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What I learnt from cutting out meat and coffee

Its been slightly over a year since I decided to cut out meat and coffee from my diet with the former due to health reasons (for some reason my body doesn’t deal with animal fat too well) and the latter because I was starting to suffer from caffeine withdrawal symptoms (I was on almost 4 – 5 cups a day).

To be completely honest, I wasn’t too sure if I could last, having tried and failed the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting and other diet types that have emerged over the past few years. To my surprise, cutting out the meat and shifting to plant sources was actually the easy part when I noticed my recovery post training was way more efficient that what it used to be. The coffee however, is another story altogether and I remember the headaches and migraines that came with cutting it out coupled with the lack of energy and needing an immediate caffeine boost.

I have come to believe that coffee is like an energy credit card with an interest so high that we will always be in deficit.

Here’s what I learnt from cutting out meat and coffee from my diet over the past year:

1. Meat is truly not the only source of protein. One of the things that worried me was whether I could get enough protein from a fully plant based diet. The truth is that there are so many alternate plant based sources of protein that we don’t really need to worry. Tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, edamame, lentils, quinoa etc all contain protein and for me, unlike meat, they don’t leave me feeling bloated.

2. Razor sharp focus. I no longer get a brain haze that I used to with meat and find that my mental recovery times are much faster than before. Food is now part of my mental and physical recovery regime.

3. Coffee is an energy credit card. It allows us to borrow energy from the future with an interest rate so high that we will always be in deficit. I’ve found alternate sources to coffee such as Yerba Mate or just a simple tea that although sometimes contain caffeine, are a lot gentler.

4. Plant based food is not necessarily expensive. Home preparation or simply being smart about choices with our food means that a plant based diet need not be expensive.

5. Enhanced recovery. My recovery rate since going meat free is a lot faster than before. Cuts and bruises heal quickly and I now find myself being able to last for longer sessions during my run and bike.

6. Don’t become a “grainarian”. It is very tempting to consume a lot of grains when cutting out meat. I noticed quite a few vegetarian food places serve gluten and grains as their main offering with actually very little fruit and vegetables. Consuming grains isn’t a bad thing but they are very calorie dense and often cause weight gain.

7. Keep the plate colourful. An easy way to gauge whether your meal is balance is by color. The more colorful the plate is, the better. I often check to see if my plate has most of the colors of the rainbow.

8. Cutting out coffee is tough. A lot of us are cultured to drink coffee whether its a social or business meeting. The emergence of coffee joints has also increased this habit and most of the time, we don’t even need it. This, on top of all the other withdrawal symptoms that comes with cutting out coffee makes it hard to cut out the habit.

9. Coffee (lack of) migraines are insane. The first three days I cut out coffee were probably some of the most painful in my life. The pounding headaches and this inexplicable irritation in my jaw was turning my mood so foul people were keeping away from me.

10. You feel great when the body is cleansed. I remember about three months into this new lifestyle that my skin was clearer, my thinking sharper and my sleep was more restful. This has allowed me to make the most of my time and become more efficient. Plus the overall feeling is amazing.

11. Supplements are a hit and miss. When I first started, I figured that maybe supplements were needed due to my own misconceptions. I soon realised that other than the odd protein shake and spirulina, I don’t really need much else.

12. Less refueling needed. As my body began adapting, I found that I actually needed less fuel on long training sessions. Energy gels and food during races and training sessions are a thing of a past now (which saves a lot of money) and the odd isotonic or sugary beverage along the way is more than enough. As a gauge, during my 50km run, I only refueled with isotonic drinks and water a handful of times.

13. Social meet-ups are not necessarily difficult. Although I don’t do this much, every restaurant will have a salad or plant based options. If all else fails, I’d order a plate of fries and munch away. I also advice against suggesting vegan friendly places because it just makes being social and anti-social experience.

14. Caffeine will show its real benefits. Because my body is no longer used to caffeine, the effects of taking caffeine during a race or training session are greatly enhanced. This allows me to push my body that extra distance and maintain my energy levels where needed.

One year of going meat and coffee free has truly taught me a few valuable lessons and the knowledge I’ve gained along the way has also been interesting. I never once thought prior to this that there would be a coffee free and vegan version of myself in existence but I guess life takes us on strange journeys that we can only submit ourselves to.

Till my next post and keep moving forward.


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