Protein is a big topic among vegans and non-vegans alike. The macronutrient gets almost as much attention as calories, with uncertainty around how much is enough, and, of course, where this nutrient even comes from when your diet is plant-based.
To help clear up some of this uncertainty, I put together a little protein FAQ, answering many of the most common questions I hear in my practice as a dietitian. And for good measure, I’ve also included a go-to bowl recipe, packed full of plant-based protein.
Plant-Based Protein FAQ
Q: Where Do Vegans Get Protein?
A: If you have been around No Meat Athlete for very long at all, you probably already know the answer to this question. And, as a vegan Registered Dietitian I probably hear it more than most people do. But, it’s not a difficult question to answer:
Protein is found in nearly all plant foods, but beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds are particularly rich sources.
Q: How Much Protein Do I Need?
A: While it’s a fact that vegans can easily get adequate protein from plant-based resources, the question of just how much is enough is an important one for some people
For most people (ages 19-59 years), it is recommended to get 0.8 grams of protein per kg (1 kg = 2.2 lbs) of body weight per day. For vegetarians and vegans, it’s closer to 1 gram, because plant proteins are less well-digested than animal proteins. So, if you weigh 60 kg (132 lbs), you would need about 60 grams of protein per day. (To find your weight in kg, simply divide by 2.2046.)
Athletes need a little more. The latest research suggests that athletes move away the separation of strength and endurance when talking about protein, and instead focus on responding to the intensity of the workout. The harder the workout, the the higher the protein requirements for full recovery.
Under these updated guidelines, plant-based athletes should get 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day.
So, if you’re a vegan athlete who weighs 60 kg (132 lbs), you need roughly 72-120 g of protein per day, depending on the intensity of your training.
Of course, the amount of protein is only part of the story. Protein is composed of amino acids, and it’s important that you get the ones you can’t make on your own. To do that, mix up the food sources where you’re getting your protein.
A: If you eat whole foods, you’re getting protein throughout the entire day. That’s the goal, of course.
But for athletes, after you work out, the timing of your next meal is pretty important.
Your workout breaks down some of your muscles, and consuming a protein-rich meal gets the right kinds of nutrients to the right places to help those muscles build back up, stronger than they were before.
If you want to get the most bang for your buck, and maximize the muscle-building power of your workouts — and help prevent losing lean mass — eating a protein-rich meal within 2 hours post-workout will help (and don’t forget to drink plenty of water).
Q: How Should I Get My Protein?
A: This is where it gets fun: When the science and calculations are all done, you get to eat!
Of course you can consume protein in countless ways. There are powders, shakes, enhanced nut and oat milks, etc. — and some are better, more healthy, more effective, than others.
Arguably the best way to get protein is to consume it through a whole-food, plant-based meal. Not only will you be getting plenty of protein, but you’ll also be consuming a more balanced meal complete with carbohydrates, fat, and other nutrients that are just as helpful as protein is for building muscle, recovering from your workout, and staying healthy.
A Power Bowl Recipe, with Over 31 Grams of Plant-Based Protein
To help demonstrate a quick and easy way to get protein through whole plant foods, I’ve created a delicious, easy-to-make, and effective recipe, which delivers the nutrients right where they belong: your belly (and then to your muscles).
This bowl packs over 30 grams of plant-based protein, and it makes plenty to share — but it tastes so good you might want to keep it all to yourself.
Here is the recipe along with protein breakdown:
Plant-Based Power Bowl
¼ recipe sour cream (see recipe below) – 7 g
½ cup (cooked) kasha – 9.5 g
½ cup (cooked) black beans – 7.5 g
½ cup corn – 2.5 g
½ cup red peppers – 3 g
½ small avocado – 1 g
½ cup sweet potato – 1 g
Total: 31.5 grams of protein
All of these ingredients are easy to find, so that shouldn’t scare you away from adding this to your meal rotation.
If you have never had kasha before, it is toasted buckwheat (you can just toast your buckwheat in a dry pan for a few minutes to get the same effect). I love buckwheat because, like quinoa, it is a complete protein (meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids), but is a domestic crop in North America and does not need to be imported. Buckwheat is also rich in fiber, magnesium, iron, and copper.
Sweet potatoes: Chop into 1/2 inch cubes and mix with either 2 tsp of olive oil or place directly on parchment paper if roasting with no oil. Bake at 400 F for 25-30 mins, stirring halfway through. Note: I tend to pre-prep lots of sweet potatoes ahead on the weekend so they are ready to just re-heat and eat during the week without having to take the time to roast.
Kasha: Cook 1 cup of kasha (toasted buckwheat) in 2 cups of water or veggie stock. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer with the lid on until all the liquid is absorbed. This should take about 12 minutes.
Assembly: Place desired amount of cooked kasha to bowl, then add cooked and strained black beans and corn, raw red peppers, and avocado.
Drizzle Sunflower Seed Sour Cream on top.
Sunflower Seed Sour Cream Recipe
1 cup raw sunflower seeds (soaked, hot soaked or boiled and rinsed)
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
Sour Cream Instructions:
Toss all the ingredients in a high powered blender and whiz for 2 mins until well-blended. You might need to scrape down the sides with a spatula. Make sure it is smooth and creamy and well-blended.
Add additional salt if needed.
This sour cream is so delicious and you can use it on your bowls, your baked potatoes, and your vegan tacos and nachos.
Tip: Did you know that sunflower seeds make a great, lower-cost swap for cashews? And they are higher in protein and better for the environment too.
Try this hearty bowl after your next long ride, run, gym session, or swim. You’ll be licking your lips and building muscle too.
When you dig in to the particulars of how much protein you need, it can get a little overwhelming. There’s math to do — to first figure out how much you need, and then to figure out where it’s coming from and how much you actually are getting…
It can drive you crazy.
But at the end of the day, it’s pretty simple: If you eat a well-rounded, whole-food, plant-based diet, you will get enough protein to keep you healthy, grow your muscles, and reach your goals.
Armed with a little knowledge about protein and a recipe for putting that knowledge into action, you can feel more empowered as a plant-based athlete.
It sounds crazy (100 miles??), but you’re not alone. For the first time years, marathon finishes are down, yet ultramarathons continue to grow in popularity and reach.
Whether it’s the lure of the challenge, the trails, or the unknown, the prestige of the 100-mile distance still reigns supreme.
For some of us, it was the 100-mile distance that got us excited about the sport to begin with. We watched a movie, read a book, or heard about the elites and thought, “Could I do that?”
Yes. Yes you can.
Well, probably. Maybe. It’s not for me to say — only you can decide.
But I can help you get started with just a few key strategies.
Because as casual and approachable as I like to make ultrarunning feel for all runners, before tackling the triple-digit distance, there are a few things you should know. Strategies I’ve learned from successfully training for and completing five 100-mile races myself.
First, Master the Basics
Before we get too far along, I want to make sure you’re in the right place.
See, a few years ago I wrote the simplest ever guide for running your first 50K. I tried to keep things as basic as possible while still hitting all the important stuff.
If you’re new to ultrarunning, bookmark this post for (much) later and start with those four tips. It was two years, six ultramarathons, and countless ultra-distance long runs before I ran my first 100 miler. And looking back on it now, I wish I had even more experience before taking the plunge.
No matter how driven you are to run a hundo, if you’re new to the sport, take your time. The lessons you’ll learn through miles and races will make a huge difference when it’s 3:00am and you’re ready to curl up next to a bush and cry.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get into the five key strategies that will shape everything you do during 100-mile training.
1. Increase Your Weekly Mileage
When going from a marathon to a 50K, the mileage jump comes mostly from a longer runs or even multiple long runs on the weekend. In 100-mile training, however, most people will need to increase their weekday mileage as well.
I’m not talking about anything crazy, but for the first-time runners, things will look different.
What you need to know:
After an initial ramp-up, you can look forward to mostly 40-50 miles per week , with the exception being a few lighter weeks and those weeks when you have a Key Long Run scheduled (more on that below).
Expect your average weekday run to be 6-8 miles or 60-90 minutes in length. For many runners, this will be an increase from the 4-6 mile runs you might be more accustomed to.
When training for my first hundred, seven- and eight-mile weekday runs felt like a pretty big jump, but before long, it just became the standard, and anything shorter than that began to feel like a warm-up.
That’s the beauty of ultrarunning in general — perspectives change quickly. You may be surprised at how readily your body adapts to the increase, if you have the right fuel to support it. Speaking of which…
2. Get Ready for the Ultra Buffet
Let’s say your first 100 miler takes you 28 hours. If it starts at 5:00am, that means you’ll miss breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a second breakfast while out on the trail. That’s four meals!
No surprise, running gels alone aren’t going to cut it for most of us. Thankfully, you won’t have to resort to bits of flora from the forest floor. Enter the ultra buffet…
With sandwiches, fruit, wraps, soups, and sometimes even veggie bacon.
