Hey guys, I actually wrote this post on plant-based flexible dieting quite a while ago but never got around to publishing it. I wanted to share it now so you can catch up on how my first go at vegan IIFYM ended up going. An update to all this, I took about 6 months off tracking after this but still more or less stuck to it.
At the start of 2016, I went back to tracking macros and saw slow but steady progress. Since I’m chasing performance and not aesthetics, slow and steady is the name of the game anyways, so it’s no big deal. I like to focus on my strength and fitness goals but of course, nutrition goes hand-in-hand with performance so the better I eat, the harder I can train, the stronger I get, the faster I can reach my goals.
Last week, I started back up with a nutrition coach who I’ll work with for the next 12 weeks. More on that at the bottom of this post but for now, have a read over a few of the things I’ve experienced with plant-based flexible dieting for performance-based goals.
I originally wrote this back in July of 2015 but it still all holds true. Here we go!
I can’t believe it’s been 6 weeks already! That just goes to show you should never give up on something because of the amount of time it will take, the time will pass anyway! 6 weeks flew by and I plan to carry on with plant-based flexible dieting, at least for the foreseeable future and just maybe, forever!
I always ate pretty healthy but wow, things have really changed. This has really become a lifestyle now and I’m finding it easier to make better choices and really, truly care about how I’m fuelling my body. Right now it all comes back to training, if I eat better I’ll have the energy and nourishment to train harder, build muscle and keep improving.
I’ve learned a lot and can honestly say it’s completely changed how I eat, how I feel and how I think about food. I feel different, I look different and I’m stronger, faster and more motivated than ever to reach my goals.
I used to think it was crazy and obsessive to measure your food and count macros but now I totally get it, and honestly, it’s really not that much work once you get used to it!
It does require commitment and dedication but there’s also something empowering about knowing you’re getting exactly what you need.
If you haven’t read my first two posts in this series, I’d recommend catching up with Week One and Week Two before reading this. It will give you a better idea of the how and the why of what changed during the last 6 weeks. I also shared a list of foods that have been helpful for vegan flexible dieting in this post.
Update: Stay tuned for an upcoming post on more of my top foods for plant-based flexible dieting!
On to the fun stuff: results! As I mentioned in my other two posts, my goal was not weight loss but rather improved athletic performance and a change in body composition. That being said, I did lose about 8 lbs in about 5-6 weeks.
Update: Since continuing on after this post, I’ve continued to slowly reduce body fat and maintain muscle but my weight hasn’t changed. I’m 100% a-ok with that! Bring on the gainz, baby!
I look a lot leaner and all those muscles I have are starting to show. Measurement wise, my waist is the same size, I don’t really carry much there so I didn’t see any change in that area. My hips lost about 2-3 inches, it’s always hard to tell exactly where I measured in the first place but my clothes are fitting better so that’s always a good indicator!
I haven’t been to on top of taking progress photos but the changes in my body haven’t been my primary focus, so I’ll just leave it at: I’m leaner than I’ve ever been and I feel awesome!!
Even more exciting than all that? PRs in the gym, of course!
Let’s see, I can do more pull-ups, more handstand push-ups, more pushups, I PR’d my squat, deadlift, bench press and strict press. My clean and jerk went up, snatch went up and overall I’ve just been having really good workouts and been feeling really strong. I’m also in the midst of my first competitive CrossFit, which I am absolutely loving and I’ve definitely surprised myself with my abilities!
Update: Since this I’ve competed in 3 CrossFit team competitions with more on the horizon in 2016!
So, the results in the gym have been about 1000x more exciting than any changes in how I look. Consistency, hard work and dedication totally pays off and it’s so, so very worth it. During the last 6 weeks, I can physically feel myself getting stronger, my conditioning improving and just all around feeling more quick and agile during training.
My only regret with the change in my diet is that I didn’t do it sooner. It’s just so effective! And the absolute best part is I didn’t really have to change much. I’m still eating all the same foods, just in different proportions.
Plant-based athletes, vegan bodybuilders, meat-free CrossFitters and weightlifters, whoever you are and whatever your goals, just know that you can absolutely achieve all your fitness goals without the need for meat, eggs, fish or dairy. Research, commitment, dedication and a healthy, whole-food diet full of nutrient-dense foods are the key to success.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the past 6 weeks.
1. I actually enjoy food more now.
Something about this really has me enjoying and savouring my food more than ever. I like portioning out my healthy desserts and enjoying every last, little bite. When I have a treat that’s more of an indulgence I really, really appreciate it.
If I have a particular number of macros left, I like deciding how to “spend” them on something I really want. I like planning out treats and my favourite foods, looking forward to them and truly enjoying them.
I’d rather not eat foods I don’t absolutely love now either. For instance, donuts. I don’t even really like donuts but I’d probably eat one if it was in front of me. Now? Nah..no thanks, I’ll save those beautiful carbs and fats for some awesome that I love….like vegan pizza or a big bowl of banana ice cream with peanut butter.
