Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 151
Coach K’s birthday, goal-setting, and veganism + strength training fundamentals
Karina Inkster: You’re listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 151. Today I’m sharing with you a few thoughts on my birthday, and a presentation I gave recently at a health expo, about veganism and strength training. Hopefully, it’ll be a great place to start if you’re new to either veganism or strength training (or both). And if you’re not new to these worlds, it’ll be a good refresher to make sure you’ve nailed the fundamentals.
Hey, welcome to the show! I’m Karina, your go-to, no-B.S. vegan fitness and nutrition coach. I happen to be recording this the day after my 37th birthday (today is June 14th; my birthday is June 13th), so I thought I’d throw in a few birthday-adjacent comments before I share with you some vegan nutrition and strength training intel.
If you’re in the gift-giving or birthday celebration mood, I have a birthday request for you: I would love it (if you haven’t already), if you could leave a star rating and short review of this show on your podcast-listening app of choice. I love hearing from listeners and seeing reviews come in from all corners of the world, and it’s the best way for us to get this show in front of new listeners. So my birthday request is, head to the reviews section of your podcast app, and send in a short review. Thanks so much!
I’m fairly ambivalent about birthdays, to be honest, so I don’t have any getting-older wisdom or deep reflections about the past year, but I did want to share one thing. For years and years, what I used to do on my birthday was set annual goals. A lot of folks do this in January for the year, but I always used to do it in June for my birthday - personal goals, business goals. Looking back, I can see that in 2012 my business goal for that year (into 2013) was to sign a book deal for my first book. Which I ended up doing in 2013 after sending out close to 70 query letters to literary agents, getting one acceptance, and then having her find a publisher.
Anyway, a few years ago I changed my stance on goal-setting. I wrote an article called “Why you should think twice about making New Year's resolutions (and what to do instead)”, and included things like “goals reduce the happiness you feel right now”, “goals are limiting”, and “we feel bad ourselves when we don’t achieve a certain goal, even if we’ve made immense progress”.
I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits soon after it came out in 2018, and it remains one of my all-time favourite books.
James Clear: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
“Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”
And then in 2020 I read Stephen Shapiro’s book “Goal-Free Living”:
“Achieving your goals does not mean you will achieve happiness.”
“Goals are life’s cookbook—recipes for predictable results. This can be very handy, but it also can be limiting.”
He makes the point that a goal can actually detract from your progress. If you’re too attached to a specific goal, the process becomes less important: “People who are detached from fitting into a size 4 dress are more likely to lose weight, because they won’t be overly discouraged by a lack of progress and can take pleasure in their eating habits.”
The weight loss example here might be a little problematic, but the concept is legit: if you set a very specific fitness or health goal and make that your focus, you’re de-prioritizing the process. If you make the process your focus, somewhat ironically, you’re more likely to see results.
Just a few days ago, I saw an excellent post by someone in my industry I look up to a lot: Jonathan Goodman.
Jonathan Goodman: Goals are binary: You achieve them or you don’t.
Systems are fluid: They anticipate that things will go wrong because, in the short-term, things will always go wrong.
If you’re in business, your goal might be to make more money.
Your system might be to have a minimum of 5 sales conversations a day.
Whether or not you make a sale that day isn’t as important as performing the calls because if you perform the calls, the sales will come.
If you’re in fitness, your goal might be to get in shape.
Your system might be as simple as putting your workout clothing on.
Whether or not you workout that day isn’t as important as putting your clothing on because most days, if you put your workout clothes on, you’re going to exercise. But if you don’t, that’s fine. Because some days you won’t be feeling it.
Systems over goals. Process over outcome.
Then, sales call by sales call, rep by rep, word by word, you’ll get better. And, over time, getting better provides more enjoyment than getting 'there'. Because the moment you get there it becomes the new 'here' and there will be a new 'there', anyway.
Anyway, this is all a very long way of saying that I no longer set goals on my birthday every year. I do a bit of business planning with a fellow coach friend every January to plan out major projects and intentions for the year, but that’s about it.
