I’m quite a bit experienced on the subject since I have been a vegan for three years now and a vegetarian for about eight years. However, I’m no expert in the field, so this article is just a guide from another regular vegan for those of you who are interested in how to stay strong and healthy as vegans.
Someone approached me that he became vegetarian since he didn’t like the feeling he got after consuming meat, but when he went to the gym after making this change, he began to feel extremely weak and naturally that troubled him.
There are a few ways I can help with that. Firstly, there could be numerous reasons that cause you to feel weak, for example, lack of sleep, irregularity of going to the gym, not consuming enough calories and so on. In case it is due to the food you eat, you need to eat nutritious foods that have a good amount of protein, iron, calcium and other nutrients.
If you think being vegan makes you weak, you’re wrong. Do a little research and you’ll find out that people from different professions; both male and female such as Crossfitters, professional soccer players, those who play karate, Olympic participants, bodybuilders and many more are vegan and yet taking up careers that require extreme strength. So it’s not very difficult to stay healthy as a vegan, all it requires is a little experimentation and research to see what works for you.
Speaking from personal experience and the research I have conducted on this, I’ve listed down a couple of tips on how much of each nutrient you should consume and which foods you can find them in easily.
So this is one of the basic nutrients that everybody is familiar with. It’s commonly found in many foods so it is easy to fulfill the protein requirement in your diet. Personally, I think that you can get maximum protein out of beans and legumes – including red, black, pinto, garbanzo, white and navy beans and also tofu, peas, and peanuts. My favorites, though, are lentils and tempeh. Whole grain food products like flour and wheat also have a good amount of protein in them, I’m sure we can all agree to that since our parents have been telling us that since childhood to get us to eat healthily. Moreover, most nuts and seeds are an amazing source of protein. You can maybe put some in your bag; eat them at work as a healthy snack or they can be part of your meal. You should eat beans or legumes, along with nuts/seeds, in your meals at least twice a day.
Some people want that feeling of meat, and fortunately, there are vegan meat substitutes made with soy or wheat proteins. In my opinion, I’d go for whole foods since they are much healthier and richer in protein but these aren’t bad for your health either. Another important thing, for those people whose routines involve any kind of strength training, they can use protein powder. I myself use PlantFusion which is a mix of various plant proteins and has all the basic amino acids. We can conclude from all of this that obtaining good quality plant-based protein is not difficult at all.
Anything green is nutritious. Leafy green vegetables like lettuce, and kale, spinach, broccoli, as well as bok chov. Basically, all the things we used to hate eating as a child but were always forced to. But the best part is you can mix them with anything: tofu scramble in the morning, a healthy salad at lunchtime, into soups as appetizers and lentil curries at dinner.
The downside to this is that calcium is a vital nutrient for healthy bone growth and other purposes, and the best source of calcium is milk itself, but vegans don’t drink it. What I do as a substitute is use fortified soymilk which I use in my cereal, protein shake or with nuts and berries. There is also calcium in green vegetables, so that’s another bonus of eating greens. Also, since it is crucial to have healthy bones, to make up for calcium deficiency you can make sure you get enough Vitamin D through vegan vitamins, fortified foods or a good half hour of the sun every day, as well as exercise to help your body grow and stay healthy. This will ensure good physical strength.
A lot of people don’t consider iron as too important when choosing a healthy diet. That’s a common mistake vegans make as well. They don’t consume enough iron because they don’t realize its importance, even though it can easily be found in beans, whole grains, and greens – all the foods that contain other essential nutrients. Vitamin C helps in the absorption of iron, so it is important to intake that as well. This is found in citrus fruits (oranges, lemons) spinach, and yellow and red peppers, among other foods.
5. Vitamin B12
Since this Vitamin isn’t popular in plant foods, it is vital for vegans to consume it. You can either find Vitamin B12 in fortified foods or just take a vitamin tablet. The good part is you don’t need too much of it so it shouldn’t be too difficult to add to your diet and you can take it to be on the safe side. Just so you know, I get tests for iron and vitamin B12 done from time to time, and as it turns out I have more than enough of these nutrients.
6. Healthy Fats
Fats aren’t generally considered as good dietary nutrients, but is important to eat a healthy amount. Omega fats, more specifically Omega 3s, are really good for your brain, heart, and health in general. They are found in walnuts, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and chia seeds. An alternative to this is again taking a supplement i.e. a vegan DHA/epi pill which is a fish oil pill but it is derived from plants.
7. Other essential nutrients
These mainly include iodine, Vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin K, and others. It should not be too difficult to add these into your diet so it is good for you if you take these as well.
