The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Health & Fitness (updated Jan 2021)
Hoping to embark on your vegan health & fitness journey but don’t know where to start?
Then you’ve come to the right place! My name is Justine and, as a vegan certified personal trainer and yoga instructor, I’ve helped many clients achieve their goals.
The team at JustFit have provided this guide to help you navigate the world of plant-based health and fitness, which includes everything you need to know; from motivation and fitness goals to vegan sources of protein, meal plan suggestions, the best home workouts, how to lose weight, and how to gain muscle!
Not sure if a vegan health & fitness journey is for you?
Ultimate Guide to Vegan Health & Fitness Contents
Click on the links below to skip to your chosen section:
1. Plant-Based Motivation
Click on the links below to skip to your chosen section:
- Why go vegan?
- Health & fitness motivation
- Setting your vegan health and fitness goals
- Tracking to stay accountable
- Vegan Fitspo
Why go Vegan?
There are so many reasons you might want to transition to a vegan lifestyle but here are our top 8 reasons:
- For the animals
- Enhance your mental health
- Improve your physical health
- Discover delicious vegan food
- It’s getting trendier (and therefore easier)
- Strengthen global food security
- Save the rainforests
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Need more convincing? Read my article to find out more about why I’m vegan!
Health & Fitness Motivation
Perhaps the most important aspect of vegan health & fitness is your motivation.
How many times have you tried to get fit and then renounced your efforts?
There’s no shame in it! We’re all guilty of giving in but that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Instead, we should reevaluate our motivation.
For example, while aesthetics isn’t necessarily a bad reason for wanting to train, it can be unsustainable. This is especially true when the media spreads the concept of spot reduction, which is the misguided belief that you can perform isolated exercises to reduce fat in specific areas, such as, inner thighs, lower belly, etc. Once an individual realizes that targeting small muscle groups will not help them to reduce body fat, it can be incredibly demotivating.
We recommend thinking carefully about your motivation before you begin. Why are you training? What goals would you like to achieve and are they enough to keep you motivated, despite any plateaus or challenges you might face?
“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”Bill Copeland
In the same way that you motivate yourself to follow a vegan diet, health & fitness requires commitment and sustainable goals.
Setting Sustainable Vegan Health & Fitness Goals (Step-by-Step Guide)
It’s time to set those goals! But how do you make sure your vegan health & fitness goals are realistic and sustainable?
The SMART method is a fantastic way of creating attainable goals to ensure success!
S is for Specific
We all want to be fit and healthy, so goals such as “I want to be fitter” are far too vague. Try being more specific by going into detail about what it is you want to achieve.
For example, you could have something like:
“I want to be fit enough to perform a perfect-form pull-up.”
Alternatively, if you want to improve your vegan diet, you might want to set a goal such as:
“I want to be healthier by cutting out processed plant-based foods.”
M is for Measurable
The next step is to work out how to track your progress and define how you will know when you reach your goal. In our pull-up example, you could measure specific strengthening exercises by counting your reps or tracking the level of resistance band you use to perform an assisted pull-up.
A is for Attainable
As a personal trainer, I often come across individuals hoping to lose 10 pounds or more a week. However, the majority of health professionals agree that losing 1-2 pounds a week is the safest and healthiest way to lose weight.
What’s more, rapidly losing that amount of weight can be very difficult and you risk putting it all back on again just as quickly! Setting yourself attainable – yet challenging enough to keep you motivated – goals will lead to long-term vegan health & fitness success.
“Strive for progress, not perfection.”Anon.
Especially since there’s no such thing as perfection!
R is for Relevant
Are your goals relevant to your life? Are they important to you or did you set them to meet society’s ever-changing beauty standards? Are you being pressurized to perform to a certain standard?
Make sure your goals fit with what you want!
T is for Time
Deadlines. Love them or hate them, they help us stay on track! Remember what ‘A’ stands for but set yourself a challenge and stick to it.
Now get your diary out and circle that date!
Want to learn more about creating a sustainable vegan health & fitness program to suit your lifestyle?
Tracking to Stay Accountable
If you want to achieve your vegan health & fitness goals then you need to track the changes in your body and your ability to perform. Depending on your goals, this will include:
- Tracking what you eat (calories, macros, micronutrients)
- Taking measurements (weight, size, before and after photos, etc.)
