How to Eat Vegan: An Easy Guide for Athletes & Others Alike

So you want to try the vegan diet? It’s pretty win-win. Or win-win-win, a la Michael Scott. When done right, you’ll feel like a million bucks (probably look like it too), you won’t have to eat those cute pigs, cows, etc. you’ve been seeing all over Instagram, and you’ll help save the world (but seriously…). Win-win-win.

But it’s super hard, right? No way you can just stop eating meat, dairy, eggs. Well, if I can, you can. Nobody ate more meat than me. (Legit, my dad used to call my grocery cart the meat wagon.) And now, I’m done. It started as a month challenge, and now I’m going on three years sans meat, dairy, eggs. I've never felt better.

For the athlete reading this and wondering how being vegan might impact strength and muscle mass, I'd encourage you to check out guys like David Carter (former NFL lineman), Patrik Baboumian (vegan strongman) & Torre Washington (vegan bodybuilder). As far as the endurance goes, I’ve raced numerous Ironmans, including the World Champs in Kona, and have managed huge training loads such as 40+ hours a week of swim/bike/run at Epic Camp, all while on a vegan diet. Instead of inhibiting such training and racing, I believe that it has allowed it. My energy levels are off the chain, my recovery is better than it’s ever been, and it’s now easier to maintain muscle while shedding body fat.  


I first tried to transition to a vegan diet back in 2012. After just a couple of weeks, I gave up. It was too hard. I didn’t know what meals to make, I struggled to navigate menus when eating out, I was hungry all the time, and in the end I wasn’t even eating a healthy diet.

After nearly a year of continuing to eat meat, dairy, eggs, etc., I gave the vegan diet another go. (Inspired by Rich Roll's Finding Ultra. Give this a read if you haven't already. It's awesome.) This time I was prepared. I’ve now been mostly vegan for over three years. (I say mostly because I continue to eat honey and will eat fish a couple times a year.)



Focus on the Short-Term: Don’t Think About the Month, Instead Think of Today & Tomorrow

  • Just focus on eating vegan today and tomorrow. The first three weeks are tough. You’ll have cravings for meat, cheese and whatever else. There will be social pressure to just order the steak or split the pizza, and it’ll sound delicious. Put your energy towards just getting through one day at a time. Don't give in!! It gets A LOT easier.
  • If you stick with the vegan diet, your stomach’s ecology (gut microbiome) will start to shift. In a matter of weeks, you’ll start to crave the veggie dishes you're enjoying. It’s pretty wild. I used to LOVE hamburgers. I honestly have zero desire for them now — in fact, they totally gross me out. Four years ago I’d have kicked my own ass for uttering such nonsense, but what can I say, it’s true.
  • Many who ask me about being vegan say something like, Oh wow, that must take such discipline. The truth is that it doesn't once you hit a tipping point. It really only takes a month or so of discipline and then everything gets much easier. In fact, it's easier to eat a healthy diet than before. When you can cross meat and dairy off the menu, your options are typically way more healthy. That means you don't have to be nearly as disciplined. (I don't eat dairy, so I'm no longer tempted by ice cream for example. The list goes on and on.)

Build a Routine: Find 5-10 Meals You Really Like, and Rotate Through Them  

  • I’m a big fan of routine. I have pretty much the same breakfast and lunch everyday. Seriously. And I’m freaking PUMPED to eat these two meals.
    • Again, your cravings shift based on what you eat. Remember in Super Size Me, how he hates the McDonald’s at first, but then starts to love it and need it? That’s the gut microbiome shifting. You crave what you eat and eat what you crave. Once you take the 3-4 weeks to create the right gut microbiome, you’re set.
  • I’ll mix up my breakfast and lunch every so often, but for the most part I’m eating the same thing during the day with dinner being different. For dinner, Marla and I have a handful of meals we really like to make + restaurants we like to hit up.
  • While you don’t really have to eat the same thing over and over, I think this idea of keeping it simple is important. Once you get into a routine of eating a few go-to healthy meals, it’s really easy to maintain and it takes much of the effort out of it.
  • My guess is that you’re already eating very similar meals from one week to the next. It’s just a matter of finding tasty vegan meals that you dig and find easy to make (or order if you’re not down with cooking). Keep eating these healthy meals while avoiding meat/dairy/etc., and your gut biome will shift in the right direction.

