I Went Vegan and Lifted Heavy Weights for 6 Months
Thinking of eliminating animal products from your diet but worried about how it will affect your performance? Here’s the inside scoop from Rudi Witkowsky who’s been there, done that.
I was a thin, scrawny lad in high school but I’d always had a passion for sport and playout throughout my teenage years. I cycled for 10 years and did a lot of running and competing in half marathons. I also loved rugby and started playing wing at club level. I soon realised that, when it came to muscle, I was the smallest guy on the team. This was when I decided to join a gym to build muscle and become a force to be reckoned with on the field.
When I saw how healthy and confident people at the gym looked, I wanted to be like them, too. I was forced to quit rugby in my second year at varsity due to a demanding workload studying finance, but the gym filled the void (and required a lot less of my time!).
During this time I developed an obsession with healthy eating and learning about the role our diet plays in our overall wellbeing and reaching our body goals. I started consuming healthier meals to supplement my training with good nutrition. I taught myself everything there was to know about food, from sugars, salt intake, macros, foods high in carbs, foods that spike your glucose levels and what to eat to build muscle and live a long, healthy life. I then became hooked on the concept of clean eating and changed my entire lifestyle as a result.
I decided to go vegan for six months while adding weight lifting to my regular workout routine. Here’s how that went down.
Powering-up with Plants
Week: Weight lifting combined with functional training five times a week.
Weekend: Outdoor activities that I love, like surfing or hiking.
The Meal Plan
Breakfast: Overnight oats or toast with mushrooms or avocado.
Lunch: Tempeh, tofu beans or quinoa for protein, rice or couscous for healthy carbohydrates and lots of spinach and kale.
Snack: Vegan protein shake or almond butter with rice cakes.
Dinner: Plenty of vegetables, such as egg plant and sweet potato, a small amount of tofu or soy protein and a refreshing Castle Free (yes, it’s vegan and low in calories!).
During my six months as a vegan, I was a lot stronger at bodyweight exercises. But where I really saw a difference was when it came to running, because I was lighter and faster. More importantly, recovery was a lot quicker. I was surprised that my strength remained relatively the same and happy at my increased agility. The vegan lifestyle forced me to make better food choices, and I was eating more veggies and less sugar. I lost body fat as was a lot leaner.
But, there were downsides.
From an aesthetic point of view, I found it difficult to maintain my abs. I also found it challenging in social contexts. Many restaurants did not offer vegan based foods at the time and I found I would resort to carb-rich foods, such as fries. I always felt like a burden at braais!
I also found out that the foods I was consuming while vegan were quite acidic. As a result, I experienced bouts of stomach pain, bloating and heartburn. I also had to consume more food in order to get enough protein, so I became dependent on supplements.
Eventually, I switched from a plant-based diet to a Mediterranean one. Meat, however, only makes up about 7% of my diet. When I eat it, it’s usually fish or ostrich. I have found that this works best for my body and my lifestyle. Not only did it eliminate my gastrointestinal discomfort, but I feel happier and less restricted.
I also found that it was easier for me to build muscle again.
In the end, you should eat what works for you and makes you feel good and align it to your goals. Establish which foods will give you the boost you need either by trial and error or by seeking the input of a nutritionist. Remember to listen to your medical professional, your trainer and, most importantly, your body so that you can perform at your peak.
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