I often get asked what my diet regime is. And while I'm happy to share tips, I always have to put a disclaimer on it that goes something like this:
This is what works for me. It helps me maintain the physique I have, which is 83 kg in weight and approximately 8% body fat. I never weigh food or count calories; I simply don't believe in that.
Those are unnatural habits, which, if obsessed over, can lead to psychological issues. People start calorie restricting and doing ridiculous diets like Keto.
Just train hard and regularly and eat a whole foods, plant-based diet.
That means eating vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc., and limiting your intake of anything processed. If you're still transitioning to a completely plant-based diet then at the very least limit your meat intake to fewer than 5x per month and fish no more than 2x per week.
Though, of course, I encourage you to go 100% plant-based for maximum health potential. It is morally the best choice too. But hey, that's not what this post is about. This is about what I do to stay lean.
After 24 years of playing football, running, lifting weights, doing body-weight exercises, Wing Chun (it's a martial art) and various other sports, I instinctively know what my body needs and when.
I know how it will respond to changes in my diet, and how I can lose that extra bit of belly fat if I need to.
A Natural Approach to Fitness
As I mentioned above, you'll never catch me weighing out food or counting calories. I eat the most nutrient-dense foods to ensure my body is a disease-fighting environment, heavily concentrated with phytonutrients.
I take a natural approach to fitness, in that I feel my way through it. I listen to my body and Mother Nature. I suggest you do the same.
If you are a vegan athlete with specific fitness goals, then you need to consult a personal trainer or nutritionist to help you identify the plant-based foods that will help you achieve that.
I can't guarantee that eating like me will help you stack on muscle, or make you win that match or race, but I can give you an insight into healthy plant-based eating that will put you on the right road to becoming a better athlete.
My Vegan Diet Plan
What you will notice about my diet is the balance of beans, berries, cruciferous vegetables, greens, whole grains and nuts and seeds.
There are thousands of plant-based recipes but I keep my meals pretty simple because I don't have a great deal of time for preparation. However, as long as you incorporate these staple foods into your, you can experiment with combinations and variation until your palette is content.
So let's start with a typical day.
Breakfast – 7.30 AM:
- Porridge or oatmeal, with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seed, brazil nuts, apricots, and a banana (or two).
- Half a litre of water.
Option 2 (in a hurry):
- Green smoothie: Organic kale, spinach (try red sometimes too), acai berries/blueberries/whatever berries I have, a bananas, tablespoon of flax seed. You can add plant-based milk too, if you like. I really do experiment with whatever I have in the bowl/fridge.
- Double helpings of nut butter on wholewheat farmhouse toast sandwich (fresh from the baker), stacked with banana, flax seeds and some raisins.
** Whatever breakfast option I eat, I always take my GHC B12 supplement to boost my reserves and keep my energy levels tip-top.
Post Exercise – 10.30 AM:
- If I'm on lean muscle building trip, I'll have a protein shake with a scoop of ground flax seed and whatever fruit is in the basket.
Note: You don't need to worry about plant based protein like you do animal protein. Plant-based protein does not cause the same load on the liver, nor the inflammation. So having a protein shake is no big deal.
No need to go crazy on shakes though; your body can only use so much protein: it will get rid of amino acids it doesn't need.
To buy awesome organic, high quality plant-based protein choose Nuzest. It's dairy free, gluten-free, GMO free, even soy free.
There's no maltodextrin or other artificial sweeteners, no E numbers, additives or preservatives, and no flavors or colors.
Plus it contains all nine essential amino acids.
- Homemade shake: Cashew nut milk blended with a scoop of flax seed and mango, guava, watermelon or whatever fruit you like.
Note: You can always keep it whole: Eat a handful of cashews and the fruit too. This is actually preferable. But hey, sipping and working is often easier.
Lunch – 12.30 PM:
- Raw green beans and spirulina noodles, mixed with olives in a vegan tomato pasta sauce.
- Lentils with brown rice and lemongrass sauce. On the side: raw organic baby tomatoes, cucumber and carrot sticks, with a humous dip.
- Coconut water. Great for rehydrating.
- Pack of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or mixed nuts, depending on what I've had earlier in the day.
If you work out in the afternoon, or you'd prefer not to have a shake in the morning, then you may want to have a protein shake here.
