Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Takeaways from Being Vegan

What are some take away lessons from being vegan?
  • The “protein” sources are just not as good from plants as they are from animals. Now, we are so basic in our understanding of protein vs carbs vs fats, that I will go so far as to say, no one has figured out the ideal diet, at least not the ideal diet for everyone. For example, there are at least ten (okay nine, plus one that your body makes a little of) amino acids in protein that you need to get from food, and animal meat is the best way to get it. Fats can be broken down into monounsaturdated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and transfats, and there may be more, and they all have slightly difference metabolism mechanisms in our body. Carbs run the gamut from fructose, to sweeteners, to sugar, to whole wheat pasta, and hearty Ezekiel 4:9 bread. We break a diet down into carbs,  protein, and fats, but it’s not that simple. Yet who has time to make sure you get enough phenylalanine and threonine on a daily basis? As a competitive marathoner I need to get enough of everything, on a daily, or at least nearly daily basis to recover after a hard workout and before the next. If a lack of threonine meant it took me six days between hard workouts instead of five, the diet is inadequate. While you won’t see my grilling brats four times a week, eating chilidogs, or having meatlovers pizza, maybe ever, I plan to have steak and (ocean) fish at least once a week each. Probably small portions of each, 4-6 oz, but enough to get some quality protein. I might also go for MSC fish and free range cattle since I will be eating so little and I can afford the cost up. I will also probably eat up to half a pound of sandwich meat per week spread over five lunches. I realize that eating 16-20 oz of meat per week sounds really low, only 2-3 oz per day, but in addition to vegan protein sources I think I can thrive on those levels.
  • Very related to the first point, I am know that protein helps muscles repair and recover, I also think it might make a difference in glycogen storage, i.e. the right mix of proteins and minerals, perhaps something like retinol (animal vitamin A), may just help our muscles store more glycogen. This is more so a theory, but I think carbohydrate loading, which happens on a daily basis does not happen simply because we eat carbs, and it doesn’t happen best just eating carbs after a run, it happens best eating carbs after a run with the other chemicals that help our cells store it, and what those chemicals are, be they amino acids (proteins) or what, I think that eating a sufficient amount of animal protein (again we’re talking maybe only one pound a week) probably helps with this process. Even if it increases the glycogen stores in my body (my legs) from 1700 to 1750 calories, that could make a huge difference in a well paced marathon. Keep in mind, this is only my own personal theory, and we’re talking about a complex chemical reaction responsible for perhaps 3% of the total glycogen storage process. Also, on my one 27 mile run I really struggled the last seven miles just to run 6:20s. Other than that I never reached the level of depletion in training that I did at miles probably 18-22, let alone miles 23+ in Chicago.
  • I never had that post-thanksgiving-tryptophan-super-full feeling, like I do after a large meal particularly a large amount of steak, milk, or butter. I really enjoyed not having that feeling. For that reason I will continue in the future on a plant based diet, omnivore of course, but there will be many vegan meals and probably even vegan days. It only took about three days for me to realize that heavy stomach feeling had gone away. I may just be lactose sensitive, certainly not intolerant, but I just don’t feel as good after drinking a pint of cows milk as I do after that much soy or almond milk. I had a huge 20 oz mocha with cows milk Monday morning, and I felt sick to my stomach.
  • I seriously felt less inflammation. It’s a subjective feeling, but especially in my joints, especially my ankles, I felt in the first week that they felt, narrow, less expanded, less inflamed, I liked this feeling too. Another reason to eat plant based food.
  • I stepped on the scale after a run in September, on a hot day, and I was a dehydrated 123.6 pounds, wearing all my running gear. That’s three pounds less than I ever weighed in college, and I almost always weigh myself in the afternoon after a run, so it is consistent with previous weights. Part of the goal of this was to lose a little body fat, and I did, about 2% of my body weight, so roughly 11% to 9% body fat. While that helped with some of my faster training, I think that simply not eating pizza and doughnuts at work would do the same thing. In short, yes, you will likely lose weight if you turn vegan, but no guarantee that you lose a lot of it.
  • My bowel movements were softer and more regular. I think milk and cheese contribute to constipation, even if only mildly. The take away is instead of drinking two gallons of milk per week and half to a full pound of cheese, I will probably drink a gallon or less of milk (and drink soy and almond milk in addition) and less than half a pound of cheese per week.

In total, I have four positives from being vegan and two negatives. Some aspects of being vegan will stay with me, others will not. It was a great 73.5 day experiment.

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