I’m going to share a bit about nutrition on race day, but the key thing to know while training is to test.
Test, test, and test again.
Use your long runs, tough workouts, and even rest days to think through nutrition strategies and see how foods sit in your belly.
What you need to know about real food:
These days it’s safe to assume that aid stations will have a variety of foods for plant-based athletes (even if it wasn’t intentional). Some staples include PB&J, fruit, chips, pretzels, and potatoes. And throughout a lot of hundred mile races, there’s often someone cooking up hot food like veggie broth, veggie burgers, or soup (plus a variety of non-vegan options like pancakes, bacon, etc.).
If you’re lucky enough to have a crew, however, having them prepare food ahead of your arrival can be a huge benefit. Some of my go-tos are:
Instant noodle bowls (like vegan pad thai)
Refried beans in a tortilla
Coffee (at night, if they don’t have that at the aid stations)
At lot of this food sounds like the last thing you’d want to eat mid run, but for some reason, that doesn’t matter. You’re calorie deficient enough, moving slow enough, and ravenous enough that it just works.
And the more you can practice eating these foods before, during, or right after a long run, the more likely you are to know what’s going to work (and what isn’t) come race day.
What you need to know about gels, gummies, and sports drinks:
Like I said, the sports nutrition products alone won’t typically cut it on race day, but for me and most people, they still play a wildly important role. I may consume real foods at the aid stations, but it could be hours between each crew checkpoint, so I rely on gels, gummies, and sports drink to provide a consistent stream of calories throughout the entire run.
By the end of a hundred-mile race, in addition to all the real food, I may have gone through a 15-20 gels or gummies. In the second half of the race, it’s just a matter of closing my eyes and getting them in however I can. If you’re curious, my go-tos right now are:
Throughout training, find the products that work best for you and let your body get to know them well.
What you need to know about nausea:
By sticking with foods you’ve trained with, you’ll significantly reduce the risk of stomach issues. But even so, during a race as long as 100 miles, nausea at some point is almost a given.
Enter the boot and rally…
Just kidding. (Although sometimes puking — or pooping — is the best way to hit the reset button.)
There are a million reasons why you might feel nauseous, and ultrarunners have a variety of tricks (like ginger crews or ginger beer) for reducing it, but oftentimes the best way to get through it is to simply slow down, force yourself to eat and drink, and walk it out. Chances are you’ll rebound before you know it.
To prepare for something like this, embrace the nausea in training. If you’re out for a long run and your stomach flips, don’t stop. Take the steps to work through it, both mentally and physically.
Since we’re here anyway, let’s talk about those long runs.
3. Embrace a Few Key Long Runs
Surprise! Long runs are part of running an ultramarathon!
OK, it’s no secret that long runs are a key part of training. The weekly (sometimes twice weekly) long runs not only build strength, but teach you important lessons about nutrition, mindset, and how to handle the time on your feet.
When training for a hundred, you’ll continue to focus on your weekly long runs, but also add in a few (I typically plan for three) of what I call Key Long Runs (KLR) that the rest of your training is centered around.
What you need to know:
These Key Long Runs build, just like the rest of your training, and the last should be 3-4 weeks out from race day. All the training around each KLR is focused on getting you to the next one, and it may even include a short taper or recovery period.
So what can a Key Long Run look like?
Back-to-backs, where you’re running two significant long runs on consecutive days (or back to back to each other).
Training races, anywhere from 50K to 100K. Training races give you a chance to get into the racing mindset, test out your gear and strategies, and offer a really easy way to log some serious miles. Ahead of each of my hundred milers, I’ve run at least a 40-mile tune-up trail race.
Training runs on the course. If you can access the course ahead of time, I highly recommend getting in a KLR on the course. Some of my best pre-hundo long runs have been 10+ hour days out on the course, getting to know sections of trail, climbs, and terrain.
The self-supported ultra. There’s absolutely no shame in pulling out a map, plotting a random route, and getting in an ultra distance long run by yourself. (In fact, I think that’s pretty badass.)
(Check out simi-rad.com for more hilarious ultra “motivational” posters)
While you’re planning out your long runs, be sure you take it to account the conditions you’ll meet on race day. In other words…
4. Train for the Terrain
For any race, regardless of distance, taking terrain and conditions into consideration when training will help.
For a 100 miler, it can be the difference of finishing in glory or collapsing in an aid station chair halfway through and never getting back up again. I will die here before leaving this chair.
And of course, no two courses are the same.
Here’s what you need to know:
At the very early stages of your training, take the time to get to know the course, even if it’s just through race reports or maps:
What does the elevation profile look like?
How much vertical gain and descent?
Does the course consist of mostly smooth paths or rugged mountain terrain?
Is altitude a factor?
From there, plan your KLRs and other training runs to reflect that type of terrain. If it’s flat and fast, train flat and fast.
If it’s big mountains and rocky terrain, you better hit the hills and prepare your quads for a beating on the descents.
For example, ahead of the Hellbender 100 with over 25,000 feet of elevation gain/loss, I spent a lot of time hiking up the steepest trail I could easily access. I’d do laps, sometimes spending hours only to log a handful of miles. One week I ran that same loop, featuring a 1,500ft climb, eight times.
The race specific work you put in throughout training will pay dividends ten fold come mile 80.
While terrain is kind of a no-brainer, something you might not think about is the time of day that you’ll be running (like after sun set).
5. Prepare for the Night
One of the unique features of a 100-mile race is the fact that you’ll almost certainly be running through the night (maybe even two!).
Other than a few wish-I-could-forget-them nights when my daughter was an infant, hundred milers are the only reason I’ve pulled an all nighter since college. Not to mention the fact that you have to run the entire time too.
What you need to know:
1. Trail running: Trail running is trail running, but the experience of running at night is a little different. Even with a headlamp, it’s harder to see rocks and roots, and it’s easier to disconnect from your surroundings. Plus, it can get a little spooky when you’re by yourself.
The best thing you can do is practice. Grab a headlamp, an extra pair of batteries, let someone know where you’re going, and then hit the trail for night runs in the dark. You may actually find that it’s exhilarating and kind of addicting.
Here’s a guide I wrote that explores everything you should know about night running and safety.
2. Dealing with Exhaustion: Generally speaking, if you’re running through the night, you’ve already run through the day. That means you’re coming into a sleepless night already physically exhausted.
Without fail, some of my darkest moments in every hundred miler have been the span of time between 3:00am and sunrise. I drop into a place where sleep consumes every inch of my being.
Unfortunately, there’s not a ton you can do about this in training, but I do have a few strategies for fighting it on race day:
Just keep moving. The longer you sit in a chair by the fire at an aid station, the harder it will be to get back up.
Have a pacer when possible. If they know to keep you moving no matter what, they’ll do it.
Eat. Food always helps.
Don’t be afraid of caffeine, whether that’s from coffee, soda, or gels.
The sun always rises. The night always passes. And if you can keep your spirits up and keep moving, the finish line is that much closer.
Really, It Boils Down to Your Ability to Adapt
There’s just no way to sugarcoat it, running a 100-mile ultramarathon is going to hurt. There will be times that you want to drop out. Or punch your pacer. Or swear off running for the rest of your life.
Being a successful hundred-mile runner boils down to your ability to adapt to the tough conditions of the day, the stomach that flips out of nowhere, or the blister on your left foot.
Breathe. Assess the situation. And do whatever you have to do.
That’s where your hours and hours of training come in. They teach you how to handle the tough moments — and hopefully how to stay positive through them.
Because you know what? 100-mile ultramarathons are all about the mental game. And you control your mind.
In short, the power of meditation on your body, mind — and even outlook on things like nutrition and fitness — is profound.
And in this day and age of constant distraction, increasing responsibilities, and pressures of work and family, for many people (myself included) meditation has become an absolutely essential practice for a balanced and happy life.
It’s my daily mental hygiene ritual that provides a consistent source of peace, balance, and perspective in my life. Always there when I need it… to help me enjoy all the small moments in life as well as navigate the major challenges when they inevitably come.
In fact, even though I struggled to get started with meditation, I now typically sit in meditation for at least an hour each day, simply because it benefits me so much.
But here’s the (very important) thing:
To receive the benefits of meditation, you don’t need to commit massive amounts of time or restructure your life.
Here’s my argument for why that’s true…
Meditation Isn’t Just for Monks
Fortunately, to experience the benefits of meditation, you don’t have to make sweeping changes to your lifestyle, quit your job, or even sit for an hour like I do.
You can begin to unlock the benefits with just a few minutes each day.
You don’t have to use a mantra, change your religion, or believe in a higher power. You don’t have to buy a special cushion or sit cross-legged.
And you certainly don’t have to become a monk.
Just by sitting quietly and deliberately focusing your attention for a few minutes each day, you can begin to turn down the volume of worry, self-doubt and negative self-talk, all while improving focus and concentration so you can live and work more effectively.