- Boiled spinach, morning glory, mushrooms (Cremini,Shiitake or Porcini), tofu or tempeh, sweet potatoes or yams.
- On the side: a big salad, usually containing my go-to-green: Tuscan (Italian) Kale. I call it the flu vaccine – it's that powerful. Through some sliced carrot, onion, bell peppers, cress and anything else lurking in the vegetable tray and you're good to go.
Note: I generally use garlic, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of turmeric to flavour my food. I also use vinegar on my salads. I rarely use oil; it's empty calories.
Tip: If you're struggling with belly fat, cut out oil immediately. You'll notice weight loss within 3 weeks.
- Boiled broccoli or brussels sprouts, sometimes asparagus, pumpkin or butternut squash, with potatoes (homegrown when in season). I'll have organic beetroot as a side, again, if in season. I also throw in brown pasta – with herbs like parsley, thyme and oregano mixed in for flavour – once, sometimes twice, a week.
Note: I pretty much always add some form of beans or lentils to my dinners.
Pre-Bedtime Snack (if hungry):
- Cereal (Weetabix or Fruit and Fibre) with soy/hemp/cashew/ hazelnut milk (fortified with vitamin B12)
- Or a piece of fruit. Apples are good for staving off hunger without putting a heavy load on your digestive system before bed. A banana before bed also works well for me (no pun intended).
An Important Note On Carbs
Most people trying to put on lean muscle think carbs are the enemy. They double or triple protein intake and lower carbs to a minimum.
What ends up happening is poor sleep, fatigue, brain fog and an overworked liver.
Your body is a carbohydrate burning machine. You are designed to eat carbs and lots of them, just not the processed, factory-made types that are engineered to trick your carb receptors into thinking its real food.
Carbohydrate is sugar. Your body is fueled by it. Your brain weighs 2-3 lbs and runs exclusively on the stuff.
Keep up your whole food carb intake. You can't train and work without it.
People think carbs will make them fat. This is a myth. It takes a lot of energy for the body to store carbohydrate as fat; it's simply not its preference to do that. Since you're very active with your training, carbs will not be an issue. If you're hungry, carb up!
Other Important Considerations
I have never considered myself a bodybuilder because I don't train for size, and I don't solely lift weights.
I do enjoy weight training but I find it gets boring and I can't be doing with tracking macros (macronutrients) and rest times between sets, etc.
It's my personal opinion that people over-focus on these things instead of learning about the more important topic of nutrition, beyond the “eat protein: steaks, eggs, chicken” mantra.
If you want to learn more, start learning how the human body really works in terms of nutrient absorption and digestion, and how different foods affect the body. And learn to read scientific studies; how to differentiate a reliable study from a flawed or bias one, or one with corporate interest.
If you can't be doing with that, then just eat whole foods plant-based and maximize your micronutrient and macronutrient intake. Naturally, you'll stay lean and disease and infection free.
Rest well and allow your body the time to recover from hard training and injury. And stay away from performance enhancing drugs.
Mix up your training and respond to what your body is craving. Don't get bogged down in boring gym routines.
For example: Sometimes I want to just run around playing football for hours, other times I like to do a week of body weight exercises (calisthenics), and if I'm stressed I'll go to the gym and hit the weights hard and fast.
This last year I've been running 3x a week too. I run a 5k Parkrun race on a Saturday too, for a bit of competitive action. My PB is 21.48 as of Dec 2018. Not bad for an old boy.
Don't obsess over shape and particular body parts; it's an endless, soulless pursuit. Again, simply learn about your body. For example: I have always found my back and shoulders put on muscle very easily, as does my chest, so I tend not to over train those parts.
However, no matter how low my body fat, my abs are genetically challenged, so to speak, and never develop much past what you see here. I tend to get a prominent 4-pack at best. This runs through the men in my family.
What's more important than how you look is what's going on inside.
For many years I trained every day and people thought I was super strong and fit. But I felt fatigued all the time. Only adrenaline was getting through workouts and matches.
You see, a person can be shredded on the outside but very unhealthy due to the amount of processed meat, dairy products and processed and sugary foods they eat. Cancer and liver and kidney issues take years to develop, but in many cases are wholly preventable.
My advice is to focus on the inside, and then the outside will naturally take care of itself.
Got a question? Leave it in the comments section below.