- Monitoring performance during workouts
Tracking your journey will help you to stay accountable, accelerating your performance by helping you make consistent progress.
“What gets measured gets improved”Anon.
How to track what you eat
There are numerous ways to track your food intake, including the use of fitness apps like MyFitnessPal, keeping a food diary, following healthy vegan meal suggestions and/or plans, adhering to a structured health and fitness program, and hiring a plant-based personal trainer to support you.
Which method should you use?
The way you choose to track what you eat depends on what works best for you; try a few methods and see which one suits! There are pros and cons for each. For example, MyFitnessPal allows you to track your macros (carbohydrate, protein, and fat), while hiring a plant-based personal trainer will provide you with someone to stay accountable to.
It’s also important to educate yourself on what you should be eating to stay healthy as a vegan. Below is a guide to the amount of different types of food and nutrients required as part of a balanced plant-based diet.
For more information on how to maintain a healthy vegan diet, check out my blog on 7 Reasons Your Diet is Failing and How to Fix it.
How to take body measurements
Step 1. Set one day every week to measure yourself
First of all, let’s start by confirming that you shouldn’t measure yourself every single day.
Our weight fluctuates throughout the day and constantly checking up on it could lead to an unhealthy mentality and promote OCD behavior.
I suggest choosing one morning a week where you wake up and weigh/measure yourself. If you tend to overindulge over the weekends, then perhaps a Friday morning just after you wake up will be the best time to measure yourself consistently and with fair results.
Step 2. Use a scale
Scales do not differentiate between fat and muscle, so this isn’t the most reliable method to track your fitness journey. Nevertheless, if your goal is to lose a lot of weight, the scales can be a good indication of whether or not you are making progress.
The number on the scale does not define you!
In order to get a better picture of what’s working with your training, then measuring more than just your weight on the scales is essential!
Step 3. Take before and after photos
There’s more to before and after photos than simply attracting ‘Likes’ on Instagram. We live in and see our bodies on a daily basis, meaning that it’s difficult for us to see any changes. But these will happen over time.
Therefore, by taking a before and after photo a few months apart, you will be able to tell if your body is transforming and where you need to improve.
Here’s the best way to do it:
I recommend standing in your underwear in front of a mirror and taking a picture with your cell phone from a front and side angle. To make this more accurate, try to keep as many factors constant when taking both sets of photos (the lighting, same pair of underwear, same distance from the mirror, same camera, etc.)
Step 4. Take circumference measurements
Use a tape measure and take measurements of your body parts of interest.
Measuring your waist is one of the best methods to tell if you are a healthy weight. In addition, to track other fitness progress, such as muscle building, then you can also measure the following areas of your body:
Keep a record of these and check them on a weekly-monthly basis.
How to monitor your performance during workouts
Plan everything! Keep track of your workout routines and everything about them. This includes the weights you lift, the reps you perform, the time you ran on the treadmill, and even how you felt while working out!
Did you feel energised? Could you push yourself further?
Each week, challenge yourself a little more. Squat while carrying a 10kg dumbbell instead of 5. Do 3 sets of 20 burpees instead of 3 sets of 10. Remember those goals you are working towards!
At JustFit, we understand that setting yourself goals, planning your fitness journey, and measuring your progress can be incredibly overwhelming.
That’s why I did all the preparation for you and created the JustFit Jumpstart 30-Day Fitness Program. It includes a 40 page PDF guidebook, 16 workout routines, 80+ exercises with videos, and 8 plant-powered recipes.
But vegans can’t grow muscle, right?
Here’s a bunch of vegan fitness inspo to make you wish you’d started your plant-based health & fitness journey earlier:
Danjiiang: Vegan female bodybuilder and mukbang content creator
Michelle Muench: Yoga teacher powered by plants
Dominick Thompson: Vegan athlete, activist, creator, and Dad to Scruff McFly
Torre Washington: Global public speaker and vegan physique coach
Lewis Hamilton: Vegan activist, fitness fanatic, and Formula One driver
Alissa Baylee: Female vegan bodybuilder and IFBB Bikini award winner
2. Healthy Vegan Diet
Click on the links below to skip to your chosen section:
- What is a vegan diet?