But for all its benefits, meditation is one of the easiest practices to write off. You might think:
“I have too much of a monkey mind, meditation could never work for me.”
“I want to live life to the fullest, I don’t want to become disengaged or dispassionate.”
“My mind is my most important asset. Why would I want to quiet it?”
You might worry that taking a step towards balance may mean losing your edge at work or being less able to meet the responsibilities at home. But in addition to honing the mind, meditation grows emotional intelligence and empathy — skills essential for effective work, leadership, and building relationships.
As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Meditation is the tool that sharpens the axe for better performance and optimal living.
And, you might even find that it brings a little more fun, laughter, and joy to your life as well.
What it Means to “Succeed” at Meditation
If you’ve ever tried meditation and quickly decided that it wasn’t for you, you aren’t alone.
I tried to meditate for years before finally experiencing that “ah ha moment” where I got a glimpse of what all these crazy folks were talking about.
Looking back, I realized that I had a major problem that almost guaranteed that I would fail right out of the gate:
I thought I knew what meditation was, I thought I knew how to meditate, and most importantly, I thought I knew what meditation was going to get me.
I would “focus on my breathing” as hard as I could, believing that if I focused hard enough I would finally stop the thoughts from flowing through my head.
I equated success with mental silence, and the longer I was able to keep the thoughts from flowing the better I did. The end goal that I was after?
Complete quiet. Transcendental experience. Or at least a feeling of peace when I got up from my cushion.
I now know that I was setting myself up to fail because I was missing one key point:
Meditation is not about experiences. Meditation is not about quieting the mind. It’s about being present with whatever is happening to you. Right now. Moment to moment.
Succeeding at meditation means redefining success. The bottom line is that your mindfulness practice is simply meant to create some space in your life, so that you can observe what is going on. It’s not about the experience; it’s about bringing awareness to whatever it is that you are experiencing.
The not-so-sexy truth is that meditation serves to get you in touch with what is going on in your head, what is going on in your body, and what is going on around you. You learn to watch these thoughts and feelings, and eventually you learn to let them happen with less judgment.
This is where the real benefit comes in.
If we can define a successful meditation session not as one where the mind never wanders, but one in which we remain mindful about refocusing every time it does wander (even if it wanders a hundred times!), then suddenly the frustration and feelings of inadequacy melt away.
How to Meditate: 8 Steps to Get You Started
Convinced and ready to get start?
As you know, when you’re building a habit for the first time, it helps to minimize the amount of stress it causes you. Below I’ve outlined eight simple steps to to help minimize the stress (and maximize your chances of having it stick).
Here’s how your simple meditation session should look:
Step 1. Set a timer for three minutes, or for however long you plan to meditate.
Step 2. Sit in a quiet, comfortable spot where your back is supported and your spine is relatively straight. It could be the floor against a wall (on a thin pillow, if you like), in a chair, or on your bed. You can sit with your legs crossed or straight, whichever is more comfortable for you. Don’t lie down; it’s too easy to fall asleep that way.
Step 3. Place your hands in a comfortable position. You can rest them on your thighs, place them palms-up on your knees, or form a circle like this. Again, just choose something that feels good and won’t distract you.
Step 4. Start your timer, and gently close your eyes. Take two slow, deep breaths, each in and out through your nose. This is a signal to your brain that the meditation session has begun, and you can think of these breaths as “cleansing” as you relax your body around them.
Step 5. Continue breathing through your nose, slowly but normally, the way you breathe throughout the day when you’re not thinking about it. You may find that it’s hard to breathe normally when you are focused on the breath. That’s completely normal, and over time your breath will return to it’s normal rhythm.
Step 6. Our focus during this meditation is our breath. The easiest way is to focus on the sensation of air moving past the strip of skin that separates your nostrils. Notice the feeling of air moving in and out of your nose as you breath, in and out.
Step 7. Other thoughts will inevitably enter your mind (sometimes for the entire session!). Remember the goal is not perfect focus, it’s to notice whatever is happening. When you notice that you’re mind has strayed, just notice the thoughts and let them go, gently guiding your focus back to the breath.
Very important: The biggest barrier to starting a meditation habit is feeling like you’re doing it wrong. There’s nothing wrong about stray thoughts, even if you spend the whole meditation session feeling distracted. It’s actually impossible for us to prevent thoughts, and the more we fight against them, the more agitated the mind becomes. Instead we just watch it without judgment. The stray thoughts eventually calm down, just notice the thought and move your attention back to your breathing, without judgment or anger or feeling like you’re failing.
Remember, the point of our meditation is the noticing and letting go of these thoughts so that you can train your focus … and if they never happened, you’d have nothing to train with! So no resentment, even on the days when stray thoughts seem to dominate the entire session.
In the beginning, your meditation sessions may not feel calm. They may not feel peaceful. You may experience a lot of negative self-talk, you might experience intense emotions, you might find that your body is restless and it’s impossible to get into a comfortable position. This is all normal. Again, the goal is not to have a peaceful meditation. It’s just to notice whatever it is that we are experiencing. The benefits will come. The benefits are side effects of learning to observe whatever is happening without judgment. As long as you put in your time, and keep returning to the breath, you are doing it right. Trust the process.
Step 8. When the time is up, take two more deep breaths and open your eyes. Take a moment to celebrate your success and congratulate yourself. You just meditated!
Ready to Experience the Benefits of Meditation?
As I said before, just a few minutes of regular meditation can produce life-changing benefits like stress reduction, increased focus, and better performance. Not to mention a more mindful approach to nutrition and food.
So if all it takes is a few minutes each day, what’s holding you back?
You can start with the eight steps highlighted above.
But if you want to take it one step further, the No Meat Athlete team and I have put together a 30-Day Meditation Challenge, which starts on June 1st. Check out the details here.
Either way, there’s no time like today to start a meditation practice. So take a seat, close your eyes, and I’ll see you in three minutes.
Salads can feature a variety of leafy greens, raw, roasted, or grilled veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and just about anything else.
That is the beauty of the salad. It’s a blank canvas for just about any food you have in the refrigerator.
And when you toss it with an easy homemade vegan dressing, (like one of the recipes five below) you’re in business.
Why it Starts with the Dressing
A few years ago I wrote a post about my family’s Sauce System — how we often start with whatever sauce sounds the most appealing, and build our meals around that.
Today, I want to share a similar technique for building salads, only with healthy, homemade dressings instead of sauces.
The technique goes, if you learn a few simple dressing recipes, then you can shape nearly anything in your kitchen into a delicious salad of your choosing.
But before we get to the recipes, let’s talk about why I’m going oil free with these five staple recipes.
Oil-Free Doesn’t Mean Taste Free
Not that long ago, I would have said that all dressings either need oil or cream. A quick Google search, however, shows that’s clearly not the case.
But while I love a good vegan oil-free blog, many of them do the world a disservice by simply sharing classic vinaigrette recipes with the oil omitted. Those are probably not going to do it for you.
Instead, the five oil-free recipes below incorporate fat from nuts and seeds to give the same fatty, oily texture only in a whole-food way. This is the good kind of fat we always talk about.
And it’s nuts (not dairy products) that can make creamy recipes just as creamy and delicious as ones with animal products, only a heck of a lot more healthy.
5 Oil-Free Salad Dressing Recipes
Below you’ll find my five go-to dressing recipes, each filling a different need. Based on how my family is feeling in the moment, and what food we have available, we’ll whip up one of these, throw a salad together, and call it a meal.
But keep in mind, salads don’t always have to look like a plate of lettuce and toppings. You can combine a bunch of grated vegetables, have it focus on pasta, or simply use these dressings as dipping sauces. It’s not too far of a stretch to call that a salad.
Let’s get to the recipes!
Sid and Lisa’s Creamy Balsamic
Probably the most common salad dressing out there, and typically vegan, the balsamic is a go-to of mine at restaurants. But what if you could make a healthier (and tastier) version at home?
Health Made Simple co-creator Sid Garza-Hillman and his wife Lisa created their own oil-free version, replacing the oil with cashews to keep the fats up and add an extra creaminess.
How to Use It:
This goes well with just about any standard salad, but really pops with your traditional Italian flavors. But really, you can’t go wrong to have it on hand for whatever ends up on your salad plate.
1 cup cashews (or sunflower seeds or slivered almonds)
1 1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 – 3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Blend all ingredients until creamy. Add additional salt/pepper to taste.
“I Can’t Believe It’s Cashew” Ranch Dressing
Just when you thought you’d never get to enjoy ranch dressing without a bunch of a processed substitutes!
Another Sid and Lisa creation, this one will even impress your omnivore friends and leave them shaking their heads, saying, “I can’t believe it’s cashew.” Hence the clever name.