Plan Ahead: Cook in Advance & Have Snacks On Hand

  • Make your meals for tomorrow today.
  • Every few days, I make a huge pot of quinoa, I rinse off some canned black beans and chickpeas and put them in mason jars, and I bake a few sweet potatoes. With all this in the 'frig at the ready, I'm able to whip meals together in 5-10 minutes.
  • If you’re no into doing any cooking (to my s’head NYC friends out there who’ve actually read this far… making quinoa, rinsing beans/chickpeas, and baking sweet potatoes hardly qualifies as cooking), just make sure to have some snacks on hand.
  • Here’s a rundown on my go-to snacks: Must Have Snacks for Healthy Eating

Eat Real Food: Try to Avoid the Fake Meat Products

  • It’s easy to try to eat the same meals you used to but instead use stuff like Boca Burger, Tofurkey or Gardein crispy tenders. Try to steer clear of these meat replacements.
  • I fell into the trap of eating this stuff when I first gave the whole vegan diet a whirl and I felt like shit after eating it.
  • The reason you feel so much better on the vegan diet is because you’re system isn’t bogged down with acidic and hard-to-digest meat and is instead being properly fueled by nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc. If you’re avoiding meat but filling the void with processed foods, you’re not going to be feeling much better.   

Don’t Stress the Details: If You’re Eating a Blend of Fruits & Vegetables, You’re Getting Plenty of Protein, etc.

  • Don’t worry about protein, carbs, fat content, etc. This is where so many people go wrong with eating. Counting these things is just a pain in the ass/ total waste of time and serves no real purpose. Just eat real food (not packaged or processed) based on what you’re hungry for and you’ll be great.  
  • People always ask, “But where do you get your protein?” Well, for starters, plant-based foods have lots of protein. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, even greens like spinach are all great sources of protein.
  • You also don’t need nearly as much protein as you think. I do all my training — both endurance and strength training — with zero protein supplementation. I eat (lots of) black beans, chickpeas (mostly through hummus), and nuts most days and that does the trick. I also have no idea how much protein I’m taking in on a given day. I instead try to pay attention to what my body wants, and I then I eat it.

Have Fun: You’re Doing Something New, Enjoy It  

  • Even for the culinary inept, cooking should be fun. You’re creating something, and in the end, you get it eat. Not bad, right?
  • I like the challenge aspect for this reason too. Prove it to yourself and whoever else that you can eat vegan for a month. Or two months. Or for as long as you freaking want.
  • Laugh it off when people give you shit for eating vegan. Trust me, you'll catch some grief. Especially if you're a guy. Be comfortable with it. It's your body, your health. Don't let others dictate how you live your life.
    • I tend to be quiet about eating the way I do since I don't want to come across as preachy. If people ask, I'll share. When I was first giving the diet a go, I didn't want to say I'm Vegan to others or waiters since I was only a week or two in. Instead, I'd just say Hey I'm on this new health kick. I'm just going to order a couple of salads and a side of the veggies. People were cool with it. I told them that I felt great and was going to keep rolling with it.

Don’t Quit: Progress, Not Perfection

  • I don’t like saying I’m vegan because it’s such a constraining term. I eat what I like to eat, and don’t feel bound to any diet dogma. While it rarely occurs these days (I’ve become quite skilled at navigating menus), if I’m out to eat and the healthiest thing on a menu is fish, I’ll order the fish. I’m typically a pretty all-or-nothing type of guy, but I don’t sweat it if I veer off course ever so slightly on occasion.
  • Don’t abandon the goal of eating vegan because of one slip up. It’s an evolution. The more you eat the plant-based foods, the more you’ll crave them. And, the less you eat meat, the less you’ll crave it.


All in above linked post.


More on this soon too... again, a couple days.


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