So today I did a workout with my friend Silvana that involved 37 reps of all our moves, then I did a short ocean swim (one of my favourite activities). Soon I’ll be going on a hike and a lake swim with my friend Vanessa, and tonight I’m going for dinner with my husband and my parents, and a relative who’s visiting from England. I’d love to fit in some music time — for new listeners who don’t know, I play and perform accordion, piano, and didgeridoo. Pretty legit way to spend a birthday, I’d say.
So recently I was asked to create a presentation for the 9th annual Yoga Festival and Health Expo, based in Vancouver but with a prominent online component. I was part of a panel discussion that had 1,700 viewers tune in, and last week I recorded a presentation on vegan nutrition and strength training that they showed at the event.
This presentation covers the basics of strength training, veganism for active folks, a few nutrients vegans should pay special attention to, and (of course) protein.
Use this as a jumping-off point if you’re new to veganism or strength training, and if you’re already a long-term pro, use it to make sure you’ve covered the fundamentals.
Cue the presentation!
I’m going to speak to you today about veganism and strength training. How do you make sure you’re fuelling your workouts properly? Are there any nutrients that active vegans need to pay special attention to? (Spoiler: yes!) And the perennial question: “Where do you get your protein?!”
But first, a little backstory. In 1997, at the age of 11, I decided to become vegetarian. This was entirely for ethical reasons – wanting to avoid having animals killed for my consumption. Now, this was the age way before Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok (my household didn’t even have internet access at that point). That’s not an excuse, but it’s one of the reasons it took me 5 years to realize that there’s no moral distinction between the meat, dairy, and egg industries. They are one and the same, and they support each other. (These days, it’s very easy to access information in this realm, including video footage, interviews, you name it.) Once I figured that out, I went vegan immediately, and I just celebrated my 20th veganniversary a few months ago.
For me, being vegan means living in a way that aligns with my values. That’s something I think is very important for overall mental well-being. Over the years, I’ve expanded my motivations for being vegan to include our environment and curbing climate change, increasing athletic performance, overall health, and more. But it always comes back to a foundation of compassion for animals and fellow humans.
Strength training—also called resistance training—is one of the most effective ways of improving your body composition, preventing injuries, increasing your bone density, revving up your metabolism, and improving your day-to-day functioning.
Strength training is a broad term that refers to any type of exercise that uses some form of resistance to strengthen and build muscle. We can create this resistance by using dumbbells, barbells, weight and cable machines at the gym, kettlebells, medicine balls, our own body weight, or resistance bands.
Most government and health organizations recommend a minimum of two days a week of strength training, working all your major muscle groups each time.
The Six Fundamental Strength Training Movement Patterns
Make sure you include these fundamental movement patterns in your training each week:
E.g. barbell, goblet, resistance band, body weight.
Hinge (a.k.a. deadlift)
E.g. single leg, barbell, banded hip hinge, kickstand deadlift.
E.g. walking lunge, dumbbell, kettlebell, resistance band, body weight
Upper body push
E.g. bench press, overhead press, banded chest press, push-ups
Upper body pull
E.g. Banded row, lat pulldown, barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell
This means picking up a heavy object (or two heavy objects), bracing your core, and using your upper body muscles as you take them for a walk.
E.g. one-arm carry, kettlebells, dumbbells.
Veganism and athletic performance
Susan Levin, Registered Dietitian and Director of Nutrition Education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, contributed to my book, The Vegan Athlete. She’s also been on my podcast. She says:
“I think a lot of athletes approach training as a time to teach the body how to get faster or stronger through repetition of a specific exercise. What training really is, is a time to figure out how the body excels at a particular event. That means, among other things, figuring out how to fuel for optimal performance. Many professional athletes have realized, through trial and error, that a vegan diet allows them to train more often because of the shorter recovery time needed.
There are several theories as to why a vegan diet would be better than other diets. Training is actually a stress on the body and its immune function. A vegan diet full of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes provides a clear immune boost with its high antioxidant content (and avoidance of pro-inflammatory products found in meat and dairy products). This immune boost could be what allows vegan athletes to train and recover in rapid succession.”
As an active vegan person, what are some things I should pay extra attention to?