How to Use It:
I think everyone knows how to use a Ranch dressing, but I love to throw this on big salads with roasted veggies, chickpeas, and tomatoes, and toss in some pumpkin seeds for crunch.
We also use it as a dipping sauce for veggies.
1 1/4 cups cashews (Optional: Pre-soak cashews for a creamier dressing
1 cup filtered water
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp sea salt or, to taste
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper or, to taste
Optional: 1 tsp hot sauce
Blend all ingredients till creamy and smooth. Make sure not to blend so long that it gets hot. If too thick, add more water.
This dressing thickens in fridge, so add a little water as needed to thin before using.
The inspiration from this one came from a trip Matt Frazier took to the Whole Foods salad bar. It was so good he had to learn how to make it at home.
Tahini has a sharp, almost bitter flavor, and is something of an acquired taste, but it’s one that many people start craving once they have it a few times. If you find the tahini flavor too strong in this dressing, you can tone it down with more water, using nutritional yeast to thicken it again.
How to Use It:
This sauce goes great with Asian-inspired ingredients, or with a super simple greens salad along side a stir-fry or Asian noodle dish.
2 cloves garlic, or more to taste
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup water, more to thin
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp reduced-sodium tamari
Optional first step: Toss the whole garlic cloves (peeled, of course) around in a dry skillet over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until they just barely start to color and blister. This retains the garlic flavor but tones down the intensity a little bit.
Add the garlic to a food processor blender and pulse a few times to mince. Then add the rest of the ingredients and combine until smooth. Add water until you reach a relatively thin consistency, but not so thin that it won’t stick to your salad leaves. (It’ll thicken in the fridge, but you can always add more water before you use it.)
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice (about 2 limes or lemons)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
Process all the ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth. Adjust the seasoning and add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, plus more as needed to achieve the desired consistency (up to an additional 1/4 cup). Use within 1 day.
Contrary to how it sounds, this dressing isn’t overly sweet. The natural bitterness of the walnuts balances well with the sweetness of the berries. It’s slightly chunky and complements bitter greens well.
How to Use It:
Add this to your bitter greens like arugula. Throw on some roasted root veggies, more walnuts, and tofu or tempeh, and crumbled some soft nut-based vegan cheese, and you have yourself a full meal.
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup blueberries
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1 or 2 Tbsp water, optional
1 Tbsp minced shallot or red onion
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp sugar or maple syrup
Salt and black pepper
Puree the vinegar, blueberries, and half of the walnuts in blender until smooth, thinning it with 1 or 2 tablespoons of water if desired.
Finely chop the rest of the walnuts. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and add the shallot, thyme, and sugar. Shake to combine and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least a few hours and up to 3 days to allow the flavors to meld.
It’s a weird feeling to turn the page on 10 years and begin the next decade, but it’s time — today is the last day of what’s been an emotional week of celebrating.
To wrap up the week, I’ve compiled a list of the very best blog posts and podcast episodes we’ve ever made — plus a look back (featuring some cringe-worthy screenshots) at the evolution of NMA and the running carrot.
Let’s start with the pictures…
In the days after I came up with the idea for No Meat Athlete, I asked my sister, Christine, to help me come up with a logo.
She started here:
And eventually, got here:
Then tweaked it a little:
And soon, the famous Microsoft Paint carrot was born:
Finally, a few months later, the carrot as we know him arrived:
And in 2015, we added a non-running carrot to the mix (part of the modern logo we use that was designed by Rainmaker Creative), with plans to eventually build the site around this new design:
But even though we started using the modern carrot on images and shirts, the running carrot stuck around on the website for a long time, disappearing from the header only recently.
As for the site? It started out on wordpress.com, like this:
(It didn’t occur to me to put images in blog posts until someone mentioned the idea in a comment on one of the early posts!)
After a few weeks, when I was convinced the idea had legs, I forked over $85 and moved to a self-hosted site:
(Which actually looked slightly better than it does here; archive.org isn’t pulling the header image files anymore.)
Then, my first custom header, done by my friend Ryan to my exacting standards. Those are my legs running. And those cow-spotted letters? I think I was aiming for ironic, but nine years later I see that I missed.
Check out this short-lived, sort-of-3D version of the running carrot though — I forgot all about that guy!
(This shot looks worse than it actually did; the formatting of the blog is messed up here when archive.org pulls it. That sprouts picture, though, I take the blame for that one.)
And in late 2010, I switched to a fully-custom design (done by Charfish) that would last for eight years:
For the past 3 years or so, the site has looked more or less like this:
Then finally, earlier this year, we launched the current site design (with a dedicated homepage), all of which which was done by Rainmaker Creative, incorporating the logos, fonts, and brand colors that they came up for us a few years earlier.
The Best Posts of the First Decade of No Meat Athlete
There are nearly 1,000 published posts and pages on No Meat Athlete. While you could start at the beginning and read them all… please, spare yourself. There’s some gold in the early days (I actually really like the writing style back then, when I was less afraid of wordiness and bad jokes), but if you’re really committed to finding it, at least start with this this best-of list that I made after two years.
But for best posts we’ve published in 10 years, I give you this new, updated list. The greatest hits of the first decade of No Meat Athlete, grouped by broad category.
In 2009, I was a grad student in Baltimore, working on a PhD in applied math but completely unsure as to what I’d do with it.
Recently married, no kids.
I spent my time training for marathons, watching cooking shows, and coding models for sports betting.
And then, one day I decided that I was going to stop eating meat. Gradually.
It was primarily an ethical decision, but I had started to believe that (maybe) it wouldn’t have to slow me down as a runner.
I looked around the internet for advice on how to be an endurance athlete and a vegetarian, and what I found was completely unhelpful.
Because in 2009 there was no Rich Roll Podcast. No Eat & Run. Not even a Forks Over Knives. If there were any blogs out there about eating a plant-based diet (not a term yet) and running, I didn’t find them.
That’s when I got my idea. On March 17, 2009, I wrote this in my journal:
(Funny that “vegan” didn’t cross my mind. And pescetarianathlete.com? What can I say, for every good idea, there are 100 bad ones… but it looks like the domain is still available if you want to give it a shot!)
I was worried that “vegetarian athlete” was way too small of a niche. And back then, this wasn’t an unreasonable concern. But after brainstorming more, I was excited. The next day:
Luckily, I was smart enough to know that the guy I was talking to had the attention span of… well, what most of us have for an attention span these days:
But what to actually do with it? I figured I could blend a passion for cooking with what I’d learned about running and nutrition — plus maybe a dash of ra-ra motivation — and make something that would at worst be a fun diversion from math, and at best…
…well, I didn’t know. I thought maybe people would wear our t-shirts. But I figured if I just started writing about what I was doing and people started reading it, I could figure out what to do later.
So I didn’t overthink it (could be the first time in history that happened). I created nomeatathlete.wordpress.com, wrote up a post, and on March 23rd I hit “Publish.”
And I was right. When I hit “Publish,” it all changed.
I was in the middle of reading a book when I started No Meat Athlete, something obscure by Douglas Hofstadter about math and consciousness. I dropped it immediately for a book called Tribes, by Seth Godin, which was the closest thing I could find to a manual for how to do what I wanted to do with No Meat Athlete.
And somehow, it worked.
People started reading and leaving comments. A few popular bloggers linked to NMA or let me write guest posts for them. NMA started showing up in Google searches. People started wearing running carrot t-shirts.
By the time things settled down enough for me to open the Hofstadter book again, it was three years later — I was living in a different city, with a two-year-old son, and a daughter on the way. I had qualified for Boston, gone vegan, and become an ultrarunner. I now worked full-time on NMA with a small team (high-five, Susan and Doug!), and even had a deal for a book of my own in the works.
(Still no PhD though… I gave that up when I decided No Meat Athlete was a better bet.)
So yes. It all changed.
But it wasn’t just me. So did the whole plant-based fitness landscape.
First it was a few other vegetarian or vegan running blogs that popped up. Then Rich Roll’s and Scott Jurek’s books came out, just two weeks apart. And then it felt like it all started to shift.
From the inside, it’s impossible for me to say what role NMA has played in that bigger change. I’m just grateful that it’s happening, and that we’ve gotten to be a part of it at all.
How do you sum up 10 years?
I don’t really know what to do with a 10-year anniversary post. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever be writing one. (In 2009, nobody really knew if blogs would still be a thing in 10 years.)
The first three years were a blur. So many blog posts — every day for the first few months, and multiple times weekly after that. So many books I read, so much research I did, so many articles I dissected, to learn everything I could about how to do this well.
In those years, there were a lot of Vegfests. And so many running carrot shirts. Who knows how many we shipped out of our house (something like 30,000) before we finally couldn’t keep up and had to outsource the operation. (Thanks to our customer service superstar Esther, we’ve now in-sourced those shirts again this year.)
Then there was a book.
And a book tour.
I started a podcast, one that floundered at first and then was revived when Doug came on board, and still produces a new episode almost every week and has been downloaded many millions of times now.
