I just finished a 3-week vegan challenge / experiment and I want to report what I learned from the experience.
First a bit of the backstory. Out here in Chiang Mai, Thailand we meet other road bikers as we ride the wonderful hills and local loops. The community isn’t that big so we tend to bump into the same people quite often. On one of those chance meetings a bunch of us were invited to attend the 2016 Vegan Bike Festival. It’s not the purpose of this post but these guys put together a health conference where the venue was at the top of the mountain and everyone is expected to ride, run, or walk there. This is a real put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is event and that intrigued me. Anyway, I ended up riding with the group and attending the conference every other day. The whole thing was a positive experience.
At the same time my school teacher wife returned to the States to be with family so I had the opportunity to do anything crazy I wanted to do (while working until I could also go home for a couple weeks). We are whole food eaters and so going vegan wasn’t that big of a step, especially as I had the freedom to eat whatever I wanted without having to think of anyone else’s preferences or desires.
Oh, did I say that a lot of these vegans also happened to be athletes and most raw-til-4 advocates? And that they were there focusing on communication and vegan activism? These folks are the most passionate, fun, committed people I’ve been around for a while. This was the best possible time to do a vegan experiment.
This is what I learned. To successfully eat like a vegan you really need to plan ahead. This can’t be done haphazardly. You have to plan at least one meal ahead. You also have to buy what you enjoy eating. Those things are not hard in Thailand as there are so many easy options for getting good, fresh fruit and vegetables. As a newbie I finally figured out the value of a food log. That little hint took a while to get figured out but it was very helpful. I needed the log to help me compute how much I had to eat. It was rather surprising how much!
I learned that I struggled to get the protein I need eating the foods that I enjoy and could prepare myself. If my wife was around this would have been a smaller problem as her skills exceed mine in this area. I was very happy to find out that there is almost no fat in a vegan diet.
I learned that I was never hungry and that I had to take the time to eat fruit between meals to keep the calories coming in. Almost every day I was a little bit under-calorie-ed, under protein-ed, and, thankfully, under fatted. I couldn’t eat enough carbs even though I was stuffed most of the time.
Post-morning-ride weigh ins show that I lost 6KG in 3 weeks. I can’t complain about that one little bit. The scale was getting a little unfriendly the last few weeks before the experiment.
Energy-wise, attention-wise and sleep-wise there were absolutely no problems and I do feel “good”. Strength-wise maybe not the same story as my ride times up the mountain did go up a bit even though I felt like I was pushing hard to keep up with the great riders at the festival. Interestingly, the chronic pain in my hands and knees did go away – until I helped a friend move houses. I’m not sure what that means…
The bottom line is that this was a fun experience. I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it without the encouragement of @freeleebg, @DURIANRIDERS, and all the great people at the festival. It would be hard to do alone, much easier around passionate people. It was not “hard”, certainly not “starving”, I chose food I enjoyed so there was no “privation” mentality.
Going forward I have newfound respect for vegans, especially those that excel physically and I’m not afraid of turning the eating dial another notch that direction.