I get a lot of questions from readers of my books and people I engage with on social media about what, exactly, I eat in a day. Those who know me in person know that I spend a huge amount of my time eating. After all, my appetite is so large that it has a persona of its own (years ago I named him Percival. It’s his fault when leftovers my husband had been saving in our fridge mysteriously disappear).
Those who don’t know me are often very surprised when they find out how much I eat. Out of those people, it’s mostly females. Though I see the cultural approach (very slowly) changing for the better, we’re still assailed with bullshit media messages about food restriction, cleanses and detoxes, cutting entire food groups out of our diets, and generally eating less to achieve the results we’re after.
While portion control may be an important piece of your particular puzzle, it’s extremely rare that I see a new vegan female client who severely overeats. Instead, a large proportion of my new clients don’t eat enough to get the results they’re after, and even if they do, they’re often not eating the right types of foods (a focus on nutrient-dense whole foods, with macronutrient ratios appropriate to their fitness and physique goals).
If you want to look and perform like an athlete, you need to eat like one.
I can assure you that top-level athletes view their food as fuel. It’s an essential part of their training plan, which also includes sleep and recovery. If you’re not taking in enough fuel, or the right kind of fuel, you’re not going to be performing at your best. I suggest you use food logging to practice becoming more mindful of what you’re eating, and how it might be fueling (or detracting from) your fitness and physique goals.
If you haven’t yet read the previous 3 parts of this article series, check them out here:
Now, I’m no pro athlete, of course. But I still view food as fuel for my lifestyle, chosen sports, and fitness and physique goals (and so should you!)
Lifestyle: I train clients on the gym floor 3 days a week, I work out up to 8 times a week, and I spend the rest of my time in my home office writing and working with online clients. My main hobby – music – is sedentary: playing accordion, piano, and didgeridoo.
[Note: this article was written when I still trained clients in person. I now coach exclusively online. My workouts have increased to 10 sessions per week, but my calories have decreased to about 2500 to account for more time spent sitting.]
Chosen sports: Weight lifting, swimming, jump rope (and playing a 25-pound accordion - does that count?!).
Fitness and physique goals: Over my years of training I’ve focused mostly on performance and strength goals and managing my scoliosis-related back pain. I’m naturally quite lean and need to work extremely hard to gain muscle. I'm not trying to gain or lose any weight.
As you can see, I happen to have a pretty active job, a lot of regular workouts during the week, and a turbocharged metabolism (thanks, genetics!) I’m no Olympic athlete, but based on my activities and my genetics, my body burns a ton of fuel.
By sharing my food logs I’m in no way prescribing these foods for anyone else. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to health and fitness, so make sure you work with a qualified coach to ensure your nutrition (and training, for that matter) supports your goals.
Karina's nutrition-related stats
Calorie goal: 3000 - 3500 calories per day
Macronutrient ratio goal: 50% carbs, 30% fat, 20% protein
Macronutrient gram goal: 375-437 grams of carbs, 100-116 grams of fats, and 150-175 grams of protein per day
How is my diet different from that of most people of my gender and size?
OK, so I’m willing to bet most people don’t eat two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners, plus snacks in between – unless they’re 7-foot-tall strongmen competitors or professional sumo wrestlers. Most women my age and size don’t eat upwards of 3300 calories per day.
That’s because most people aren’t on their feet all day at an active job, work out 8 times a week, and have a stunningly ridiculous metabolism.
So, I eat much more than most females my size – especially those with sedentary jobs. However, in the high-level fitness realm (a.k.a. fitness coaches whose second home is the gym and who take their own training seriously), this type of eating is much more common. Remember, food is fuel. If your body burns a lot of it, you’re gonna need to eat a lot of it.
Being a high-calorie vegan means stuffing my face basically 24/7
Whole, plant-based food is nutrient-dense, not calorie-dense, so this means I’m eating very often. Based on the sheer amount of food I eat, I’m not at all worried about meeting any of my nutrient requirements. I eat 1.2 to 1.4 times the amount of protein a bodybuilder of my size would need, for example, and I usually get upwards of 140% of the iron I need.
However, I still use food logging very occasionally out of sheer curiosity, and to make sure that I’m on track with my macros.
Sample food logs
Here’s a 2-day sample of my food intake, logged using MyFitnessPal.
Totals from this day:
Macro ratio: 47% carbs, 35% fat, 18% protein (rounded to nearest whole number)
Macro grams: 449 g carbs, 148 g fats, 177 g protein
Note that I'm not concerned if my macro's or calories aren't exactly on target based on my goal numbers. I eat an extremely varied diet so every day will be slightly different. Also, note that even though I got only 18% of my calories from protein, it's still 177 grams, which is much more than even a 125-pound bodybuilder would need.
Totals from this day:
Macro ratio: 48% carbs, 38% fat, 16% protein (rounded to nearest whole number)
Macro grams: 380 g carbs, 133 g fats, 126 g protein
Food logging will never be 100% accurate. It’s meant to give you ballpark figures to see if you’re on the right track.
Example #1 of inaccuracy: The sodium content shown in my June 6th food log is much higher than what it is in reality. I didn’t want to take the time to create a new recipe entry in the app for the soup my husband made, so I chose a user-generated “homemade vegan garbanzo veggie minestrone” instead. It still gives me ballpark figures for macros and calories, but is far higher in sodium than our version.
Example #2 of inaccuracy: The cholesterol content of a broiled grapefruit (see "Dinner 1" on April 16) should be zero. No vegan foods contain cholesterol! Perhaps the food database entry for this item contained butter. Either way, you'll often see inaccuracies like this.
What did I learn from my food logs?
Since I've logged my food regularly (a few days every few months) for a number of years, there wasn't much to be surprised by. I did notice my protein intake was a bit lower than normal, based just on percentage of calories. If I didn't eat such a high amount of food (e.g. 2000 calories instead of well over 3000), then I'd be more concerned about getting a slightly higher percentage of my calories from protein. My totals were still 177 grams and 126 grams from my 2 days of food logging, which is well above what a 125-pound strength athlete needs.
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