I can totally understand if this seems a bit overwhelming to do, but you need to be well versed on which nutrients you require especially as a vegan. Doing your research will help you include important nutrients in your diet, those that many new vegans usually miss out.
With all that to digest (pun intended!), I’m sure how you’re wondering how to manage all of that in one diet. Now like I said before, I’m no nutritionist, so do carry out your own research but what I suggest is that you eat beans/legumes and nuts and seeds in two of your meals every day, be it breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Foods that you can include these nutrients in are lentil soups and curries, black bean tacos, three bean chili, tempeh stir fry with veggies (mouth-watering, isn’t it?) black bean/white soup, and so many more recipes that you can find which are not only healthy but tasty as well.
All colored vegetables are nutritious. One simple meal that can get you a lot of nutrients is a salad with greens and other vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, beans, and seeds. This makes it much easier to keep track and make sure you’re taking all essential nutrients in your diet. A bean soup with cooked greens is also another delicious meal. Dinner meals like stir-frys, chilis, soups, curries or tacos can be made healthier by adding any kind of vegetables in them. An alternative is also steamed greens that are often seen as a side dish in fine dining restaurants.
Moving on to whole grains, you can add brown rice, corn tortilla, quinoa, flourless whole grain bread and cereal, black rice to your meals for better flavor. Fruits are also a good way to add nutrients to your diet by eating them as breakfast or for a quick snack, and unlike vegetables, they are much tastier so you can pick your favorites and have them every day!
As I talked about before, fortified soymilk is good if you want to add Vitamin B12 or calcium to your diet. I drink around 1-2 glasses in 24 hours which is enough to get the required amount of nutrients. Some people don’t like drinking milk so for those of you who don’t; you can always take supplements for B12 and calcium, and/or a DHA/EPA supplement.
The important thing to know is what suits you. That is going to take a whole lot of experimenting: trying new recipes, getting your taste buds used to new flavors, making a few changes to recipes to adjust them to your taste and liking until you settle on the best diet. On the upside, experimenting is fun and as a reward, you get pretty good health benefits.
Nutrition isn’t the only component of a healthy lifestyle. Everybody knows that exercise is equally important. For me, I have trying out running in marathons and even an ultra-marathon, weight training, sports, swimming, cycling, yoga, Crossfit, the Goruck Challenge and even more. I’m still a beginner when it comes to these, but I have learned some useful things.
This is the key to staying fit and healthy, but unfortunately many vegans don’t realize that and when the weakness kicks in, the blame falls on being vegan. People need to understand that you need to work your muscles so that they become resistant and hence, stronger. There are numerous ways of doing this, but what I do is the basic gym routine i.e. squats, bench, deadlifts etc. You’d be surprised at how much bodyweight strength increases by doing exercises like push-ups, lunges, and chin-ups. Some gyms have equipment like weight machines and dumbbells, so you can always use those as well, if available. People who want to go extreme (usually those who require strength and exercise for their careers) do Olympic barbell exercises or throw heavy things such as logs and tires, or drag sleds. This may seem tiring, but it is fun and will definitely increase your strength.
A lot of people find cardio exercises dull because they think it means walking on a treadmill or using the stationary bicycle for an hour every day. Your body does need a certain amount of movement to keep your heart and brain muscles healthy but that doesn’t necessarily have to be through gym equipment. You can take a swift walk or a run. (I do a 2-4 mile run) You can also ride a bike, play basketball, do sprint intervals or go swimming. Do whatever you like the most to make exercise enjoyable, but just make sure you go regularly to help your body stay fit.
A quick warning before you read this, I suck at yoga. However, even I would recommend this form of exercise because it is an amazing combination of strength, flexibility, and mindfulness. Yoga is good about 3 times a week to reap its benefits, but of course, if you can squeeze in more time that’s much better for you.
This should be good enough to keep you healthy and in shape. Obviously, you’re going to have to build your stamina to get here if you’re starting from scratch. For those of you who are newbies at this, it is better to start with bodyweight strength training and also get a trainer to help you out with exercise like lifting barbells. For yoga, take an introduction class before you start with that. For those of you who prefer running start walking and work your way up from there to jogging and then running. Oh, and a useful tip, if you have any kind of health risks do NOT look it up on the internet, make sure to get it checked by your specialist.
In conclusion, it is a combination of a good diet and exercise that will turn you into a healthy vegan. Make sure you eat beans, nuts, seeds, greens, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. As long as you follow all this, you don’t have to worry about being weak because of being vegan.