HEALTHY AGING AND STRENGTH TRAINING ON A VEGAN DIET
You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 44. Today we're going to focus on veganism within the context of healthy aging and strength training. Improve your plant-based nutrition in five steps. Learn how our nutritional needs change with age and how to set yourself up for amazing health in later life. Find out which six movements you must include in your strength training program and much more.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina Inkster, your no-bullshit vegan health and fitness coach. Thanks for joining me today for all things veganism and healthy aging. Today's episode is based on a presentation I gave recently, so I'll link to that in our show notes, Nobullshitvegan.com/044 if you want to check that out. Now everyone is aging so you don't have to be older in order to benefit from the info. In today's episode, starting earlier in life with healthy habits of course will set you up for amazing health in later life, although it's never too late to start, so there's always options for course-correcting as you go along. So I'm going to be talking about long-term veganism within the context of healthy aging. So here's what we're going to cover today. We're just going to go over the benefits of a vegan diet as a summary because you guys all know the benefits of a vegan diet.
Then we're going to talk about my five-step approach to improving your plant-based nutrition, a spotlight on a few key nutrients including protein, iron, calcium and B12 and how our needs change during the lifecycle. Three mistakes vegans often make with their nutrition and how to avoid them. The importance of strength training and how it benefits us, especially in later life. The six fundamental movement patterns to include in your strength training program and tips for incorporating strength training into your life for life.
If you're new to the show and just tuning in for the first time, welcome and thank you so much for listening. Allow me to give you a little bit of background on who the hell this Karina Inkster character is. If you don't know me already, I'm a fitness and nutrition coach for vegans all over the world. So, right now I have clients in Dubai and Thailand, Kuwait, Australia, London and all across North America. I coached clients in gyms in for about seven years and I've been coaching online for about four years, exclusively online for just over a year. I've written two books, I write for magazines and I went vegetarian 22 years ago at the age of 11 and then I went vegan five years later because it took me that long to realize that the meat, dairy, and egg industries are all one in the same. So, I went vegan when I was 16 which was 16 years ago, and I also started strength training at the same time. I did my Master’s degree in Gerontology, so my focus is on helping people create long-term habits that they're going to keep for life. So I don't do quick fixes, not any sort of 30-day boot camps where you do crazy shit that you can't maintain after the 30 days, just long-term habit creation.
So, basically I'm a friendly kick in the ass that helps my clients nail their health and fitness goals while showing the world what plant-based athleticism is all about. When I'm not kicking my clients' butts working out or writing, I play accordion and Australian didgeridoo, although not simultaneously yet at this point.
Just so we're on the same page about the benefits of a vegan diet, these are things we talk about on this podcast all the time. I'm not going to spend a ton of time on this, but I've broken the benefits down into four categories and the first one is health. So we all know that there are crazy awesome health benefits to being plant-based, especially if you're whole foods plant-based or mostly whole foods plant-based. So we are preventing all sorts of diseases including cancer, and there's a whole host of other things like diabetes and blood pressure, heart disease, things we are avoiding by being plant-based.
The next category is environmental. Now we all know that animal agriculture is unsustainable and it doesn't matter whether it's a small family farm or a huge commercial operation, it's not as sustainable as farming plants. So there are tons of other environmental benefits like we're not supporting pollution and deforestation and loss of biodiversity. So just know that you are doing an awesome thing for the planet if you are plant-based.
Then of course we have ethical reasons. These are the most important reasons to me. So the only reason we humans eat animal products, at least in most parts of the world, is because they taste good. We don't need them for any biological reason. Now, Gary Francios and Anna Charlton in their book, eat you care and examination of the morality of eating animals, right? We have a moral obligation not to impose unnecessary suffering on animals. Suffering imposed for mere pleasure, amusement or convenience is by definition unnecessary.
Now, the fourth category of benefits is one that is newer and it does need more research and that is athletic benefits. So you may have heard some professional athletes are actually going vegan entirely to improve their game so they can recover faster, they can train more. The theory is vegans are eating a lot of anti-inflammatory foods and not a lot of pro-inflammatory foods, which are usually animal products. So we are able to recover faster from our training and then go train some more.