There have been vegan cruises, trips to Runner’s World HQ, international talks, and meetups with readers around the country and in Europe. There was getting to meet so many accomplished athletes, doctors, cooks, and authors… and so many more people I had learned from and idolized when I was getting started.
There was spending a week with Seth Godin’s, a blogging hero of mine whose book Tribes helped me start NMA, and getting to work with him to hatch the idea for No Meat Athlete Running Groups.
Then, of course, there were those running groups. And there still are. (More about the running groups coming next week, during the weeklong 10th birthday party we have planned).
Then there was another book, one that caught mainstream attention through Sports Illustrated, People, and Outside.
And after that, there was a revised and updated version of the first book…
…and along the way those NMA books have sold 100,000 copies and been published in 5 languages. So far. (Who the heck bought all those?)
And eventually, I co-founded a supplement company (don’t call Complement a supplement, though), which has shipped out 15,000 bottles already, and is growing faster than No Meat Athlete ever did.
And yet for all that has changed, in this moment it’s kind of the same as it started.
I’m alone at my desk — standing now, instead of sitting — writing a blog post.
The microphone next to me gets a lot more use than the keyboard, as most of the regular content I’ve created in the past few years has been for the podcast, but right now, it’s just like it was 10 years ago.
No Meat Athlete as a blog and brand is so different now. It’s not all about me anymore, and less so every day. That’s by design, because I know it can be so much better if it’s not just about me. We’re a team. And No Meat Athlete is a community.
But in a way, it’s kinda still the same. We put out content — audio, text, and (soon, I hope) video — about how to eat a plant-based diet as an athlete. We try to make this whole thing as welcoming, friendly, and evidence-based as possible, to be exactly the type of site that I was looking for 10 years ago when I first Googled “advice for athletes who want to be vegetarian.” (Remember when we used to type long things into Google?)
And doing that creates ways in which the tribe supports us and keeps us going. For a decade now, you have — eight people now have full- or part-time work through No Meat Athlete and Alpine Organics — and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
For my part, I’ve gradually gotten to be me again, finding a balance between Matt “the No Meat Athlete” (a nickname I can’t stand) and pre-NMA Matt. I did eventually finish that book I was reading. And in the past two years, once NMA became more about the team than about me, I’ve gotten to be a better dad — one that I was just a little too NMA-obsessed to be in the first few years. And I’ve picked up some old hobbies that I dropped when my entire world was No Meat Athlete, which has been really nice.
I have no idea what the next 10 years hold, but I’m excited for them. With a team, we get a lot more done, a lot faster than I used to on my own. That understanding is still sinking in, and the more it does, the better we get.
No Meat Athlete’s next 10 years will be very different from the first. They have to be. But because of our team, because of the audience that cares about us, and because of the way the plant-based fitness movement has grown, I think we’re positioned to make a hundred times the impact we’ve had so far. And I can’t wait to see what that looks like.
Thanks for being along for the ride.
P.S. Like a said, lots of celebrations to come next week! Stay tuned and get your party hat on.
Now, I could talk for hours about the race experience, but today, I want to focus on the days leading up to the race.
The two weeks when everything begins to shift from build-up, to wind-down.
It’s called tapering. And if you’ve followed any sort of training plan for a longer distance race, chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Tapering seems like an easy enough concept — reduce your training to rest up for race day.
And at its core, that’s all it is. But like with anything in running, dig a little deeper and you discover there’s a way you can do it that will maximize its effects and leave you better prepared for race day.
Over the past several years of coaching runners to their first marathons and ultramarathons, I’ve noticed people come in with a lot of incorrect expectations about tapering. You know…
The, I get to eat vegan pizza and drink beer for two weeks weeks straight-type of expectations.
So before I get into what a proper taper should look like, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way…
What Tapering Isn’t
An excuse to do nothing.
A reason to eat copious amounts of junk food.
A prescription for late nights and lots of beer.
A time to drastically switch up your routine or stop running entirely.
Now don’t get me wrong — You can still kick up the feet and relax in a hammock with your favorite craft beer (or smoothie). In fact, that’s encouraged.
But there’s still work to be done. Tapering remains a very important and structured part of your training.
My Six Rules of Proper Tapering
So what does a proper taper look like? Here are my six go-to rules for getting it done right:
Rule 1. Drastically reduce mileage in the first 3 days by about 50%. Reduce the remaining mileage over the course of the remaining 7-10 days.
If you’re currently running 40 miles per week, cut down to 20 for the first three days. With the remaining days, reduce to zero the day before your race.
Rule 2. Maintain a similar running routine.
Let’s say you’re like me and have been running five days per week, with rest days on Monday and Friday. Continue running nearly that exact same schedule of 4-5 days during the first week, and 3-4 days during the second week of taper. To account for the reduced mileage, run shorter runs.
That way you’re not running all your weekly mileage in 2-3 days with lots of off days, but spreading it out just as you would during regular training.
Rule 3. Continue with the same mix of intensity has you had before.
Just as you keep your same running frequency, you should maintain a similar mix of intensity.
For example, if you typically run one speed workout per week, keep a tempo or light speed session on the calendar, but again reduce the length of that workout so it’s not as taxing.
During the final week, make it very light, but keep in some level of increased effort.
Rule 4. Eat more (of the good stuff).
Remember what I said about what tapering isn’t? It isn’t an excuse to overdo it when it comes to food and beverages.
It’s common for races to offer a big pasta dinner the night before. The truth is, that’s often too late to make any difference and can leave you feeling heavy or bloated the next morning. Instead, I like to eat carb-heavy dinners like pastas, rice and bean burritos, and pretty much any grain, green, and bean combo the final several days leading up to the race.
That way, the day before, I can eat something I know will sit and digest well, leaving my stomach light and comfortable on race day.
That said, have fun with food while you’re tapering. If you want an extra serving, go for it. Dessert when you normally wouldn’t? Trust me, I did plenty of that over the past few weeks.
You’ve earned a bit treat, so enjoy it. Just remember that you are still training.
Rule 5. Get more sleep.
Sleep, beautiful sleep. My favorite thing about race week is turning my alarm back by 30 minutes and guilt-free naps. (I’m the king of mid-day power naps.)
Sleep is vital for recovery, and as your body settles in before your big race, it needs a bit more than usual. Luckily, you’re running less, so you’ll likely have more time in the mornings or evenings to spend in bed.
To me, the key night for getting the best sleep is two nights before the race. The night before you’ll likely be nervously tossing and turning, plus you’ll have to wake up early to make it to the starting line (my race started at 4:30am, so I had a 3:00am wake-up call.) While I still try, I think of that night as a wash.
That’s why two nights before race day is important for quality sleep time.
Rule 6. Use the extra time to prepare mentally, decompress from the training session, and plan for the race.
With less time spent running, you have more time to do other things…
Like thinking about running! Or at least planning for the race. This is arguably just as important as anything to do with running.
I mean think about it, you’re coming off months of intense training and a rigid routine. Early mornings and long miles. Missed hangouts with friends, and time away from your family…
All building up to one single day on the road or trail.
No pressure or anything.
Use the taper period to reflect back on all you’ve accomplished throughout training, and plan for and envision yourself executing the race of your dreams.
By now it’s just a few days away. You’ve got this.
A Quick Word on the Taper Tantrums
Reduced mileage, more free time… Your body is going to love it, right?
Unfortunately, reducing your mileage so drastically can result in some weird side effects. Your muscles may actually get more sore and achy than they do during more intense training. Or if you’re like me, you just start feeling tired.
For me, the last week of running before a race almost always results in runs where I feel heavy and lethargic — not a good mental boost going into race day.
But fear not, this is normal, and often referred to as a “taper tantrum.”
And just as tantrums pass for my 2-year-old, so too will yours.
By the time you get hit race day, most of that weirdness will be flushed out and you’ll be primed for the challenge ahead.
Don’t Underestimate the Taper
The hard work is done. You’ve followed your plan, logged the miles, and pushed through doubts. All that lies between you and race day glory now is a few weeks of tapering.
Don’t treat it like a vacation, but instead approach it just as you have the rest of your training — with structure and purpose.
Because once you get to that starting line, primed and ready for race day, your legs, mind, and body will be grateful.
And that extra pizza and beer you’re craving now? It will be waiting for you at the finish line.
About the Author: Doug is an ultrarunner, coach, and the co-host of NMA Radio.
To most people, weight loss is a mystery. Tens of billions of dollars are spent each year on dieting programs that claim to have found the answer, and yet so few people find success at losing weight and keeping it off.
So why should you listen to us?
Well, we’re 15-plus-year vegans, champion bodybuilders, and the co-founders of PlantBuilt, the largest team of vegan strength athletes in the world. And we’ve helped thousands of clients transform their bodies by building muscle and shedding fat on a plant-based diet.