- The difference between plant-based and vegan
- Can I eat vegan junk food and still lose weight?
- Is plant-based meat healthy?
- Do vegans need supplements?
- Plant-based protein powders
- Matching your diet to your fitness goals
- Pre- and post-workout vegan meals/snacks
- Vegan meal plans/recipes
What is a Vegan Diet?
One where the individual eats only rabbit food.
Just kidding, obviously!
A vegan diet excludes all forms of animal products and byproducts, such as meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, insects, and honey. Instead, vegans consume plant-based foods.
Think vegans only eat leafy salads and beans on toast?
The Difference Between Plant-Based and Vegan
Whilst both ‘plant-based’ and ‘vegan’ are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference in definition.
The term ‘vegan’ usually describes a lifestyle choice rather than simply a dietary one.
A vegan will choose to exclude animal products from their lives for ethical and/or environmental reasons. This includes food and drink as well as lifestyle products (clothes, skincare, household cleaning, etc.).
Whereas, if someone is plant-based, it usually means that they simply avoid animal products in order to focus on eating more healthy whole foods.
Whether or not a vegan eats healthily depends on the individual.
Read my article on The Difference Between Plant-Based and Vegan to find out why I choose to be both.
Here’s a comparison table to demonstrate vegan vs. plant-based diets:
|Food/Product||Vegan Diet||Plant-Based Diet|
Can I Eat Vegan Junk Food and Still Lose Weight?
Well…yes, but at the expense of your health and well-being.
To lose weight, the golden rule is to eat at a calorie deficit. In other words, you must be consuming less calories than you burn off. Therefore, as long as you don’t go over your calorie allowance, you could technically lose weight whilst eating vegan junk food.
Plant-based or not, junk food is exactly that: junk food.
It is usually high in empty calories, meaning that it provides barely any nutritional value and instead contains plenty of fats, sugars, and oils.
Therefore, if you choose to eat a vegan meat burger slathered in mayo instead of a healthy vegan meal, then not only will you have less to eat for the rest of the day to stay within your calorie deficit, but you will also be deficient in a number of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other essential nutrients.
If you’re struggling to stay on track with healthy eating, why not check out my article on Seven Reasons Your Diet is Failing and How to Fix It!
Of course, I’m not saying that you can’t treat yourself to the occasional plant-based pizza or delicious vegan gelato. Instead, as boring as it sounds…everything in moderation!
Is Plant-Based Meat Healthy?
That depends on the ingredients and processes used to make the vegan meat alternative.
According to a Harvard study in 2016:
People who consume more plant-based protein as opposed to animal protein have lower overall risk of death.
However, this study was based on individuals who consumed plant protein obtained from whole foods, such as pulses, nuts, and beans.
Nowadays, there are plenty of highly processed meat alternatives on the market, including Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Many of these were created to match the real thing in taste and texture, rather than aiming to be nutritious.
Whilst Beyond Meat is rolling out 2 new “healthier” burgers in 2021, they will still be processed foods, which are best eaten in moderation.
So perhaps it’s best to stick to a homemade mushroom and bean burger rather than a processed alternative from off the shelf.
If you’re interested in vegan health and fitness, then you’ve likely heard the term ‘macronutrients’ knocking about (or macros for short).
You may have even seen them on your My Fitness Pal nutrition dashboard.
But what exactly are macros?
Macronutrients are the three essential nutrients required by the body in significant amounts: carbohydrate, fat, and protein.
These three key components provide the body with the energy it requires to survive. Therefore, ensuring that you consume enough of each macro will optimise your health and fitness.
Researching health and fitness can sometimes be incredibly overwhelming. There’s so much information out there and knowing how to tailor it towards your own personal journey can be time consuming.
As a vegan certified personal fitness trainer, I’m here to help!
Ah carbohydrate…the misunderstood macro champion.
Often added to the AVOID list in fad diets, lots of people exclude carbs from their meals in order to lose weight. And whilst this can be an effective way to lose weight quickly, it is neither sustainable nor healthy.
In fact, starch and fiber (forms of complex carbohydrate) actually slow down digestion, which provides long-term energy and suppresses the appetite.