So let's tie all these benefits together in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper on vegetarian and vegan diets. I actually interviewed the lead author Vesanto Melina way back in episode 12. It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian including vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes, plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk for certain health conditions including ischemic heart disease, type two diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer and obesity, low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds, all rich in fiber and phytochemicals are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that produce lower total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease. Vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B12 such as fortified foods or supplements.
All right, so let's get into my five step approach to making sure that your nutrition supports your fitness, health and physique goals. So if you want to level up your nutrition, you have to go through these in order. So the most important step is first and the least important step is last. These are all steps that I go through with my nutrition clients.
So step number one is food quality. Basically micronutrients, making sure we're getting our vitamins and minerals, and this is something we all inherently know, like we all know it's probably healthier to eat a giant salad than pop tarts or it's probably a better idea to have a tofu stir fry compared to Oreo’s for lunch. So it's an important step and it's hard to measure. This is the only drawback of this step. You can't really measure what exact percentage of your foods are coming from high quality sources.
Now, high-quality foods are those in their most natural states, like whole grains, fresh produce, and they're high in micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals. So preparing most of your own meals in your own kitchen and focusing on filling your plate with as many whole foods as possible will ensure that you're eating a nutrient-dense diet that fuels your fitness goals.
The second step is calories. This is something that is fairly straightforward to measure. Now I would recommend working with a nutrition professional to help you set calorie and macronutrient goals. We'll get into macros in a second. Now, calories are a measure of the energy that we get from food and they're important for both athletic performance reasons and physique goals. So you need to ensure that you're consuming an appropriate amount of energy for your fitness endeavors while also supporting your physical goals. You'll need to take in less energy than you burn if you're looking to lose fat and more energy than you burn if you're working to gain muscle.
So once you've got your food quality and calories figured out, the third step is macronutrients or macros. These are nutrients our bodies need in the largest amounts. So carbs, proteins, and fats and each one has a different function in our bodies. We each need different ratios of these nutrients depending on our lifestyles and our training and our goals. So most of my vegan clients who strength train, aim to get half of their calories from carbohydrates and of course whole nutrient-dense sources whenever possible and about 25% to 30% of their calories from healthy fats and 20% to 25% from protein. So these ratios will change. If you're an endurance athlete for example, you'll need more carbs, not quite as much protein. If you're a competitive strength athlete, you'll need more protein, but as a baseline, the 50% carbs, 25% to 30% fat and 20% to 25% protein is perfect for people who strength train regularly.
Now once you have your macros figured out, the fourth step, which is actually not as important as most people think, is pre and post-workout nutrition. So assuming that you have the rest of your diet figured out, pre and post workout nutrition is actually not that important. It becomes important if you are training for long periods of time, like an hour and a half or longer, and it becomes important also in some cases if you're training first thing in the morning before you eat anything, then the post-workout nutrition can be more important. So normally what I recommend is carbs and a moderate amount of protein before you work out, and then carbs again with a little bit higher protein after you workout, especially if it was a strength training workout. Now just keep in mind that if you're 24 hour period of nutrition is on point, this is not important and you can basically do whatever works for you.
Step number five is supplements. So they are kind of an insurance policy other than B12, which I consider non-negotiable for all vegans. So there are a few supplements that I get people to think about, but in no way do I want to force people to take supplements and that is outside my scope of practice as a fitness coach. So the two supplements that I want to put on the table for you to consider, especially if you strength train are protein powder and creatine. Now there's nothing special about protein powder. It is not necessary. It's just super convenient. So that's why I use it once a day. It's an easy 25 grams of protein without any carbs, without any fats. It's super convenient. That's really the only reason that I use it. You don't have to, but if you're on the go, if you're at the gym, if you're at work, it can be a great option.
Now, creatine is interesting because it's very well supported in the research. Now our bodies make our own creatine. It's basically like an energy storage for our muscles, but we vegans don't get it from our diets, so it may actually be extra useful for vegans. As I mentioned, it is very well supported by research for muscle gain and also cognitive benefits, particularly for older adults. So creatine may actually be extra useful for vegans and extra useful for older adults. So I'll link to some research in the show which you can access at Nobullshitvegan.com/044.
