to eat enough?
It can be, especially being so into fitness I expend a lot of calories! Vegan food is very dense but low in calories, so you can get full pretty quickly. My tip for this is to eat little and often – spread little meals throughout the day instead of tackling 3 big ones.
What about protein?
This is always a big concern when a lot of people are considering veganism. Protein goals can be hard to meet if you’re eating lots of whole foods. Getting all your protein from beans and lentils is a bad idea – all that fibre is going to cause mega bloats and a very full tum! Still use these kinds of foods, but not for your whole protein intake. I get lots of my protein from meat substitutes such as soy products (tofu) mycoprotein (quorn style things) and seitan. Seitan is the holy Grail for vegans, but not a lot of people know about it! It’s made from an ingredient called vital wheat gluten and has a rubbery, meat-like texture. And the best part about it is it’s super protein dense – about 75g protein per 100g!
How are your energy levels for training?
As far as I know my levels are great. But I’ve never been into fitness as a non-vegan, as I only started working out 2 and a half years ago. Vegan fitness is all I know! I consume caffeine everyday and I eat a lot of food so that’s always good for energy haha.
Do you have any tips for people looking to start with a Vegan diet?
Take it slow! Lots of people rush into veganism, but that’s going to make it a whole lot harder to keep away from all the animal products. Start with one vegan day or meal per week, and then build it up.
Cut things out one step at a time, and don’t beat yourself up if you make mistakes. It’s hard at first, so making mistakes and tripping up is totally normal and human. It’s the fact that you’re trying at all which speaks volumes.
Be aware of the vitamins you’re going to be lacking. I take a daily multivitamin to take care of everything in one go, but B12 is the big one you need to watch for, as most of this vitamin is found in animal products. You can buy B12 vitamins from most supermarkets, and they’re included in most multivitamins, too.
Do you have any tips for maintaining energy levels when training?
“Quick snacks! When I’m training I go for snacks such as bananas, gelatine free jelly sweets, and donuts. Yes I said donuts. Vegan donuts!! Lots of supermarket donuts are accidentally vegan, such as Sainsbury’s and Co-op’s jam and custard donuts. These are an absolute lifesaver.”
Any secret amazing vegan foods?
I think my top two I’ve already mentioned in previous questions – seitan and donuts. Seitan for all your high protein needs, and donuts because when you’re vegan and finally realise you can eat basic supermarket donuts, it’s the best feeling in the world!
Some other things that are surprisingly vegan include hob nobs, Bourbons, lotus biscuits, Oreos, and peanut butter.
What are you Top hack / Tips
- Make sure you eat enough! It’s hard to not eat enough food when you’re vegan, so just try to keep on top of it.
- Be aware of any additional supplements you need to take. B12 is a biggie.
- One step at a time. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and just take it slow! Feel free to message me if you need help with anything!
So I think what I took away from my chat with Ellie is that actually the issues she has to think about in regard to energy levels with a Vegan diet are really not much different to the issues we all need to consider.
Whether you eat meat or not we all tend to have a quite polarised opinion on the subject but actually if you manage it well there’s no reason to struggle for energy or protein whilst eating a vegan diet, and it might not be for you, but if it is there’s plenty of support out there from people who are educated and working within the fitness industry and also have knowledge of how to eat well without eating animal products.
I think whatever our views on the subject understanding and talking about it and being open to one another’s viewpoints on the topic is helpful all round.
You can follow Ellie on Instagram at @ellieroseradford