The beginning of a new year is usually when people kick off one or more nutrition challenges — Dry Jan. or #30DaysOfPaleo being the big ones in January. Another one that’s gained popularity is Veganuary.
A challenge marked by carnivores going vegan for the month, Veganuary promises a number of benefits like increased energy, clearer skin, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation, to name just a few.
But is going vegan for 30 days a good plan for people who want to meet certain fitness goals or lose weight? Below, nutritionists tackle this Q.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: It is absolutely possible to have a vegan diet and reach your fitness goals. And that’s true whether you’re going vegan for 30 days or life.
But regardless of length of time, it likely will require some tracking.
According to Esther Avant, ACE-certified personal trainer and certified nutrition coach at Esther Avant Wellness Coaching, most exercisers who adopt a vegan diet would benefit from tracking their calories, macronutrients, or, at least, protein intake.
“One of the most important considerations on a vegan diet, especially if you have specific fitness goals, is protein intake,” she explains. “Protein is important for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is to help with muscle growth and retention.”
“Because many animal products are very good sources of lean protein, eliminating those as an option often means a drastic decrease in total protein,” she notes. Not ideal considering that active individuals generally need somewhere between 0.5 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
But it *is* possible to get enough protein while vegan.
“Pairing specific foods with complementary amino acid profiles and using a plant-based protein supplement can help you get enough protein to support your fitness goals,” she explains. (See 10 vegan protein sources here).
Yeppp, it is possible to be vegan and tackle your weight loss goals at the same time!
But (and this is important!), “Going vegan is absolutely not necessary to lose weight,” says Avant.
Actually, any weight loss you may experience while vegan has more to do with overall decreased calorie intake — not cutting out animal products, according to Jaramillo.
“Many experience a decrease in weight when vegan because the diet naturally limits saturated and trans fats, which typically contain a lot of calories, she explains.”
However, she notes that some people who go vegan gain weight because their fat intake increases drastically, and fats are more calorically dense than protein or carbs.
Generally, tracking your caloric intake for the first 2 weeks as a vegan can help you become familiar with exactly how many calories are in all the new plant-based foods you’re consuming.
Put simply, veganism is eating only foods *without* animal-based products.
Unlike vegetarians, vegans also avoid common ingredients like eggs, butter, cheese, milk, and honey. Yep, even though they aren’t meat.
Most vegan diets are high in the following:
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- bread, rice, pasta
- dairy alternatives
- soy products
However, what two vegans eat can be as varied as what two carnivores eat!
Registered dietitian nutritionist Shena Jaramillo MS, RD, founder of Peace & Nutrition explains, “What someone eats while vegan really depends on their approach to veganism.”
“Some people will simply opt for pre-prepped convenience vegan items (like Oreos!), which contain a lot of sodium and sugar,” she says. “While others will choose to limit processed foods, and instead primarily munch on whole foods.”
Here’s what to keep in mind as you’re stepping into your own personal vegan experience.
1. You should have a clear why
Some choose a new diet as a way of seeking accountability. Others might do it out of sheer curiosity.
As for why someone would choose a vegan challenge, specifically? “Reasons range from caring about the environment and the animals to cutting costs to cutting pounds,” says Avant.
“And sometimes people do it because they watched a documentary, listened to a podcast, read an article, or talked to a friend or family member about it,” she says.
Regardless, you should know your W-H-Y before the first day.
“The more thought you give to what you actually want to get out of the experience, the more likely you are to be successful,” says Avant.
2. You may notice some happy side effects
There is no way to know exactly how your body is going to respond to ditching whole food groups, and replacing them with others. Still, there are a number of happy health and habitual side effects that can benefit your fitness or weight loss goals.
For instance, Veganuary encourages people to look at the food labels to make sure they are following a vegan diet.
“This has the added benefit of showing someone what micro and macronutrients they’re getting, which can help them meet the macronutrient- or calorie-intake goals best suited toward their weight loss goals,” Avant explains.
Going vegan also promotes meal creativity. What are you going to eat now that Meat Lasagna Monday and Turkey Taco Tuesday are on a hiatus? You’ll have to get innovative.
“Going vegan can be beneficial because it usually requires creativity and a lot of in-home meal prep,” says Jaramillo. As it goes, homemade meals are usually more dense in micronutrients than restaurant items, which can support overall energy.
3. Nutrient deficiencies are possible
There are a handful of micronutrients that many vegans are often lacking, according to Avant.
- vitamin B12
“Being aware of these possible deficiencies and planning for them can be incredibly helpful, because it allows you to choose to supplement or just choose foods high in them,” she says.
And if you’re already deficient in these nutrients? Talk with your healthcare professional before trying Veganuary — they may recommend against it.
4. Map out your post-30 days
One of the biggest mistakes people make when going vegan for the month of January (or whatever 30-day window you choose) is having no idea what they’re going to do come February 1.
“You want to go vegan for a month but what do you want to do after that?,” asks Avant. “A month is long enough for your body to adjust to this new way of eating,” she says.
Reintroducing too many different foods (eggs, meat, butter, milk, etc.) at once can lead to uncomfortable GI symptoms.
Her recommendation: Think of January like an elimination diet. “At the end of the month, systematically reintroduce animal products so you can learn as much as possible about how individual foods make you feel,” she says.
Being strategic can help you pinpoint foods/categories of food that don’t agree with you that you may choose to continue avoiding without arbitrarily deeming all animal products off-limits indefinitely.
True, this reintroduction phase may prolong the process, but it will help you get as much as possible out of this little experiment.
Bottom line: Trying Veganuary or any other 30-day vegan window does present it’s challenges. But you can succeed through proper planning, realistic adjustments, and proactivity for when it’s over.