So I'd like to touch on a few key nutrients, and the first one is everybody's favorite in the vegan world, protein, which we have talked about on our show before. But just to distill all of the info, let me share first of all, something about the RDA that you might have heard about - recommended daily allowance.
It's not quite an RDA like for iron or calcium, things that we need specific amounts for, because your protein needs actually change based on your lifestyle and based on your goal. What you may have heard from government regulations, that kind of thing is that we need 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you need about 58 grams of protein per day. Now keep in mind two things here. One is this is the absolute minimum amount required to prevent deficiency and prevent health problems and maintain muscle mass. This is for people who are sedentary, people who don't exercise, people who don't train. So 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day is a minimum. It's not really like an RDA like for iron and calcium and things that I mentioned before where that actually takes into account absorption issues and it's actually giving us a little bit of a buffer.
So for protein, this is the minimum. Now there's some research that shows we actually might need more protein as we age because we're not absorbing quite as much of it anymore. But there's more research that we need here and we don't have exact numbers yet. So the going knowledge for endurance athletes, so people who are doing cycling, running, swimming, cardio-based activities, the going know-how for how much protein endurance athletes need is 1.3 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. So that has gone up from 0.8 grams and strength athletes, particularly vegan strength athletes need between 1.8 and 2.1 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. This comes from research done by Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko who was on our show back in episodes four and five so I'll link to those in our show notes.
So I've got a few situations for you in which you want to make sure that you're focusing on protein intake. So if you strength train, whether you're vegan, vegetarian, somewhere else on the spectrum, you need to focus on protein. It's the main building block for our muscles. So if you strength train, especially if you want to build muscle, you're going to need to focus on protein and your amount will change. So you might need to work with someone to figure out what that amount is exactly. Now here's something that a lot of people forget about if you are in a calorie deficit. If you're currently working on losing weight, it's also important that you make sure you're getting the protein you need because you want to be losing fat, not muscle, and if you're in a calorie deficit without thinking about protein, you run the risk of losing both fat and muscle. But if your protein intake is where it needs to be, then hopefully you're just going to lose fat, not muscle. Then again, if you're older and you want to prevent muscle loss, a slight increase of protein intake can be useful.
So our next nutrient is iron. Now males over the age of 19 need eight milligrams per day and females between the ages of 19 and 50 need 18 milligrams per day. That goes down to eight for females over the age of 51. You can get iron from lentils, chia seeds, fortified cereals, pumpkin seeds, there's lots of vegan sources of iron. Then we have calcium where men age 19 to 70 need a thousand milligrams a day and men over the age of 71 need 1200 milligrams per day. Women age 19 to 50 need a thousand milligrams and women 51 and over need slightly more at 1200 milligrams per day.
Vegan sources of calcium include dark leafy greens and calcium fortified tofu and non-dairy milk. Then lastly, another shout out for B12 supplements. All adults across the board need 2.4 micrograms per day. So a very tiny little amount, but it's very, very important and you do not want to mess with the potential of a B12 deficiency. So I always recommend as an insurance policy B12 supplementation for all vegans and our bodies. So even if you're getting the B12 you need from your diet, it's best to take a supplement anyways.
Now I've got three mistakes that vegans make with their nutrition, and this is based on my work with clients, things I've seen a lot over the years. So three mistakes and of course how to avoid them. So mistake number one is cutting out animal products without replacing them. This is specific to new vegans.
Replace animal products with a variety of whole plant-based foods to prevent nutritional deficiencies. So if you're just deleting things from your diet without putting in new stuff, you are setting yourself up for nutritional deficiencies. So if you focus on sources of protein like tofu, tempeh beans, nutritional yeast, nuts, seeds, you're going to take care of your protein needs and your micronutrient needs.
Mistake number two is fostering a mindset of avoidance. So rather than focusing on all the foods you can't eat anymore and all the foods you have to avoid, challenge yourself to create a mindset of abundance. So focus on all the new foods you can eat more of including foods you haven't tried yet. I mean, honestly, I had no idea what tempeh or amaranth or what kamae or faro were before I went vegan. And also side note, I do have a list of 350 vegan ingredients, vegan grocery items on my website.