On a plant-based diet, there are two main things vegan athletes need to keep in mind:
Overall food volume
Whole, plant-based foods are typically very nutrient-dense, and not very calorie-dense. You can eat a salad the size of your torso for only a few hundred calories! To fuel a very active lifestyle, you’ll need to ensure you’re consuming enough calories for your specific goals.
You may notice that on a vegan diet, you need to eat a larger volume of food to get the same number of calories you used to get as an omnivore.
Losing weight unintentionally?
Sometimes, very active people who go vegan will lose weight unintentionally. Whole, plant-based foods are very nutrient-dense, but they’re typically not as calorie-dense as most animal products (which is good news if your goal is to lose weight!). If you’re very active, keep in mind that you’ll likely need to eat a larger volume of food as a vegan to get the same number of calories. If you’re concerned about losing weight, it may help to keep track of your calories for the first few weeks of your transition. This way, you can know for sure if you’re hitting your mark or if you’re at a deficit.
A few extra-important nutrients
A well-planned, mostly whole foods, plant-based diet is extremely beneficial to your health. A few nutrients found abundantly in animal-based foods may need special attention, to ensure you’re consuming enough of them on a plant-based diet—especially if you’re active.
To make extra sure you’re not only consuming but also absorbing enough of the nutrients you need, make sure to get regular blood tests, at least annually. You’ll be able to check for nutrients like B12, iron, zinc, and vitamin D. If it turns out you’re low in any of these, work with your healthcare provider on supplementation. (Note: being low in nutrients like iron and B12 is not a vegan-specific issue. Many people are low in these nutrients, whether they’re vegan or not.)
Iron is necessary for producing red blood cells, and it helps to carry oxygen throughout the body. It’s more difficult for the body to absorb plant-based sources of iron. Make sure you’re regularly including lots of iron-rich foods in your diet, like soy products, dried apricots, fortified grain products, blackstrap molasses, beans, lentils, artichokes, and dark leafy greens.
All vegans should take a B12 supplement—either a sublingual pill or a liquid. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria. In centuries past, we’d get B12 from soil particles on our food, but this is no longer the case. (By the way, the reason animal products contain B12 is because those animals themselves were given B12 supplements, not because there’s B12 inherent in meat, eggs, etc.)
Vitamin B12 is crucial for keeping blood and nerve cells healthy, and helping the body to use fats. B12 deficiency is extremely dangerous and can result in nerve damage. So don’t take any chances—take your supplement! Don’t worry about taking too much—your body will just excrete what it doesn’t need.
In addition to your supplement, great sources of this vitamin include nutritional yeast, fortified non-dairy milks like soy and almond, and fortified meat alternatives.
Calcium is necessary for healthy bones, and helps muscles to contract. Plant-based sources of calcium include almonds, tahini, figs, tofu, collard greens, and fortified non-dairy beverages. Did you know that a glass of fortified soy milk has more calcium than a glass of cow’s milk?
Unlike nutrients like B12, iron, and vitamin D, you can’t measure your body’s calcium levels via blood work. To ensure you’re getting enough calcium, track your food for at least a few days using MyFitnessPal.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and teeth, helping the body to absorb and use calcium and phosphorous. Find Vitamin D in fortified cereals and non-dairy beverages, and, of course, by spending time in sunlight. For most people living in the northern hemisphere, a vitamin D supplement is necessary to get optimal levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, reduce inflammation, and may help prevent heart disease. Plant foods rich in omega-3s include flaxseed oil and ground flaxseed, walnuts, sacha inchi seeds, chia seeds, and hemp hearts.
DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. You probably know that fish oil is a good source of omega-3s, but did you know that the omega-3 in fish comes from the algae they eat? Why not get your nutrition straight from the source?! You can get algal DHA oil to use as a supplement. Research is still ongoing, so there’s no consensus on daily dosage. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and/or check with your healthcare provider.
We need zinc for proper immune system function, growth and development across the body, wound healing, and more.
Vegan foods high in zinc include pumpkin seeds, almonds, peanuts, peas, fortified oatmeal and cereals, and sesame seeds.
I want to make some serious muscle gains!
Gaining muscle on a plant-based diet is really not that different from gaining muscle on a non-plant-based diet. What’s most important is that you’re eating a diet of primarily whole foods, taking in a large variety of different foods, and consuming the calories you need.