We understand what it takes to make real change to your body, and want to share that with you in this post.
It starts with one basic fact, despite all the gimmicks surrounding weight loss. And it’s this: No matter what you’re eating or when you eat it, weight loss and weight gain are both determined by caloric balance.
Most people understand this. When we eat more calories than we burn, we gain weight, and when we eat fewer calories than we burn, we lose weight.
But what that means — and this is so important — is that no matter how clean, whole, or unprocessed a food is, if you eat over your caloric maintenance, no matter the source, your weight will increase.
So it’s no surprise that in the world of body transformations — losing weight, gaining weight, gaining muscle, converting fat into muscle — calories do matter.
But calories aren’t all that matters…
Which macronutrients your calories come from will determine what kind of tissue you gain or lose (in conjunction with your training, of course). For example, you can lose 20 pounds by restricting calories alone, but without planning your macronutrients, and weight training appropriately, the weight lost could easily be coming from muscle. Conversely, you can definitely gain weight by eating a surplus of calories, but without a plan of where they are coming from, and without strength training of some kind, you can easily gain more fat than you intended.
This is where flexible dieting comes in. Flexible dieting isn’t about removing certain foods or limiting what you can eat, but instead is focused on the macronutrients above all else.
And it’s a concept we’ve seen work time and time again with clients, and most importantly, as award winning bodybuilders ourselves.
With a little bit of tracking, focus, and honesty, it can work for you too.
That’s right, there’s a little math involved — but don’t let that frighten you away just yet. Let’s get started with step one, finding your starting point.
Step 1: Find Your Maintenance Calories
Although humans have the same basic physiology, we’re all unique. You have your own unique lifestyle, sleeping patterns, body fat percentage, age, hormone levels, energy patterns, metabolism, eating habits, etc.
No online calculator will take all of that into account.
This is where maintenance calories come into handy: Your maintenance level of calories is the number of calories you need in order to maintain your weight right now.
And figuring out that number is more simple than you might think:
Simply track what you’re eating right now for one week.
Seriously, if your weight is relatively stable (within a couple-pound range on any given day), whatever you are eating right now is your maintenance caloric level.
And figuring out what that is rather simple:
Start recording everything you eat and drink. Use an Excel spreadsheet, a notepad on your phone, an app, or even just a pen and paper.
Record the amounts, the food itself, and the calories. Be as specific as you can be.
Don’t tweak the numbers, don’t sneak unrecorded food, and don’t try to be “good” just because you’re keeping track. Just eat whatever you normally eat and keep track of it.
Do this for 7 days and get the average number of calories (add up all of the numbers and divide them by 7).
This is your rough caloric maintenance.
This is the most accurate way to find out where you currently are, calorically and metabolically speaking. This is far more accurate than any calculator on the planet.
But… if tracking is out of the question, you could always use a calculator.
If you really want to get started right away, you can use a calculator to get an estimate of your maintenance calories, but bear in mind, that this will be far less accurate.
Here’s the basic formula:
Now that we have determined maintenance calories, it is time for Step 2: Find your deficit for a leaning out phase.
Step 2: Find Your Deficit
Losing body fat means you will need to create a caloric deficit. The larger the deficit, the faster you lose weight, which is an attractive concept for many people — but faster doesn’t always mean better.
The smaller the deficit, the slower you lose weight, but — and this is key — that weight is less likely to be muscle and more likely to be fat loss.
In addition to that, slower weight loss is typically more maintainable, and is longer lasting than crash dieting.
So here’s the deficit rule of thumb:
Subtract anywhere from 200-600 calories per day from your maintenance calories to set your deficit.
Over the first few weeks, pay close attention to how much weight you are losing. If it’s more than 2 pounds per week, you are almost certainly losing some muscle.
For some people, that might not be a problem, but if you’d like to keep the muscle, then reduce the deficit.
For our example, let’s use a 180-pound man (let’s call him Joe the Example Man), with a maintenance level of calories that is 2400. He wants to enter a fat loss phase at a moderate pace.
Therefore Joe the Example Man’s calorie calculation would be:
With your baseline numbers set, it’s time to begin setting up a plan to hit your goal weight. And to do that, we need to look at the macros.
Step 3: Calculate Your Macros
Your macronutrient numbers will give framework to the types of foods you eat, and provide you with the right ratios of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber.
Let’s start with protein:
Protein is the first macronutrient you should calculate, and the amount of protein you require is based on your lean body mass. To determine this, you will need to estimate your body fat percentage. It doesn’t need to be exact, as almost no method will give you a perfectly accurate measurement, but it’s important to be honest with yourself in order to be as accurate as possible.
Here are a few ways you could go about finding your rough body fat calculations:
Go to a nearby gym and see if a trainer can measure you with calipers.
Order a pair of calipers online and learn how to measure yourself.
Use this picture as a rough estimate – it does NOT have to be exact.
Once you have your rough body fat percentage, get ready for some fun math:
Multiply your body fat percentage by your weight in pounds.
Subtract your answer from your weight.
What you are left with is your lean body mass (LBM), or the fat free mass in your body. This is skeletal muscle, bone, connective tissue, blood, and organs.
For a fat loss, muscle gain body transformation, you should be aiming to get anywhere from .7-1.2g of protein per pound of lean body mass, depending on your preferences.
Note: If you’ve never focused on gaining muscle before, this is probably a lot more than what you’re getting now, and more than we typically recommend for the average person. This protein target is for people focused on a body transformation.
This is a fairly large range, and where you decide to fall in that range can be determined by the foods you already like, what you need in order to recover properly from workouts, and what you need in order to feel satisfied. But anywhere in this range will work. If you currently eat very little protein, try staying at the lower end, but if you already eat about .7g per pound of LBM, try bumping it up a bit and see how you feel.
Let’s take Joe, who is going into a fat loss phase and estimates himself to be about 18% body fat. His calculation would look something like this:
Pro Tip: Many people can stop right here! If you’re brand new to tracking your food and are already feeling overwhelmed by all of these numbers, you can focus on these two numbers to start: your calories and your protein.
If you can hit these two numbers regularly, you are in a great place, and you will likely see results from this alone. As you become more confident in the process of tracking and reaching your protein goals, then you can start calculating your carbs and fats and trying to reach those numbers as well. But there is no need to rush things. You are more likely to succeed if you take it one manageable step at a time rather than ambushing yourself with a dozen new meticulous goals.
But if you’re ready to get into more details, the next step is to calculate your fat requirements.
Fat should be the second macronutrient to calculate, just for simplicity’s sake. Determining your fat requirements will be dependent on your preferences. Which do you prefer: carbs or fats? Because the more fat you have, the fewer carbohydrates you will get and vice versa.
So ask yourself: What makes you feel the most satisfied? Which gives you better workouts? Better sleep? Better focus in your daily life? These are important questions to ask if you’ve never thought about it before, but once you’ve been practicing flexible dieting for a little while, you will start to figure out the answers for yourself.
If you’re scratching your head over this one, I will say that you can safely fall anywhere in the range of having 20- 40% of your calories coming from fat. For hormonal health reasons, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, I would not recommend going below 30g fat, no matter what.
Checking in on Joe, it turns out that he likes fat, but he’s not crazy about it. He may calculate in the middle of the range, like so:
Next up: A very popular topic of conversation, carbohydrates.
The most manipulated macro will almost always be carbohydrates.
Carbs can be manipulated in many ways to stimulate fat-loss, aid in recovery, and to give you immediate energy when needed, to boost hormone levels, and to give you killer workouts.
So, there’s a lot we can do with carbs. For our purposes at this point, we are going to fill our remaining calories with carbs. How we do this will require the most math you will need to do in this whole process. (It’s not that bad though, I promise.)
Combine your calories from protein (by multiplying the grams by 4) with the calories from fat (by multiplying those grams by 9)
Subtract that number from your total daily calories.The remaining number is the amount of calories you’ll get from carbohydrates.
Divide this number by 4 (the number of calories per gram of carbohydrates) and you have your carbohydrate goal, in grams, for the day.
In simpler terms:
(Protein x 4) + (Fat x 9) = Calories from protein and fat
Total calories – Protein and Fat calories = Carb calories
Carb calories ÷ 4 = Carbohydrate grams
If that was confusing, here’s Joe to show us how it’s done.
That just leaves one macronutrient: Fiber. This is not a difficult nutrient for vegans.
We won’t take up much space on this one because vegans get plenty of fiber. However, let’s just say that you should aim for 14g of fiber per 1000 calories as a minimum.
For Joe who is consuming 2000 calories per day, this would be 28g.
You should establish an upper limit for yourself as well, and this will vary from person to person, so pay attention to your body’s reactions. As a general guideline though, I like to keep my cap at no more that 30g per 1000 calories. For Joe, this would be 60g. The most important thing about fiber is to be fairly consistent with how much you have every day. Try to eat in about a 10g range on most days.