So if you need some inspiration, head over to Karinainkster.com and there's a 350 item vegan grocery list for you there.
Mistake number three is neglecting to optimize your food environment. Now your food environment is the habits that you've built and your surroundings that determine what and how you eat. So try scheduling some time each week to prepare a large batch of a healthy vegan entree and some snacks perhaps for between meals to reduce the amount of cooking required during the week. So your food environment also includes your social life, what you do with your food choices when you go out and what you have in your kitchen. Here at the Inkster household, our rule is no treats in the house. So if I want a treat, which I have a couple of times a week, I have to go out of my way to get it. It's not hanging out in the pantry yelling at me to eat it. So anything you can do to optimize your food environment is going to help you nail your health goals and also be vegan long-term.
So let's transition into talking about strength training. I think along with a whole foods plant-based diet, regular resistance training is an absolute must for optimal health, fitness and disease prevention. Now, resistance workouts most often involve strength training at a gym, but you don't have to go to a gym. You can also complete bodyweight resistance bands or suspension trainer workouts at home if you don't want to go to a gym. A lot of my clients live in crazy places in the world, you know, little islands with 20 houses and no roads or the middle of Outback Australia 10 hours away from the nearest town, so they actually don't have access to gyms.
So they're using resistance bands, bodyweight suspension trainers like TRX and there's tons of options. So I just want to put this out there. You do not have to turn into a gym rat in order to strength train regularly. So why is strength training important? Well, a couple of reasons. First of all, bone density, so the density of our bones decreases as a normal part of aging, but the good news is you can prevent much of this and you can actually even build new bones later in life by strength training regularly. Other reasons strength training is important is muscle mass, which also naturally decreases as we age. But honestly, strength training, as cliché as it sounds, it's really the closest thing we have to the so-called fountain of youth because it not only prevents this natural decrease of muscle mass as we age, it increases muscles at any age.
Now, muscle mass in the lower body of older adults is actually one of the strongest predictors. We have a false mobility and independence in later life, so I have a little PSA for you. The scale is not the best way to measure your progress with your fitness and physique, especially if you strength train. One pound of muscle takes up half as much space as one pound of fat, so you could theoretically get smaller but weigh the same or more, which is exactly what happened to me. So if you've been listening to this show for a while, when I started strength training regularly, which was about 16 years ago, I gained 15 pounds. Now that didn't happen overnight. Of course that took several years, but I would have been pretty confused if all I was looking at was the scale and not also measurements and tracking my strength.
I wanted to share a really interesting study that was done on the importance of lifelong exercise. So this work created the best visual I've ever seen illustrating the importance of being active. Now, of course I can't share a visual with you via audio, so make sure you go to Nobullshitvegan.com/044 to see what I'm talking about. You'll see cross-sections, which are MRI images of the quadriceps muscle of a 40-year-old triathlete, a 74-year-old sedentary person, and a 70-year-old triathlete. So triathletes generally do mostly cardio training, but serious triathletes, also strength train to excel at the three cardio sports that they do. The two triathletes, the muscle bone and fat look strikingly similar even though they're three decades apart in age. If the images weren't labeled with their ages, you probably wouldn't be able to tell which is which.
The sedentary person's MRI, however, looks very different. The bone is thinner, the muscle has wasted away, and most of the leg cross-section shows adipose tissue, which is fat. The research has concluded this study contradicts the common observation that muscle mass and strength decline as a function of aging alone. Instead, these declines may signal the effect of chronic disuse rather than muscle aging. So make sure you head over to Nobullshitvegan.com/044 and you'll see these amazing images I'm talking about. So how much strength training do we need to do in order to reap all these health benefits? Well, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and the US Government recommend for all adults a minimum of two strength-training sessions per week, working all your major muscle groups, and in addition to this, we need to be doing a total of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity in chunks of 10 minutes or more.
