By Andrew Saylor
Until you tell someone that you are vegan or vegetarian, no one will ever care about your protein intake. The moment you let on that you might be thinking about going vegan, the first question you will inevitably get is, “Where will you get your protein from?”
Disclaimer: The point of this article is not meant to persuade anyone one way or another, but rather to share my journey of figuring out what the fuck to eat. Also, I’m not a doctor, so consult one if you want to make changes to your diet. However, don’t be afraid to question them if you don’t agree with some of their suggestions; many doctors prescribe drugs to treat symptoms rather than exploring lifestyle changes that can help to solve the problem.
For the first 28 years of my life, I ate an omnivorous diet and it could be safely stated that for 18 of them, I had absolutely no clue about nutrition. I understood the basics that fast food was probably bad for you and that vegetables were good for you, but that’s where it ended. Due to a pretty fast metabolism and a competitive swimming schedule, I ate pretty much whatever I wanted with no consideration to quantity.
Once I started college, I assumed the standard American collegiate diet consisting of gross amounts of dining hall grub, copious amounts of alcohol, and an unfortunately gratuitous amount of tobacco and caffeine (I’m talking at least six cups a day, and probably close to a pack of smokes). Unsurprisingly, my body did not respond in a very positive way. I never really gained much weight, but developed blood pressure issues by age 20.
As most responsible twenty-year-olds do, I decided to take this problem head on by completely ignoring it.
A few years later, I finally convinced myself to get out of party mode and start the slow, arduous (and often contradictory) journey to actually be healthy. Anyone who decides to really focus on his or her health can attest that it is a constantly evolving beast. There is a large amount of research, both new and old, to read through to figure out what constitutes a healthy diet, and many of these articles are unsubstantiated or poorly researched. Just because something is well-written does not mean it should be considered gospel. It took me a lot of time to find solid sources of information, and when I did, it still left me confused. When it comes to nutrition, I found many well-researched theories that happened to contradict many other well-researched theories.
Over the past few years, I have tried a couple different methodologies for eating, many in part to the crew at Full Circle. I tried Paleo for a while, but the decreased amount of carbs did not work for me. I tried the “eat everything I can because I’m bulking and nothing matters, but putting on more weight” diet. That one I came up with mostly on my own and it involved a lot of cheeseburgers, fries, and ice cream. It was a really fun diet, but definitely did not work for many reasons. I put on a lot of weight, mostly muscle, but also more fat than I wanted. It also didn’t help my blood pressure either. Then, I tried IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), which I think can be a good diet for a lot of people, but I’m not one to count calories and track food intake. It took the fun out of cooking and eating for me. I realized a commonality in each of these diets that I attempted, but could never make fit.
They all had something that didn’t work for me; I had to find a diet that worked with my lifestyle and my health goals.
This realization did not immediately lead me to the perfect diet, however, it did give a sharper focus to my research. I read books and articles about how changing your diet can slow cancer growth and help to reverse diabetes and heart disease. I discovered studies on groups of people that tend to live longer with less health complications. A lot of these groups had a whole food, plant-based diet with minimal amounts of animal protein. Most of them used meat as a flavoring rather than a main component. This information mixed with research I have done on animal factory farming, processing, and its effect on the environment pushed me towards a whole food, plant-based diet.
In October of last year, my boyfriend Brian and I decided to try going vegetarian, and it is safe to say that we did not go about it in the right way. We were buying things at the grocery store like soyrizo and different types of overly processed fake meat products. We lasted on the diet for a week and even the mention of seitan (aka “Satan”) gives me a chill. (For those who don’t know, seitan is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten.)
In February of this year, after months of eating meat and talking about becoming vegan, we decided to try the diet for a whole month with a different attitude about what foods we should actually be eating. We made a better plan of what we should and should not be eating; our diet consisted of a lot of beans and veggies. A vegan diet is very high in fiber so, if you do decide to try this, be forewarned that there will be an increase of toots as your body gets used to the new way of eating.
Anyway, we made it the whole month and have kept up with a mostly vegan, sometimes vegetarian diet (pizza is impossible for me to give up). It has been a constant learning experience of figuring out how much to eat and when to eat it in regards to working out. I’ve noticed a slight decrease in my strength numbers, but I also stopped doing Barbell and have been focusing on endurance, so that doesn’t surprise me. I completed my first CrossFit Open in the Rx division and I was completely vegan during that. I dropped two minutes and thirty seconds off of my Grace time.
I do not attribute these things to being vegan, but I’m trying to illustrate that I have not become a weak little flower because I stopped eating meat. Most importantly, my blood pressure is consistently down to 115/70, where before it was hovering around 130-135/75-80 and in my early twenties it was in the 140-150/80-90 range.
For now, I plan to continue eating a mostly vegan diet with the occasional pizza here and there. I have no idea if I will continue eating this way forever, because like I said before, nutrition is a constantly evolving beast and the best advice I can give is listen to your body; it’s pretty good at letting you know what it needs.
Finally, to answer the main question, I get my protein from the food that I eat, just like everyone else. Most food has some sort of protein in it, and your body is good at breaking those proteins apart and creating what it needs. Obviously, I’ve had to experiment some with what I eat, but I made a pretty drastic dietary change so there will continue to be some trial and error.
A special shout out to Alex Helland and Brian Boggess for being so supportive of my transition to veganism. I could not have done it without you guys sharing recipes and listening to me whine!