I want to use up my macros in the best possible way and get the most nourishment possible from the foods I’m eating. I don’t want to “waste” macros, so to speak, on things like alcohol or junk food because those aren’t going to provide any benefit in the gym, however it’s nice to know there is room for anything, if I really want it.
2. You can get by with little to no oil.
I don’t use any oil to cook now. Omg, I used to use way too much olive oil and coconut oil to cook, roast and sauté without thinking too much about it but wow, can that add up really fast, adding a ton of extra fat and calories to your diet and it’s just not necessary.
You can get more than enough fat from whole foods that offer other health and nutritional benefits along with the healthy fats that they provide, foods like hemp and chia seeds, coconut, avocado and nuts.
I use water or vegetable broth to cook, steam and sauté and as for roasting, no oil is needed! I actually have better results roasting vegetables dry than I ever did with oil. All they need is a little seasoning and they come out tender but crispy and perfectly flavoured.
One of my favourite foods is fat-free baked fries! No oil needed, just slice up a potato or sweet potato and bake until perfectly crispy. It’s the best thing ever.
Aside from using MCT oil for bulletproof coffee here and there, I actually haven’t added any oil to my diet in months. Looking back, I used to go through olive oil so quickly and now I can’t remember the last time I purchased a new bottle!
3. I’m saving money.
Keeping my portion sizes in check means I’m eating less, which means I’m saving money. This is good. I’m also not going through nut butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, nuts and other high-density, and higher priced, foods like I used to.
I also eat out less because it’s just so much easier to eat at home. I do eat out sometimes and I just do my best to estimate what I’m eating but I don’t worry about it too much. All in all, I buy less food because I eat less food, which means more money for travelling. Woop.
5. I eat less sugar, less fat and more protein.
I still eat fruit, of course, but I definitely used to go overboard on sugar and fat, at least for my goals at this time. I was still getting that sugar and fat from whole foods but I was eating to to many dates, bananas, avocado, nuts and peanut butter.
No way was I eating enough protein before I started either. I do think plant-based athletes need to be aware of their protein intake to support their training and help build and maintain muscle. I try to include protein source in every meal now and I also supplement with whole-food protein powders. I now easily get 150-160 grams of protein per day, all through whole-food sources with no need for animal proteins, thanks very much!
6. I’m eating way more raw veggies.
Micronutrients for the win! When I get lazy in the kitchen I used to rely on rice, pasta and other dense, grain-based dishes. My lazy go-to meals are now huge, epic salads with an added source of protein, usually lentils, tempeh or tofu. I love them! I ate them before too, just not as often. Now I eat one every day.
I like to fill up on high-volume foods so that’s where big salads really come in handy. The more volume the better, it’s amazing how filling a big salad with some added protein can be! I think it helps mentally too, because you feel like you’re eating a big portion, whereas a smaller, macro-dense meal can leave you feeling unsatisfied.
I love adding in all sorts of fresh veggies and herbs and topping it with a simple homemade fat-free vinaigrette. I also snack on more raw veggies and am just eating more raw vegetables in general.
7. It’s easy to eat a little less.
If you make each meal and snack just a little smaller it can add up to big results. I’d say this has been one of the biggest changes for me and where measuring my food has really changed how I eat. It’s so easy to underestimate what you’re eating, especially with denser, higher-calories foods.
Measuring my meals for a few months helped me understand portion sizes so when I’m not tracking, it’s really easy to stick to what’s right for my body. I can eyeball appropriate portion sizes now and this really helps prevent overeating when dining out and travelling.
8. This can work long-term.
I think this is one method of eating can definetely work as a long-term lifestyle. Because nothing is off limits, mentally I think it’s much more doable than a more restrictive diet. With my goals, there is room to not worry about what I’m eating from time to time. It depends on your goals and how fast you want to reach them though. I’m totally ok with slow and steady progress. Time isn’t an issue however, the closer you stick to your numbers, the faster the results will be.
I also think once you move to a maintenance phase and no longer feel it necessary to count macros day in and day out, you can use flexible dieting to periodically re-set and check in on your diet. Once you’ve reached your goal, I think a weekly weigh-in would be adequate to stay on track an maintain any changes you’ve made in body composition. Also, after a few months of tracking, it’s pretty easy to determine roughly what you need to eat each day.
11. Don’t rush it, especially if you’re chasing athletic performance…and want to stay sane.
It can take months, even years to see real changes in your body, nothing is going to happen overnight, so make it a lifelong commitment with slow and steady gradual adjustments. Rushing it can lead to muscle loss, gaining weight back, binging and can even have a negative effect on performance.
Looking at this a longterm lifestyle also makes it easier to enjoy yourself once in a while without worrying about it. It’s what you do consistently that is going to make the difference, not the treats you have here and there! Eat what makes you happy and if it’s less than healthy or you overeat, just go back to normal the next day and it’s no problem. There are no shortcuts but sticking to it over time can lead to big change. Think in years.
