Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Vegan Setback

After reading a number of books, articles and watching a fair number of documentaries on the wonders of a vegan diet in preventing and reversing disease and prolonging a healthy life, my wife and I decided to give it a go.  Dr. Esselstyn, a cardiac surgeon and researcher at the Cleveland Clinic along with Dr. Campbell of the famed China Study, have dedicated their lives to the science of nutrition and its benefits on our overall health in both the prevention of nearly every nasty disease we suffer from as human beings and particularly Westerners, not to mention the effects nutrition plays on obesity and longevity.  Their books are highlighted in the Books on Nutrition, Exercise and Hacking the Human Body tab on this site and both are featured heavily in the popular documentary Forks Over Knives.  The studies are rather astounding and certainly were enough for me, a happily carnivorous sort of guy to pay attention.  The problem, a week into eating a mostly vegan diet, my run times started to slow, my athletic performance waned and at the end of two weeks, during long workouts, I had gone from feeling like superman to supersloth.  So what exactly was the problem?  The research done by both of these highly respected doctors and now countless others is sound.  It's hard to argue with their results and the hundreds of people who had once been given a death sentence, including President Bill Clinton, who are now alive and healthy thanks to their nutritional prescription.
Pre-Vegan Experiment 7 miles

Two Weeks of Vegan 6.5 miles
Well, the problem lies in the complicated and varied nature of the human body.  Certainly if your goal was purely longevity, disease prevention and a healthy weight, I would say that Dr. Esselstyn's prescription is the way to go.  But what if your goal is to run a Tough Mudder in October.  What if, unlike Rip Esselstyn, the author of the Engine Two Diet, a former firefighter, triathlete and whole foods plant based advocate, you're not well over six feet tall and built with long sinewy limbs.  And yes, I just discovered that Rip is Dr. Esselstyn's son.  I had no idea.  Vegan advocates will argue that you can get everything you need from a completely plant based diet.  That is true, but not as simple as it seems.  I weigh 168 pounds right now.  At ten percent body fat and 5' 7", that's a lot of short, fast twitch heavy muscle.  When I exercise, that muscle breaks down and needs to have protein to recover.  Protein that I wasn't getting from my vegan experiment.  It's one of the benefits and detriments of being me.  I can build muscle and fat fast (Nowadays I'm focusing on the muscle part).  Eating a large variety of great tasting foods, without eggs, dairy or meat I went from getting 130g of protein a day to 70g.  The results for me were less than advantageous.  Granted I felt fine doing normal everyday type things, but when it came time to exercise, everything began to stall.  I went back to 130g of protein and 4 days later I felt fantastic.
4 Days High Protein Post-Vegan 8 Miles
That being said, science, good science at least, is a powerful thing.  I have no interest in heart disease or cancer and the evidence shows that the good doctors are succeeding in preventing and reversing such diseases with their plant based approach.  That leaves me with a bit of a conundrum.  Scouring the internet for answers has left me with less than ideal solutions.  In order to get to my magic number of 130g of protein, which by the way I calculate by taking 0.8 X my ideal body weight of 160lbs, I would have to consume a great deal more calories than I do now, eat an ungodly amount of green vegetables, or turn to high daily amounts of soy.  Each of these solutions comes with their own unique problems, but I'll break them down to a few major ones.  Expense: in the form of time, money and effort.  High percentage of carbohydrates: I'm not a big fan of keeping that percentage of my diet much over 30%.  Feasibility: Broccoli is 3% protein, 6 % carbohydrates and 91% water.  That means that over a third of its merger calories come from protein.  Fantastic...except, I don't know about you, but eating 51 cups of fresh broccoli to reach 130g of protein just isn't in my wheelhouse.  Soy: The magical soy bean provides a multitude of varieties for adding protein to a vegan diet.  Tofu ranks right up there with the egg in protein per calorie and comes largely free of saturated fats and cholesterol.  The problem is the soy bean also comes with genistein and daidzein.  These phytoestrogens, or plant produced estrogens, mimic the real deal sex hormone found in men and women.  When men, who normally have a low amount of the female sex hormone, flood there bodies with the plant equivalent in the form of high amounts of daily consumption of soy products, the results can be less than desirable.  Some of those side effects include breast development, mood swings, low sperm counts and sexual dysfunction.
So...what to do?  I decided to tweak Dr. Esselstyn and Campbell's plant based diet into my own Plant Focused one.  I still think of vegetables as the major player in my diet, an increase from the meat and veggie model I used to loose the first 20lbs, and I largely stay away from dairy (exceptions being the non fat Greek yogurt in my morning shake and a rare addition of cheese to a wrap or sandwich).  Once a week I try to cook and eat vegan, a little tofu, some tempeh.  The rest of the time I eat meat with my plate full of vegetables, adding some fruit and whole grains along the way for good measure.  At the same time though, I have become much more conscious about where my meat comes from.  Meat, much like the majority of the food Americans eat these days has become a processed lesser version of what it once was.  The factory model of raising and slaughtering animals in order to meet the high consumer demand has become a horror show both for the treatment of the animals as well as the health of our bodies.  Taking the extra step, and the extra few dollars, to make sure that the meat my family buys is free range, grass fed, organic and factory free is worth it to my conscience as well as our health.  Meat is the easiest most efficient way to get all 8 essential amino acids in a compact protein powerhouse of a food.  For instance, pure protein is 4 calories per gram.  Turkey Breast has 1g of protein per 4.5 calories.  Doesn't get much closure to high protein than that.
As a result of this tweak, I feel great, I'm running better everyday, and I have energy to recover, build muscle and keep up with my kids.  I don't want to detract from the work of Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Campbell.  By all means if you have or at risk for heart disease, cancer or type II diabetes, I would encourage you to read their books and get started on a vegan diet.  Their scientific results speak for themselves.  But if your like me...well, lets just say, focus on the vegetable, make them a part of every meal and find good healthy sources for your protein.  If you can stomach 51 cups of broccoli, go for it.

1 comment:

  1. He looks amazing and he is amazing! I can testify his energy level has increases 10 fold! Where is that self help book Brandon!!!!



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