Check out my article on The Importance of Carbs to find out why you should be eating these as part of a balanced vegan diet to lose weight sustainably.
Protein is another essential macronutrient that helps build your bones and muscles.
It’s hard to avoid the inevitable “Where do you get your protein?” question once people learn you’re vegan. One of the biggest misconceptions is that plants do not contain protein but in fact, almost all plant foods provide you with at least some protein.
Some of the plant-based foods that pack the biggest protein punch include lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu and quinoa. Make sure to make these foods staples in your diet and you won’t have to worry about the big protein question.
Learn more about the Importance of Plant-Based Protein in Fitness.
Finally, fats also fall under the category of macronutrients. Though they get a bad rap, you need to make a point of including healthy sources of fat into your diet. These are called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and are vital for brain and heart function but also to maintain healthy organs and tissues.
Health-boosting fats include avocados, olive oil, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, and walnuts.
Now that we’ve covered macros, let’s turn to micronutrients. These are basically the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal health.
A diet rich in plant-based whole foods that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables will likely provide most of the micronutrients you need. But there are one or two you do need to keep your eye on… learn more in the next section!
Addicted to junk food? Follow these 7 easy steps to transition to a healthy plant-based diet.
Do vegans need supplements?
The one supplement that’s absolutely vital for vegans is vitamin B12. This essential vitamin only comes from animal foods, but even meat eaters are at risk of deficiency.
Some vegan foods are fortified in vitamin B12: check the carton of your plant-based milk or breakfast cereal to see if they provide a boost of this important micronutrient. Better yet, take a supplement so you’re sure you’re getting enough. Fatigue and weakness are the telltale signs of deficiency. You may want to get a blood test to check if you need to up your B12 level.
Vitamin D is equally important since it builds up your immune system and is vital for strong and healthy bones. A supplement is vital during the dark winter months when you can’t get a natural boost of the vitamin from the sun.
Other supplements plant-based eaters may want to consider include:
Protein (see the next section)
Omega-3 fatty acids
Never heard of iodine? Here’s why ALL vegans should consider taking an iodine supplement.
Plant-based protein powders
A diet of plant-based whole foods should provide all the protein your body needs.
But for a quick and easy way to get an extra shot of this muscle-boosting macronutrient, add a scoop of protein powder to your morning smoothie or post-workout snack.
There are plenty of vegan protein powders to choose from: I’ve listed a couple of my favorites on this round up of plant-based products I recommend.
Matching your diet to your fitness goals
Remember those SMART goals you made earlier? Well, it’s time to align those with your diet.
Do you want to lose or gain weight? Or are you aiming at improving your level of fitness and working towards toning your body?
If you’re looking to get active and up your fitness game a few notches, choose one of the 16 home workouts I’ve created in my 30-day JustFit Jumpstart Guide and follow the included recipe suggestions.
Another important thing to consider is what your calorie intake should look like. For this step, this calorie calculator can come in handy.
If your goal is to shed a few pounds, eat a wide variety of healthy plant-based foods in moderation without going over your recommended daily calorie intake.
If you want to gain some extra weight, build muscle by combining a regular workout with a diet that includes some extra calories made up of health-boosting plant foods.
Pre- and post-workout vegan meals/snacks
You’ll want to focus on nutrient-rich plant foods to fuel your active vegan lifestyle. Smoothies are perfect as a quick pre- or post-workout snack, and a handful of nuts are great for an energy boost.
Choose foods rich in complex carbs before a workout so that you’ll have a sustained energy level to go that extra mile. Once you’re done with your workout, have a high protein snack. Your muscles will thank you!
Need some inspiration? Here are some of my favorite vegan pre-workout meals.
Vegan meal plans/recipes
It only takes a little bit of advanced planning to have a meal plan in place. You don’t want to come home “hangry” after a workout and give in to unhealthy convenience foods, so some advance planning and prepping is key here.
Prepare a healthy snack that you can have immediately have after your workout. Take a few minutes each week to plan your meals for the days ahead. Do a bit of prepping each morning by cutting up vegetables that can stay fresh in the fridge until you need them later in the day.
If you need a bit of inspiration, have a look at these easy recipes for a few of my favorite vegan meals.
To be continued… WATCH THIS SPACE!