Protein is important if you strength train regularly (whether you’re vegan or not). But we really don’t need to obsess about it like the average gym bro will have us believe. Make sure your diet includes protein-rich foods (which we’ll get into shortly).
I want to lose fat!
Much like gaining muscle on a vegan diet, losing fat on a vegan diet is not much different from losing fat on a non-vegan diet. Fat loss requires being in a calorie deficit (i.e. eating fewer calories than you burn in a day). The good news for you is that many vegan foods are very nutrient-dense, but not very calorie-dense! So load up on giant salads, fresh veggies and fruit, whole grains, beans, lentils, tempeh, tofu, etc.
What about protein?
Everyone who’s been vegan for more than 4 minutes has heard, “But…where do you get your protein from?”
The first piece of the protein puzzle is that you might not need as much protein as you think. The second and third pieces are protein density and variety.
If you strength train, you do need to make sure you’re eating protein-dense foods like seitan, tofu, tempeh, high-protein pastas (e.g. red lentil, chickpea, edamame, black bean), and textured vegetable protein (a.k.a. TVP). Feel free to supplement with a plant-based protein powder, but do keep variety in mind. To ensure you’re getting all the amino acids you need, in the correct proportions, eat a wide variety of protein-rich foods, rather than relying on only two or three main sources.
How much protein do I need?
All foods contain amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and most foods contain at least some ready-made protein.
There are no one-size-fits-all protein recommendations like there are for nutrients like iron, B12, and zinc. Your protein needs depend on many factors like your body weight, overall activity level, and the type of training you do.
Highly active people, especially those who strength train, require higher protein intakes than sedentary people.
MYTH: If you eat enough calories, you’ll automatically get enough protein.
“If you eat enough calories, you’ll get enough protein without even thinking about it!” is something I hear quite often in the vegan world. For sedentary people, this is likely accurate. But if you strength train, you’ll need to pay attention to your protein intake.
If you’re inactive, you need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For a 150-pound person, this works out to 54 grams of protein per day. That’s tofu scramble for breakfast, a black bean burrito for lunch, and dry-roasted edamame as a snack. You’ve hit your protein goal even before having dinner!
If you strength train regularly, you’ll need more protein. Most recommendations for vegan strength athletes range between 1.8 and 2.5 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight per day, depending upon the intensity of your training. If you’re a 150-pound strength athlete, you’ll need between 122 and 170 grams of protein per day. A day’s worth of protein for this athlete may include a tofu scramble with seitan strips for breakfast; a smoothie made with hemp hearts, chia and flax seeds, and protein powder for a snack; a lunch of edamame pasta with tomato sauce and veggie ground round, and a black bean burrito for dinner.
<< Use our vegan-specific protein calculator: www.karinainkster.com/proteincalculator >>
So…where do I get my protein?
There are many excellent plant-based sources of protein! Here are just a few:
- Edamame (soy beans; either steamed or dry roasted)
- Fava bean tofu
- Beans (e.g. kidney, navy, fava, pinto, cannellini, chickpea)
- Lentils (e.g. red, green, brown, French)
- Nuts (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, walnuts)
- Seeds (e.g. hemp, flax, chia, sesame, sacha inchi, pumpkin, sunflower)
- Non-dairy milks (soy has the highest protein content)
- Nutritional yeast
A vegan diet may enhance athletic performance, but we need more longitudinal research here.
If you’re an active vegan, you need to pay attention to overall food volume, as well as a few specific nutrients like B12 and iron.
If you strength train (and/or have body composition goals), you need to think about protein, but you don’t need to worry about protein.
Thank you so much for your attention, and I’d love to connect with you anytime. Go to karinainkster.com for all things vegan strength training, and to get in touch with me or ask questions! My team and I have tons of free resources, including a free ebook on strength training and nutrition to fuel it (to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of my podcast), a vegan-specific portion guide, our protein calculator, and lots of articles and podcast episodes. Thanks again!
Hope you enjoyed that veganism and strength training primer. Head to our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/151 to connect with me, and thanks for tuning in!