And there we have established the baseline macros for your goals! Now, what do we do with these three numbers?
There’s nothing glamorous about tracking your food. It’s tedious, and it gets old fast. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise.
But, and this is a big but, it is crucial to track your food with flexible dieting, especially while you are learning how to do it.
If you’ve never tracked your eating habits before, this could be a big eye opener for you. Many people do not even realize how much they have been over-eating, or under-eating. Most people have no idea what their food is actually composed of, so tracking your food for long enough can teach you a lot about yourself both physically and mentally.
Measuring cups vs scales
For accuracy, we recommend using a food scale rather than relying only on measuring spoons or cups.
Measuring cups can vary when measuring food, depending on whether it’s a level scoop, or how much the food has settled in a package, or even how the food is chopped. The scale, however, does not lie.
Case in point: Weigh out 16 g of peanut butter on the scale. Then, measure a tablespoon of peanut butter in a measuring spoon and weigh that. I bet you dollars to donuts that the one in the measuring spoon weighs more.
You will need to regularly use a food scale, at least until you get accustomed to what food serving sizes look like. This may take a while. You can test yourself along the way by guessing and then putting a portion on the scale to see how close you are. (See? Just turn it into a game!).
You’ll be shocked at how accurately you can guess with enough practice. You can use measuring cups for liquids, but for solid foods, the scale is much more accurate than measuring cups.
There are two key points to being successful with food tracking:
Consistency: Being consistent with your food tracking is so, so, so important in achieving the results you’re going for, especially in the beginning. Every time you weigh and log something, it is practice. Like anything else, you have to put in the effort until you really “get it.” Also, tracking everything helps you to hold yourself accountable. You’re far less likely to sit on the couch and plow through a bag of chips if you know you’re going to have to record it.
Recording honestly: Food logging will be a wasted effort if you’re not being honest about what you’re eating. You can’t play the “if I didn’t log it, it didn’t happen” game and expect to get the results you want. Snacking while you’re cooking, the beer you had out with your pals, and that heap of BBQ sauce you put on your tofu — yeah, that all counts, so you should track it.
Also, do you know what five ounces of tofu looks like? Most people don’t, and that makes sense; why would they? But guessing how much something weighs by eyeballing it can throw you way off your whole day’s goals, especially if you do it regularly. That could easily set you back a week. Accuracy is crucial, so use your scale whenever you can until you’re an estimating pro.
Apps vs pen and paper
The way you decide to track your food is up to you, but we can’t speak highly enough about the My Fitness Pal (MFP) app, which you can download for free to any smartphone, or use on a desktop.
Disclaimer: Don’t EVER, under any circumstances, use the preset macronutrient or caloric “suggestions” that MFP gives you after you punch in your body weight, age, goals, etc. They are wrong, always.
My Fitness Pal has an incredible amount of versatility, and once you’ve logged a few days of food, it gets easier and easier. The food database alone makes it worthwhile; it contains nearly everything. We can count the number of times on one hand that it hasn’t had a food that we were looking for in its database, including things like meals from certain restaurants, like Veggie Grill.
There are many ways to enter foods, depending on how precise you want to be. You can enter foods based on “serving sizes” as suggested on the labels, or you can enter foods in units such as “medium apple.” Because we like to be as precise as possible, we like to enter any food that doesn’t come out of a package in grams, which is the most accurate method. The easiest way to find food in grams is to just search for the food with the word “grams” after it. For example, if you want to find cooked brown rice in grams, you would type “brown rice cooked grams” into the search bar.
You can add your own recipes, you can scan barcodes of pre-packaged foods, you can save meals that you frequently have, and you can copy meals from previous days. It’s very easy on the user, and I’m all about user-friendly things that make my life easier.
Step 5: Have a Plan of Attack
Although flexible dieting is about being, well, flexible, having at least a loose plan is going to be incredibly helpful to your success.
Whether you want to plan your food a day in advance or a full week in advance, flexible dieting still allows you the freedom to work in the foods that you enjoy. Trying to wing it from the get-go, however, is a recipe for failure when you’re learning. Slow down there, cowboy.
Joe the Example Man personally likes to plan his daily meals in the morning, but many people like to do it the night before. Joe pretty much always eats the same thing for breakfast (creature of habit), and then takes about 5 minutes to plan the rest of his day. This way, he has a plan, and if it changes a little bit, it’s easy to manipulate a few grams here and there, but overall, he knows what he’s going to do.
Putting your food into My Fitness Pal a day, or even a week in advance is also great because, once it’s logged, you’re much more likely to eat it.
As you get used to it, buying groceries becomes both more fun than eating a strict meal plan, and also allows you to not buy a bunch of extras because you already have a rough idea of what you’re going to eat.
Use a “good, better, best” approach when needed.
When first attempting a flexible dieting lifestyle, it can be overwhelming for some to have so many numbers to think about. For this reason, we recommend a “good, better, best” approach if things feel like they’re getting out of hand:
Best: Sticking to the plan you’ve made.
Better: Hit the protein and calories goal. (Even if carbs and fats are a little off, you’ll still make progress by hitting protein and calories goals)
Good: Hit that calorie goal, within a 100-calorie range. It’s important to remember that even the “good” tier will yield weight loss results.
A Little Work Goes a Long Way
Body transformation is work, for sure. I’d be lying if I said doing exactly what you do now will produce the results you want (if it were that easy, you’d already have the results…).
It takes tracking, honesty, and a little bit of math here and there.
But if you put all those pieces together, you’ll be on your way to achieving whatever goal you’ve set for yourself — whether that’s losing weight or building muscle.
Plus you’ll have the added benefit of knowing what you’re putting in your body on a day-to-day basis, which is always a good thing.
To make your life easier, we’ve put together a quick reference Macronutrient Cheat Sheet which explains everything listed here, plus a quick reference macro guide on common plant-based foods, and two sample meal blueprints for shaping meals to your needs.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my dad’s recent heart issues, it’s this:
A blood test is a vital first step in engaging actively in preserving your health.
It can show you areas to improve, or reaffirm that your active, nutrition-conscious lifestyle is working for you.
Regardless of what it says, it will give you peace of mind because a basic blood test is still our best way of understanding what’s happening in our bodies.
Now, allow me to explain where all this is coming from…
It starts with my dad, someone I’d consider to be fairly healthy. After being diagnosed with heard disease, he cut out most meats and began focusing on maximizing whole-food plant-based meals. As a result, he lost over thirty pounds, lowered his total cholesterol to 119, and improved his overall cardiovascular health.
Another win for plants!
That’s why it was surprising when, recently he began experiencing tightness in his chest (angina). As a result, he underwent an angioplasty — a risky procedure during which a camera is run through an artery in his leg and up into his heart to check for blockages.
Having just gone through this with him not that long ago, my family and I were once again fearing the worst.
But when the results came back, his heart disease had not progressed in severity since his last angioplasty.
When dealing with heart disease, I’ve found that “not worse” is something to celebrate…so, good news right?
Yes, but it still left us with the question: why was my dad tight in the chest?
Through the routine pre-procedure blood tests, doctors discovered that my dad had very low levels of hemoglobin, hematocrit, and red blood cells. In other words, he was severely anemic. And, thus, he was experiencing tightness in his chest, tiredness, and dizziness.
These are all good reasons to pursue an angioplasty — yet, it wasn’t blockages causing the symptoms, so an angio wasn’t the solution.
Instead, we learned (after the procedure) that it was likely the low hemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen to the heart, brain, and the rest of the body. No hemoglobin, no oxygen.
The fact is, a simple blood test could have alerted us to this issue months earlier.
And this isn’t the first time a standard blood test has had a huge impact on my family.
My wife and I both discovered deficiencies and food sensitivities through blood work. After years of a WFPB diet, I thought we would see amazing results in our blood test. Instead, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I had “rheumatoid-like inflammation.”
This led to a manic search for answers. And many more blood tests. And eventually, through proper supplementation and modest changes to our diets, our lives and health have improved greatly.
Sometimes our bodies are telling us something that we don’t understand. But with insight from our blood markers and help from our doctors, we can learn a great deal.
5 Steps to a Successfully Talking to Your Doctor about Blood Work
As a compulsive self-experimenter, I get really excited about testing things in my body (despite my irrational fear of needles — like sweaty, OMG-please-don’t-let-me-pass-out sort of fear). I love to understand how my health has improved since my days eating anything aside from WFPB. And, to the extent possible, I like to see how tinkering with my diet changes the levels.
As I approach my fifth year as a vegan, I’m increasingly interested in getting a more granular view of my health.
That’s why I’ve been digging in to blood tests that help me understand my risk-factors for things like cardio- and cerebro-vascular diseases, as well as biomarkers for inflammation, micro-nutrient status, and the like.
