One of the things about being a bit older than the current generation of vegan / plant based / flexitarian dieters who are happily blogging about their new found health kick, is that for me it is like going round the block again.
You know – been there, done that. Back in my day the diet du jour of the trendy and healthy was vegetarian and then it was ‘semi-veg’. When looking for a new flatmate (room mate) you advertised the fact that they needed to be compatible with the vegetarian or semi-veg eating. Here are some recipe books I have from the era, note the hand written recipes and illustrations (Pre-computer folks, showing my age!) Awesome recipes by the way, very plant-based (before such a word became trendy)
Well, I was semi-veg for some years, I ate mostly grains, vegetables, legumes, little meat (‘bad’ for you), no fish (protecting the sea from being depleted). I did eat dairy and occasional eggs. Every so often I got crazy cravings for steak or KFC chicken, and just had to have some. I remember the wonderful deliciousness, and feeling of some depletion being sated for a few weeks until the next time.
After some time on this diet I noticed things were not great, my menstrual pain became unbearingly severe to the point where I would vomit with every wave of cramps and painkillers were an absolute necessity for several days, I even had some suppository painkillers on hand just in case I couldn’t keep pills down. My pre-menstrual symptoms too were horrible, breasts that were agonisingly tender. I noticed when I went to the gym I would come home and just sit fatigued for half an hour until my body felt ready to be active again. I put on weight, and I was often hungry 2 hours after I last ate.
I read about protein in “The Zone Diet” (over 20 years ago now) and worked out my own protein prescription, which meant eating around 20 grams protein at each of my 3 meals a day. (Based on my lean body mass) Enough protein to maintain my lean body mass (everything except the fat). My carbs were also adjusted down, and refined grains got the boot.
After eating less than half this amount of protein for some time, the difference when I increased my intake was phenomenal.
My brain felt clear and focused, my energy increased, my blood sugar levels were stable (no more reactive hypoglycemia). The other remarkable thing was how great I felt after exercise, instead of feeling fatigued and needing to rest after a workout, I just got on with my day feeling energised. I no longer got low blood sugar and hungry every 2 hours, a meal would instead last 4 hours.
Oh- and I got stronger faster – instead of the struggle to gain strength, my weights were increasing quickly.
That awful menstrual pain? The came from depleted levels of omega 3 – the long chain fats in fish and seafood. By not eating seafood, my levels had become more and more depleted, and I no longer had the building blocks of anti-inflammatory hormones that quell inflammation. After 2 months of supplemental fish oil I no longer suffered intense pain.
To this day I have continued to eat protein at each meal. Recently I’ve increased my strength training and am really happy that at my age I’m still adding strength and gaining muscle mass.
I would describe my diet now as plant based with a side of protein. Currently I eat 3 meals a day with 30 grams net protein at each meal.
So when I see plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets again becoming the diet du jour, I wonder how many people will unknowingly suffer fatigue like I did, not realising the answer is as simple as eating a palm size of animal protein 3 times a day.