I like to go on vacations, travel and enjoy time with family and friends without being concerned with what I’m eating. Yes, you have to eat healthy most of the time but doing so allows you to enjoy yourself here and there and still see results over the longterm. Keep your goals in sight but always keep perspective.
12. IIYM gives you magic willpower.
There is something so satisfying about hitting your numbers every day. It’s like solving a puzzle by fitting all the little macro pieces together. I actually haven’t had any food cravings since starting this and not only that but when unhealthy foods have presented themselves, I had no problem passing them over. I didn’t really have much of problem with that before but more than ever, I really care about what I’m putting in my body and want don’t want to “waste” macros on something I don’t really, really enjoy.
13. I like having the signal to stop eating.
I definetely used to be an after-dinner, nighttime snacker. I’ve cut that out completely. Once I’m done eating for the day and I’ve fulfilled my macro requirements, it’s the perfect signal to stop eating. When I’m satisfied and have gotten all the nourishment I need, there is no reason to keep eating.
However, if I do have macros left and want a snack: air-popped popcorn. The best.
14. I don’t measure most vegetables.
Aside from starchy veggies, I haven’t felt the need to measure out things like lettuce, tomato, carrot, cucumber, bell peppers and other lighter vegetables. With my activity level and the goals I’m trying to achieve, I don’t really feel it’s necessary to be that accurate. I do measure vegetables like potato, sweet potato and other high-density, starchy vegetables though since the carbs can really add up in those ones.
15. I really read labels now, not just ingredients.
Before starting this, when buying packaged food, I typically only read the ingredient panel. Now I check that, as well as the nutrition facts. I choose items that have the best macronutrient ratios, usually aiming for the most protein and the least fat. The more balanced each food I eat is, the easier time I have hitting my numbers overall.
Doing this plant-based, it does take more planning since most plant-based sources of protein come along with their fair share of carbs and fat, as opposed to proteins like tuna or egg whites. So choosing higher protein, lower carbohydrate plant-foods throughout the day makes it a lot easier to reach my daily macro goals.
I still care about what’s in any packaged foods I buy but the nutrition facts are a lot more important to me now. That being said, I mostly eat whole foods, so there isn’t a lot of label reading going on anyways!
So, those were some of the experiences I had when I first started flexible dieting last year. I feel like a pro now and I’m enjoying this new found way of fuelling my active lifestyle.
Weekdays are a breeze since my routine is so regular, I eat a snack at 5 am before training, have a protein shake after training, then breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner and then sometimes another snack before bed if I have room for it. I have a harder time on weekends when I don’t have a set routine. Namely, getting enough protein in and eating regularly throughout the day.
Right now I’m not sticking to my macros with 100% accuracy. I’m still seeing slow and steady results without having to be too crazy or strict, which is great. When events come up I just try to keep my portions in check but I don’t worry about it too much. For my goals, life is too short. Unless you’re trying to make a weight class or competing at a very high level, I don’t think it’s necessary to be 100% accurate 100% of the time. If you totally miss your numbers one day by overeating, or even under eating, it’s not a big deal, get right back to it the next day and don’t stress about a thing.
Update: I am now 1 week into working with a nutrition coach again. I wanted to kick-start my 2016 goals and have found the accountability of a coach to be an invaluable tool. I like having the confidence that I’m eating enough to fuel my training but not too much as to stall progress. Right now my goals are eating to perform and getting leaner and I’m already feeling I’m well on my way!
I’m working towards some goals in the gym, namely getting my ring and bar muscle ups down, and improving efficiency in chest to bar pull-ups, toes to bar and pull-ups. If I’m leaner and bit lighter, that means less weight to pull! I have lifting goals too, getting my clean and jerk and snatch up there and a big back squat are on the goal list this year. I’ll get back to working on those after the CrossFit Open ends in 6 weeks. Actually, I can’t wait. It’s been conditioning all day, every day and I really miss lifting all the heavy weight!!
All that being said, yes, you can work with a coach to help make sure you’re eating right for your goals but you are still the one that has to commit and do the work, day after day, if you want to see results. On the flip side, don’t obsess, don’t stress if you miss a day or two, try to enjoy the process, eat foods that nourish your body but allow foods that just make you happy, work hard and see what you’re capable of but keep perspective and don’t be too hard on yourself. Just like anything in life, the more consistent and dedicated you are, the more successful you will be. It’s all up to you!
Thanks for reading! I know a lot of you have found my previous posts on this topic helpful so feel free to ask me any questions you might have in the comment section below. I’d love to hear about your experiences with plant-based flexible dieting! I’ll be sharing more as I continue with my nutrition coach for the next 12 weeks, I’ve already discovered some new tricks, tools, foods and recipes, so be sure to check back soon!