Am I Really Going Vegan?


I received this email from one of my former firefighters who was exposed first hand to my ideas on nutrition and exercise for a couple of years. Phil is a great athlete and I have seen his body and performance change dramatically for the better over the years. The question he poses is a good one and seems timely since I have been hearing more and more vegan rumblings of late.

 Hey Adam. Happy New Year, I had a few questions and thoughts for you and hope you can give me some feedback. I have been strict paleo for 14 days now and plan on continuing for quite awhile. Needless to say I have lost weight, gained energy, improved at the gym and overall feel much better. No surprise there. What is different this time however is that I am not eating nearly as much animal protein as I used to. I have cut out all dairy and at least 80% of my diet is vegetables and fruit. I juice the veggies mostly and am keeping most everything raw. Still getting the good fats from avocados, nuts, and olive oil. I started doing a lot of research, reading, watching some videos and came across a lot of info that seemed reliable and valid. There is a lot of info out there (scientific research), mostly from other countries, that link animal protein consumption to higher incidences of cancer and heart disease in the general population. Have you seen any of these? China did a huge study in the 70’s and Norway had an interesting study as well.I have a huge concern that limiting animal protein will be overall detrimental to my health in the long run. But on the other hand, since I started, my shoulder soreness is virtually gone. Muscle soreness is greatly diminished post workout and my performance is better all around. And I feel great. Not really sure where I should take this. Is it too early in my new diet to discern any info? I can’t believe I have actually thought about becoming a vegetarian. WTF!

For starters getting 80% of your calories from veggies would be really tough so I’m assuming you mean dense multicolored vegetables occupy 80% of your plate. If that is the case good for you… Most people do not eat nearly enough fresh veggies and quite a bit of the initial benefit people see from switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet is from the increase in nutrient dense plants. Don’t get hung up on juicing, as with most things, you are better off to let your body do the processing and eat the fruit/vegetable rather than drink the juice; remember that digestion starts with chewing and without the fiber plants are mostly carbohydrate. If you want to juice I would look at it like a supplement and use it in addition to eating actual food if you feel like you need a little boost. As for the raw component, the jury is still out on the long-term consequence of a raw food diet. I do like to eat food as close to its natural form as possible but I wouldn’t be afraid to cook something that sucks to eat raw, like eggplant. Without cooking, it can be difficult to get enough vegetables on-board to get the nutrients you are looking for. For example about ¾ cup of steamed or sautéed spinach equals about 8 cups raw. One thing to avoid though is over cooking your veggies, I prefer blanching over steaming for stuff like broccoli and baking over boiling for things like squash and yams. “I started doing a lot of research, reading, watching some videos and came across a lot of info that seemed reliable and valid. There is a lot of info out there (scientific research), mostly from other countries, that link animal protein consumption to higher incidences of cancer and heart disease in the general population.” This part is where I have the biggest soapbox but I will keep it as short as possible. I am assuming you are talking about Forks Over Knives/The China Study/Engine 2 Diet or some other work from T. Collin Campbel, Caldwel Esselstyn, or Dean Ornish. Denise Minger said it best “I believe the “plant-based diet doctors” got a lot of things right, and a diet of whole, unprocessed plant foods (i.e., Real Food) can bring tremendous health improvements for people who were formerly eating a low-nutrient, high-crap diet. Especially short term. But I also believe this type of diet achieves some of its success by accident, and that the perks of eliminating processed junk are inaccurately attributed to eliminating all animal foods.” For her very in depth review of the misleading “scientific research” used in Forks Over Knives go HERE it really is worth your time… You are right to be concerned about the long term effects of a low animal protein diet but keep in mind that, depending on athletic goals, most people do just fine keeping their protein intake around 0.7-1.0g/lb of lean body mass. For example if you are about 10% body fat (you can see some of your abs and usually have veins visible on your biceps) and weigh 200lbs you would shoot for between 126 and 180 grams of protein per day. Again that number is highly individual. Another, perhaps more significant, concern with a plant based diet is finding good sources of the essential fat-soluble vitamin A, D, and K2; you can get what you need from grass-fed butter and hard cheese like Kerrygold if you are not opposed to a little dairy.

In summary eat a ton of veggies and fat, limit fruit, and match roots/tubers and protein intake to your training volume. There are plenty of good reasons to become vegetarian or vegan but The China Study, Forks Over Knives, and the Engine 2 Diet do not make the list. They are sensationalized blends of fact and fiction that are based on outdated misrepresented literature. If you choose to go down that path please don’t get so rooted in the dogma that you forget to check in now and then to see if you are meeting your health and performance goals.

13 Responses to Am I Really Going Vegan?

  1. Phil says:

    Adam, thank you for the prompt reply. You are correct in the assumption that 80% of my overall veggie intake was volume and not calories. Thanks for the link to the raw food blog. I guess I was looking for the counterpoint to the whole plant based diet research, and I certainly got it there. I try to model my diet more closely to what my body tells me more so than what I see on a documentary anyway. I probably noticed such a big difference because I went from an “ok diet” to an excellent one. Getting a higher percentage of calories from veggies has been very beneficial for me. I do like to juice, and I will certainly use it to supplement and not replace. Good news on the protein front. I couldn’t handle not eating meat. Are you still a proponent of fasting every now and then? I remember we talked about going without solid food for a day or so.

    • Adam says:

      Yeah Denise is a great resource when it comes to dissecting studies and she a great sense of humor. I still do a little intermittent fasting (IF) but it really has to be tempered by stress load. If you are eating low carb, crossfitting, getting woken up every night, and dealing with normal home life stress IF might push your adrenal system over the edge. During the winter I think the carb backloading model works pretty good; basically eat super low carb (<30 grams) all day then train hard around 5pm and then eat the majority of your calories and pretty much all of your carbs post workout. On day that you don't train keep it low carb and only eat when you are hungry. Fasts lasting longer than 18-24 hours have little compelling science behind them, in my opinion, and can really throw stuff out of whack if you are super stressed. Don't get me wrong skipping a day or two on the chow line wont kill you and there may be some benefit, as sort of a reset, but its not a must and much of the benefit can be gained from shorter duration efforts.

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