You’ve probably done some impressively, ridiculously absurd things at some point in your life. We all have. I know a guy who in some regards is brilliant. One time he had enough money to pay the electric bill OR the cable bill, but not both. He decided he couldn’t live without This Is Us, so he paid the cable bill. It was winter in Philadelphia.
Here’s my foray into absurdity… I became my own science experiment and tried eating vegan for 30 days... Dude. I know. What had happened was...
I didn’t do it for some well-intentioned, moral, yet wholly misguided reason like faux-environmentalism or saving the animals or whatever. So why the hell DID I do it? I’m an aging athlete who’s always looking for a performance boost and a few Netflix “documentaries” featuring some fairly impressive vegan athletes convinced me to at least give meatlessness a temporary whirl.
The eating part was unexpectedly easy. Maybe it was easier than going full carnivore. Seriously. Sure, I love butter, ribeyes, cheese, bacon, and all other manner of delicious animal-derived delectables, but fruit, a few select vegetables, and nuts aren’t all bad in the taste department. There is a whole veritable array of vegan “foods” out there, too, from meat substitutes to sugary cereals to candies to cocaine, but in the interest of athletic performance I stuck to the “healthy” version of veganism, like broccoli sandwiches or whatever. You know, the version of veganism espoused by certain Hollywood actresses, a couple of thin, yet highly functional athletes, and gaunt, lavender-smelling, burlap-wearing, Bob Dylan fans the world over. As an endurance athlete that is enormous for his sport, I typically throw down 4,500 to 5,000 calories every day. With pea protein and other vegan friendly shakes, even that wasn’t overly difficult.
I’ll get to how I performed and how I felt in a minute, but you’d gloss over that to get to the digestive part if I didn’t address it right away, so here you go. Bruh… to say I had the bubble guts and was rendered useless for the first couple of days as I endured explosive diarrhea would not paint a graphic enough picture of what I, and my poor family, went through. The highly combustible liquid butt rockets subsided after 2 days, but I offended my wife and kids with vegan farts for nearly the whole first week. There’s your mental picture.
What I was really interested in, however, was not what sort of stomach issues would arise as I figured I’d adjust to the new and excess cruciferousness in fairly short order. What I really wanted to know was: would I become faster? Would I perform better? The answer, after 27 days was a resounding, “NO!” Now I must tell you I’m no weekend warrior. I take this seriously, and I’m fast. Way fast. Like that guy you know (let’s call him Doug) who “runs” 5k races and wins his age group… I can beat Doug in a 5k after running a 5k beforehand… twice. And it’s not even close. I also probably weigh 50 lbs more than Doug because I refuse to be skinny fat in pursuit of speed and I’ve learned that for me, optimization is reached through a combination of power, strength, speed, and endurance. What I’m saying is I’m a high level athlete despite being well into my 40s. How would changing my diet affect my athletic prowess? When I decided to give vegan a go, the results were disastrous and I’m not exaggerating. The first thing I noticed was my sleep suffered. My resting heart rate crept up by roughly 20% over a 5 day period. My HRV decreased by 15%, and my REM and slow wave sleep went from 4+ hours per night to less than 2.5 hrs. This meant that I was just not recovering adequately from my hard runs and lifting sessions, and it reflected in my athletic (and mental) performance in ways I couldn’t imagine. By the 27th day, Doug could’ve given me a run for my money, which I mostly attributed to poor sleep and recovery. I was honestly surprised that my weight and body composition didn’t change and my overall strength didn’t dip too badly, but my speed and endurance suffered immediately and drastically.
Why did my recovery metrics decline? I can only speculate. I don’t think it was a lack of adequate macros. I did really try to get the same amount of protein and fat that I normally get in order to make the experiment fair and not feed my biases. What I generally assume it was is a lack of fat soluble vitamins, choline, creatine, and B12 that are not present in any abundance, or at all in some cases, in a vegan diet. My growth hormone production likely tanked as my restorative sleep declined. Since my heart rate wasn’t dropping, my melatonin production was likely down and my cortisol levels stayed high, preventing my body from synthesizing cholesterol to produce Vitamin D, which regulates calcium and phosphorus. Over nearly 4 weeks, this wreaked havoc on my body. I talked to a doctor buddy who suggested I supplement with B12 and other vitamins and aminos, but that wasn’t in the spirit of the experiment. I’ve never had to supplement my diet when eating animal-based. Plus, B12 supplements are made from cyanide. True story. I’m pretty sure cyanide is bad for you. I’ll google it later.
I was going to go for 30 days. People love 30 day challenges. I made it 27 before I quit. I guess I just don’t have what it takes to smell like patchouli, wear ironic t-shirts, and listen to jam bands. Sorry. Within 3 days after resuming my normal nose-to-tail animal based diet my heart rate dropped to near normal. My HRV ramped back up, and within 2 weeks I was kicking Doug’s ass again. It took about 4 weeks to get back to optimal restorative sleep, which showed me just what a lasting impact a suboptimal diet can have after not even 4 weeks.
You can throw me nonsensical anecdotes about the benefits of veganism and how (insert your celebrity spokesperson here) thrives. You’re wasting your breath. I tried it. It sucked magnificently. 0 out of 10 recommendation. So if you’re thinking about becoming a vegan... probably don't. Grab a ribeye with a side of liver, smother it in butter or tallow. Down it. Scream like a warrior. Go lift more weight than you’ve ever lifted. Thrive.
You can thank me later.