Fitness writer and competitive bodybuilder Nicola Joyce decided to eat a vegan diet for World Vegan Month. We asked her all about it…
We hear you’re eating vegan for a month. Why?
If I’m honest, mostly as content for my blog! November is World Vegan Month, and I thought it would be an interesting nutrition adventure. And as I’m not prepping for a bodybuilding show right now, I can do it. I like experimenting with nutrition, seeing how it affects body composition, strength, recovery, and training. My initial thoughts are that a vegan diet is healthy, not harmfully restrictive, and won’t impact macros or micros. We’ll see!
What was your aim with your Vegan Month?
I went into this with no expectations, but no judgement either. I was simply going to eat 100% vegan, and try to stick to my existing macros and meal frequency if possible. Of course I wanted the diet to support my training, recovery, and energy levels. I didn’t have a contingency plan if I ended up exhausted or wiped out! But I didn’t honestly think that would happen.
Did you have any concerns at all?
I’m pretty creative in the kitchen and enjoy cooking, so I wasn’t worried about getting bored. As an omnivore, I already prep and cook almost all of my meals from scratch. I also wasn’t worried about nutrient deficiency; I believe that we can get everything we need from a good vegan diet.
I’m not a bodybuilding cliche who eats masses of meat anyway. But I tend to have very real cravings for red meat around my period (I’ve no idea if this is common or not) and wondered how I’d cope if that happened. I thought I might miss fish (I eat a lot of it). And I wasn’t sure what a diet without eggs and Liquid Egg Whites would look like!
How exactly has your diet changed?
Well, obviously I removed all meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. But it’s the less obvious things that surprised me. Traces of dairy or eggs in sauces, dressings, and “non whole foods” items. Did you know that not all Quorn products are vegan? I didn’t!
My first supermarket shop as a vegan was an eye opener. It took me ages, even though I ended up buying relatively little. I had to read the label on absolutely everything (except fruit and veg!) and large areas of the shop were now totally irrelevant to me.
It actually made me sympathise with people who are new to “healthy eating”. They probably take just as long as I did, to read food labels and work out which bits of the shop to buy from. This is something for PTs and coaches out there to think about. Healthy eating might be second nature to us, but it’s completely alien when you do it for the first time.
Can you give us some examples of what you ate?
I ate a lot of pulses, beans, lentils, and tofu! A lot of my meals were kind of beige. But then again, so is chicken and potato. I used a lot more herbs and spices, something I had got a bit lazy with as a meat eater.
A lot of my main meals were variations on curried tofu with veg, or veg and chickpeas/lentils in a tomato sauce.
The main issue I found was in hitting my macros. With an omnivore diet, the macros are quite separate. If you want protein, you chop some chicken. For carbs, you add rice – and so on. But with vegan foods, the macros are all attached. Lentils are protein, but carbs too. Tofu is protein, but fats too. So I had to rethink how to construct a meal.
My breakfast didn’t change – I still ate oats and protein powder stirred in. But I had to leave out the egg whites (I usually stir in about 50ml Liquid Egg Whites whilst the oats are cooking). And I used Complete Vegan Blend™ instead of whey. I actually prefer it, and will continue to use it. It’s thicker and tastier in my opinion.
Tell us about your vegan supplement routine
Complete Vegan Blend™, which I used in my breakfast oats and as a post-workout (and sometimes pre bed top up!) I continued to use Creatine Monohydrate. I don’t normally take a fish oil, but I do eat a fair bit of fish. So I used Omega Oil Blend. I also enjoyed your Vegan Protein Bars as a sweet snack (snacking as a vegan is definitely more of a challenge!).
How did you feel after one week of eating vegan?
Honestly, no different at all. Sorry if that’s a boring answer, but I had no cravings and didn’t miss any foods in particular. I felt pretty full from all my meals (possibly to do with the fibre, or the food volume?) Meal frequency had gone down (because I was finding it hard to invent snacks), and so meal size went up a bit.
How has your training and recovery been affected?
I’m only a week in, but if anything I would say I feel better. I’ve had a great week’s training. This could be down to any number of other factors, of course. But I haven’t struggled to fuel my training sessions or eat a post workout meal. There was one day (when I’d done a big leg session plus some conditioning work) when I was really hungry in the evening. If I hadn’t been doing this vegan challenge, I probably would have done a late-night supermarket dash to get some snacks! (As it was I think I ate a Vegan Protein Bar and a second portion of whatever I’d made for dinner!)
Is it difficult to make the change?
I haven’t found it difficult at all, but I should point out that I live by myself, don’t have kids, and I work at home. There have been very few times where I’ve had to navigate a tricky social situation. But there are loads of vegan cafes and restaurants in my town, and I imagine it’s the same everywhere these days. Shopping for vegan food and ingredients is very easy, if a bit limiting (compared to omnivore eating – but the clue is in the name there!)
Eating vegan has encouraged me to try new recipes, experiment with flavours, and eat some new foods as well (seitan – who knew?)
I haven’t finished the month yet, but I think I’ll continue with a lot of my vegan habits and recipes. I can’t see myself buying dairy again, and I’ll definitely use vegan protein powder. But I think eggs will be making a return to my life… we’ll see!
Nicola Joyce is a fitness industry copywriter, competitive bodybuilder, and a regular contributor to The Core™. You can read more about her Vegan Month and find her on Instagram or Facebook.