Then they're also saying that those adults aged 64 and older with poor mobility should perform additional physical activities to enhance balance and prevent falls. They're also seeing more physical activity provides greater health benefits. So based on government recommendations, we should be strength training, a minimum of twice a week training all of our major muscle groups each time. My recommendations for strength training, if you're just starting out, I would aim for three 30 minutes strength training sessions per week just to make sure you're covering your bases. You are increasing bone density, muscle mass, you're getting all the possible benefits from strength training. Now once you've maintained this habit for about two months, you can increase the length of your workouts to 45 minutes and if your schedule allows, and if you like strength training, you can also increase your training to four days a week working your upper body and your lower body on alternating days.
To ensure you're using correct form, not injuring yourself and getting the most out of each move, I would recommend working with a coach until you're confident you can perform each lift effectively on your own. So there are six fundamental movement patterns that you need to include in some form in your strength training programs. You want to cover each one twice a week if you can. These include squat, hip, hinge, lunge, upper body push, upper body pole and loaded carry. Now I'm going to have visuals of these in our show notes because it's going to be a little difficult explaining weightlifting movements via audio. So go to Nobullshitvegan.com/044 and you'll see what all of these movements mean. Let me go over these movements really quickly just to give you some examples.
The first non-negotiable movement is a squat. I think we all know what a squat is. There are tons of different options. You can do a goblet squat with a kettlebell or a dumbbell, you can do a back squat with a bar. It's totally up to you, but the squat is an absolutely fundamental movement and probably the most important lower body strength movement that you can do. The next move is a hip hinge, which is a dead lift. That's probably the easiest example. Anything that uses a hip hinge, so barbell deadlift, dumbbell deadlift, you can even do a single leg dead lift. I'll show you what that looks like in our show notes. Then we have a lunge where the point is working balance as well as strength. So your legs are split. You could do a reverse lunge, you could do walking lunges, side lunges, tons of options. Then we have an upper body push, so any sort of pushing motion with your arms, something like a push up overhead press, bench press, things like that.
On the reverse side of that, we have an upper-body pull. Anything where you're rowing like a seated row on a cable machine, a dumbbell row, and of course my all-time favorite moves, chin-ups. And lastly, we have something that a lot of people don't know about. If you go into the average commercial gym, nobody is doing this, but if you go into the average personal training studio, for example, everyone is doing this. So what I'm talking about is a loaded carry or a weighted carry. It's basically picking up really heavy shit and carrying it around. It’s very simple but very underrated. So carrying really heavy objects is very low risk for injury and it's super, super important for core strength and upper body strength. So you can use kettlebells, you can use dumbbells, some people even use one barbell in each arm. You're basically just carrying stuff with really awesome posture, activating your core and activating all the muscles in your upper body. And it's a very important move to bulletproof yourself from injury and to increase strength.
So how do we incorporate strength training into our lives consistently for life? Well, my number one tip is to not rely on motivation. Motivation is very fickle. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don't. And I think there's this BS myth out there that we all need to feel pumped and excited and motivated every time we train, which is not realistic. Pro athletes don't feel motivated all the time. So what we need to do is train ourselves to operate without motivation. So accountability and consistency are not flashy. They're not sexy, they don't sell, but they work. So in order to make really lasting change, consistency should be our number one priority. Staying consistent with your nutrition and fitness habits is a whole lot easier when there's someone keeping tabs on you, which is exactly why I have three different training slash accountability partners. That takes care of six of my weekly workouts. This is why my approach to working with my clients is to get them ready for life after coach K. Some of my clients will stay on long term for new workouts each month, progress tracking, accountability, and of course a kick in the ass, but my goal is to get my clients to a point where they don't need me to stay consistent with their healthy living habits. The process looks different for each person, but you can bet your ass that accountability factors into the equation.
So that's what I have for you today on veganism, healthy aging and strength training to help you with all of these things. I've got four free resources for you on my website. We've got the vegan grocery list that I mentioned earlier and there is a 10 day how to go vegan course.
I have an e-book on Sports Nutrition, so fueling your fitness on a plant-based diet including calories and macros and the Workout Deck of Cards that I have for you, which is a bodyweight, 39 exercise deck of cards that you can print yourself and then every workout is going to be different. Don't forget to head to Nobullshitvegan.com/044 for visuals of the six non-negotiable movement patterns I talked about and those really blowing MRI images of the quad muscles of active versus sedentary people.
Thanks so much for joining me today and supporting the show. You are awesome!