When I began my vegan macrobiotic practice 35 years ago, my life was on the line. I changed everything about my life to regain my health. I walked away from the foods and lifestyle that I believed had helped create my condition of illness. I ditched vegan junk food, started cooking whole grains, beans and lots of seasonal veggies. I stopped working out strenuously. I had always been fit, but training and fitness were some of the last things on my mind at this critical juncture. I left my beloved gym behind to focus on cooking and staying alive.
After recovering my health, I took up yoga for fitness. It seemed a bit gentler than my usual butt-kicking gym sessions of the past. Then one fateful day, I was washing walls in the kitchen (don’t ask…), fell off a step stool and broke my wrist. A year, two surgeries and 20 pounds heavier, I was soft, out of shape and frustrated. Yoga would not do the trick for me this time.
I hired a personal trainer (the best in the world, in my view…) to get me back in shape. The weights felt so comfortable in my hands; the stress on my muscles felt magical…and natural to me. I was completely fit in no time…and re-hooked on training…from one-on-one sessions to extreme boot camp to spinning to Pilates. I returned to strenuous workouts five to six days a week.
A happy ending, right? Not so fast.
In the gym “culture,” vegans are a misunderstood lot. And with good reason…it’s hard to balance extreme fitness without real attention to eating or a lot of supplements and I was not into pills, powders and potions. I just wanted to eat well and be fit. After the initial blush of getting in shape, I realized that my workouts were leaving me exhausted. My trainer believed my dietary choices contributed to my weakness. He said that my muscles were being torn down and not rebuilding quickly because I wasn’t getting the proper balance of protein to carbs to fat for my activity level. I had to find a way to stay strong within my lifestyle and my food choices because there was no way I was leaving my healthy vegan lifestyle behind…or ditching my beloved gym again.
So I increased my intake of beans, tofu, seitan and tempeh for protein. I reduced the volume of whole grains I ate and focused on quinoa because it’s a complete protein. That way, I could keep my volume of food the same, but repair my muscles. I increased my vegetable intake, including more raw foods and my vegetable fat intake in the form of nuts, avocados, olives and olive oil. I began to eat small meals more often during the day.
I supplemented the nutrients I missed in food: vitamin B-12, plus two amino acids, glutamine and L-carnitine. My training is sure and strong again. I’m tired after a good workout; my muscles ache with the pleasure of strain, but now challenging my body keeps me vital and energized.
We need to eat well and be fit if we are going to get out of this life alive. There is so much to enjoy. There’s no excuse not to eat well. Now there’s a plethora of vegan athletes to inspire us. Thank goodness for them! There’s no longer an excuse to skip training…and training hard just because we are vegans. (Check these guys out! Robert Cheeke – veganbodybuilding.com, Christy Morgan – blissfulandfit.com and Brendan Brazier, a vegan ultra-athlete at brendanbrazier.com.)
It’s not enough just to eat healthy foods. Our bodies are meant to move and be physically stressed. It’s time to ditch the Twizzlers (even though they’re vegan) and any other vegan junk that will steal your health as quickly as any other junk food.
Eat whole grains, beans, good fats and veggies, lots of veggies…and move…run, jump, swim, lift, bike, stretch, pump iron…it’s the one form of stress we need!
So at this moment of my life, I am loving extreme boot camps and HIIT (high intensity interval) training with Pilates to balance all the intensity. You’re up. I’ve shared my love of fitness and making it work within my chosen lifestyle. How are you staying fit and what are you loving right now?