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Veganuary with the Post is a weekly, month-long newsletter from the Long Beach Post and the Hi-lo, with tips and tricks, recommendations, motivation and useful information to help you go vegan this January.

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This issue of Veganuary with the Post was guest written by Madison Lowery, a personal trainer and plant-based coach.
As a coach and personal trainer, conversations about food with clients occupy a huge portion of my time, and the vast majority of these discussions center around plant-based eating.

Aesthetics aside, my clients want to know at a very fundamental level what these foods are made of and how they will interact with their bodies. They don’t just want to look good and perform better during our sessions at the gym, they want to eat in a way that makes their bodies and minds operate more efficiently outside of the gym as well.

I know this week of the Veganuary newsletter was billed as dealing with “health” but I’m going to assume that we all know a plant-based diet is a healthier way to eat and live. What I found stops my clients from embracing that life is an anxiety that they will get an insufficient amount of daily protein, leading to unsatisfactory workouts and a general loss of energy throughout the day.

I’ve been an athlete almost my entire life and a plant-based athlete for about four years now. I am always motivated to help others similarly adopt a lifestyle centered more around plants, but I am equally motivated to emphasize to clients that they should be realistic with their expectations, and to transition at a pace that won’t overwhelm them in figuring out what to eat.

To start, I express establishing an achievable ratio between plant-based and animal-based sources of nutrition, namely, protein. For someone very new to limiting animal products in their diet, I advise them to start by eating meat only once a day.

As time moves on and the change becomes a part of their daily routine, advance to eating meat only once every other day, and as more time moves on graduate to only eating meat once or twice a week, and so on and so forth. Traditionally, veganism is presented as something that someone must adopt 100 percent. The mindset is very all or nothing, and this attitude makes allowances like an occasional scramble, a sprinkle of cheese over a bowl of vegetarian chili or a spoonful of honey in your oatmeal seem like a total failure.

In my personal journey, I started out as a “v-eggan,” a vegan who incorporates eggs as an additional daily protein source. I’ve since stopped eating eggs entirely, but keeping eggs in my diet while eliminating virtually all other animal products from my diet psychologically made the transition that much easier. By taking it easy on myself it allowed me to research what kinds of foods could eventually help me substitute out eggs for a plant-based, protein rich alternative.

During this period, strictly vegan friends were not shy about expressing that “you’re not actually vegan you know, right?” And that’s fine. By their standards, I’m still not an actual vegan, and though I can finally live without cheese, sushi remains an occasional indulgence and I don’t plan on changing that, maybe ever. Whether your motivations are ethical, health related or both, making plants central to your daily eating will only positively affect your internal and external environment.

Inevitably in every conversation surrounding veganism, the topic of protein sources comes up. Clients express not just concern but full blown anxiety towards not being able to eat enough protein, especially those who train with heavy weights.

First step, find a vegan protein powder that doesn’t make you want to throw up. I advise clients to opt for powders that don’t exceed any more than five grams of sugar per serving. I supplement my meals with a shake, usually in between lunch and dinner. Years ago when I first started experimenting with vegan protein sources, options were fairly limited, especially when it came to flavor. These days virtually every grocery store has a devoted plant-based section, usually placed around the produce aisles.

Some of my favorite brands include Sweet Earth veggie patties and seitan strips, Beyond patties and sausages, and Trader Joe’s brand Hi-Protein Veggie Patties. Each of these sources ranges between 15-26 grams of protein per serving. Be advised that these proteins have a decent amount of sodium added, so be sparing in adding additional salt or seasonings when preparing them.

Next, focus less on creating a fabulous and photogenic insta-worthy dish and more on creating a nutritionally balanced dish that will work towards your goals, be it muscle gain, weight loss or non-aesthetically based goals like improving heart health. Clients will typically express some concern over not having enough “unprocessed” or “natural” proteins. From there, I refer them to two vegan bodybuilders, Fritz Horstmann (@fritzness_) and Nimai Delgado (@veganbodybuildingfood) when looking for inspiration in creating straightforward but satisfying weeknight meals to hit their protein goals.

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In addition to the simplicity of their meals, I fully align with their message of adopting a diet that focuses mainly on whole foods while still incorporating processed protein sources to reach your daily nutritional needs.

At this stage in the game, to assume that meat and seafood we purchase at the store is “clean” or “unprocessed” is simply just not the case. I quite literally used to lay awake in bed at night, racking my brain for some obscure bean or nut or seed that I could order off Amazon to accomodate my higher protein diet. To no avail, day in and day out I would eat mountains of lentils instead of trying out tofu, seitan, etc. all for the sake of remaining “clean.”

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The bloating, the gas, and the upset stomachs finally became too much, and I started to research more on processed vegan proteins. I can confidently say both in my personal experience and in my clients experiences that our energy levels, digestion, focus, stamina and energy have all undoubtedly improved. Additionally recovery periods after heavy lifting have gotten shorter, and muscle soreness has noticeably decreased. A typical day of eating for myself looks something along the lines of this:

Breakfast

High protein oatmeal
¼ cup oats, ½ cup nutmilk, scoop of protein powder, 1-2 tbsp nut butter, 1 tbsp chia seed, 1 handful frozen berries

Lunch

Simple macro bowl
Two big handfuls of leafy greens, diced bell pepper, ½ avocado, 1 serving grilled tempeh/tofu/seitan/beyond meat, ½ cup garbanzo beans, 2 tbsp trader joe’s green goddess dressing

Dinner

Hi protein veggie burrito
1 serving tempeh/tofu/seitan/beyond meat cooked with onions and garlic, finely chopped greens, wrapped in Ezekiel tortilla with 2 tbsp of trader joe’s spicy cashew queso dip

Again, whether you are just beginning your exploration of plant based eating or have been sticking with it for a few years now, I want to stress that simplicity is key. Make whole plants, grains, and legumes your focus and supplement these nutritious meals with the protein your body needs.

Keep at it

We've talked about going vegan for the good of the animals and for the planet; next week we're going to continue talking about going vegan for your health. We'll be back with more recommendations, tips and tricks and hopefully some motivation to help you keep at it all month long. In the meantime, stay connected with us through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and let us know how it’s going.
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