But before I share the types of test I’ve been exploring, the obligatory disclaimer:
I’m not a doctor. Never have been and probably never will be. And I don’t pretend to be one on the internet. None of this should be interpreted as medical advice or recommendation. You should consult with a licensed physician to determine what blood tests are best for you, to help you interpret the results, and to craft a care plan. Below is simply my personal approach.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s my step-by-step approach to engaging with your doctor and getting these blood tests:
Document all of the questions and concerns that you might have. The average doctor’s visit is 17.4 minutes. If you don’t ask questions, and bring up your concerns, there’s no opportunity for the health provider to engage and to help.
Find a doctor who will use nutrition as a tool to promote wellness, prevent disease, and possibly reverse existing conditions. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell, so check out this resource: Plant Based Doctors, which was built by friend of NMA, Matt Jager.
When you’re with your doctor, mention whether you’re engaging in any strenuous activities, dealing with other stress, or eating a specific diet (whether that’s vegan or S.A.D or keto). Long-distance running, HIIT, strength training… All of these can skew a blood test.
Provide the list of blood tests that you’re interested in pursuing, if you know them. Or at least the types of things you want to look for.
Depending on whether you have specific conditions that need diagnosing, it can be useful to include tests of micronutrient status. In my experience, most doctors will not check your levels of B12, D, Omega-3, zinc, iodine, etc., unless you specifically request those tests. Again, this is why you should share all of the relevant information, like your preferred eating pattern.
The Blood Tests that I Rely On
Below are “the basics” that I like to test any time I get the needle — at least every 6 months, more if I’m actively experimenting.
After that are layers of additional tests, in order of frequency with which I like to use them. Depending on how you feel, and whether you’re dealing with any health challenges, your doctor will know what they are and when you should get them done, and they can walk you through the results.
These are fairly common tests, which measure a variety of things and can have a range of implications — from liver, kidney, and thyroid function to insulin sensitivity to markers of systemic inflammation.
Because they cover such a variety of markers, I’ll avoid going into too much detail here. But if you want to dive in more, check out the links for additional details.
1.Complete Blood Count with Differential and Platelets: Perhaps one of the most common, and most important tests, a CBC provides an overview of key markers, like red and white blood cells. This allows a doctor to diagnose anything from infection to, like my dad, an anemic state.
2.Comprehensive Metabolic Panel: A CMP offers a glimpse into your liver and kidney health and looks specifically at blood sugar and electrolytes (like calcium and sodium). All these factors allow a doctor to get a sense for how these systems are operating, since the liver and kidneys are critical to many processes involving digestion, detoxification, fluid balance, etc.
3.Lipid Panel: You’ve probably heard of this one: A lipid panel offers a measure of your risk factors for coronary artery disease (among other vascular diseases). You’ll learn your blood cholesterol level — total as well as high and low density lipoprotein — and triglycerides. If you’re particularly concerned about heart disease, be sure to ask your physician about more advanced tests (like those looking at particle number and particle size).
4.HS-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein): The simple explanation is that this test provides a sense for the level of systemic inflammation in your body. The more complicated part is what to do with this information — inflammation can have a vast range of causes and implications, so be sure to engage with a competent specialist if you’re concerned.
5.TSH: Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, which comes from your pituitary gland, serves a critical purpose of — you guessed it — stimulating your thyroid to excrete two hormones that are essential to proper metabolism in every tissue of your body. If your pituitary is not functioning probably, there can be a range of downstream issues. (This is what happened to my wife, and turned out to be an undiagnosed gluten allergy.)
6.Hemoglobin A1C: Given the rise of Type 2 Diabetes, we’re constantly hearing about the importance of blood sugar maintenance. Chronically high blood sugar can wreak havoc on every cell in your body. Testing your blood sugar (or more accurately, “blood glucose”) gives you a point-in-time reading. Measuring your A1C, on the other hand, gives you an average range of your blood sugar over the past 2-3 months. This offers a much more instructive data point, since blood sugar can swing wildly based on your exercise, stress, and food intake in a given day.
Additional Tests that I Do Regularly as a Vegan
In addition to the main six, because vegans and vegetarians are particularly susceptible to certain deficiencies, I also check out these markers at least once per year1.
2. Vitamin D3 (25 Hydroxy D): “D-ficiency” is widespread in the U.S., because of our distance from the equator and cold weather. On top of that, humans today wear clothing, work indoors, and ride in cars, all of which blocks sun from reaching our skin — a vastly different experience from that of our naked ancestors. Double check your levels with this simple blood test.
3. Methylmalonic Acid, Serum (MMA): A recent study suggests that a standard B12 test can show normal or high levels of B12, even in people in a B12 deficient state, and that MMA, in conjunction with homocysteine and Serum B12, is a better way to determine B12 status. As your doctor will share with you, increased levels of homocysteine and MMA can be suggestive of a mild (or nascent) B12 deficiency. Use all three biomarkers to ensure that you’re getting sufficient amounts of dietary B12.
4. Homocysteine: A common amino acid, homocysteine can help your doctor get a better sense for your risk factors for various chronic conditions, particularly cardiovascular diseases. It also plays a role in determining kidney health and, as described above, B12 deficiency.
5. Omega-3 Index: For vegans (and for vegetarians who don’t eat fish), Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA can be very difficult to absorb in adequate amounts. This is why DHA/EPA, along with B12 and Vitamin D, are considered the “Big Three” for vegans to consider supplementing. (Click here to learn more.)
6. Zinc, Selenium, Iodine: I batch these together because they share a similar story: Unlike B12, Vitamin D, and DHA/EPA, these nutrients can be derived from plants. But for different reasons, zinc, selenium, iodine can be difficult to absorb or find in sufficient quantities, thus sometimes requiring supplementation. (Click here for our solution to these nutrients.)
7. Vitamin K2:K2 is essential for proper calcium management, helping to move calcium away from soft tissues, like heart and brain, and towards hard tissues, like bone and teeth. And unless you’re eating a Japanese dish called natto, you’re natto getting enough K2. (Note – Most tests will look at a functional marker for K2, since very little K2 is actually stored in the body and measurable directly.)
8. Iron (a.k.a Ferritin), total and TIBC: There’s much more to the story about heme and non-heme iron, and whether vegans and vegetarians are able to absorb iron as easily from plants. If you’re concerned, ask your doc to measure your blood levels.
9. Folate: An essential nutrient, folate (or B9), plays a key role in the conversion of homocysteine into methionine, utilizing B12 in the process. Goods news is that, according to the findings of the famous EPIC-Oxford study, vegans were found to have the highest levels of circulating folate when compared to omnivores and vegetarians. I still prefer to double check my folate levels because it helps to tell a more complete story of how my body is using B12.
For the Nerds Who Want More-Than-Necessary Details
New assays are being developed constantly. Depending on your health status and concerns, you may want to ask your doctor about what tests make sense for you.
For example, I’m particularly interested in looking at my specific nutrient status. There are a variety of ways to get a sense for how your body is using nutrients; what it might be struggling to absorb, convert, or otherwise utilize; or what might be missing from your daily diet. Work with your doctor to better understand what options are available to you.
I recently used the Genova Diagnostics NutrEval kit ($370 out-of-pocket cost, NMA has no affiliation). They send it to your house, although you need to visit a lab for the blood collection. Based on the metabolites in my urine along with the nine vials of blood, I was able to get a sense for everything from enzymatic activity to bacterial populations to heavy metal concentrations.
That’s just one example, and you may find something else to be better worth your money.
Interpreting Your Results
So you’ve gotten the tests, now what?
Most of these tests will come back with results about where you fall compared to the normal, healthy range. That can give you a general sense as to what could be a problem area.
But don’t stop there. Take your results to a doctor and have them help you interpret and address any abnormalities.
Where to Get Your Blood Tests
The first place to start is your primary care physician, who can order any of these tests, many of which will be covered by your insurance.
These web-based companies can make it easier to send in tests, but often remove you from engaging specifically with a physician to help analyze the results, and thus may mean you miss a red flag or misinterpret the findings.
(Note: Neither NMA nor I have any relationship with these service providers, nor can we speak to the effectiveness or accuracy of their tests.)
Let There Be Blood (Tests)
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this post, it’s this: The best time to cure disease is before it happens.
We vegans consider ourselves healthy people. After all, for many of us health is a main driver for going vegan in the first place.
And because of that, we often neglect to actually peek under the hood and see what’s going on inside our bodies.
I know this first hand. So does my wife.
And had my dad used a blood test first, it could have saved our entire family a lot of anxiety (and the healthcare system a lot of cost)!
By engaging deeply in your health and by actively taking steps to improve it, you can save yourself a massive amount of time, pain, and money down the road.
Take it from a guy who is terrified of needs: It’s worth it.
The Smarter Plant-Based Supplement
Introducing Complement Plus — an extension of the Complement formula — to ensure the health and happiness of every member in our tribe.
It contains just the handful of hard-to-come-by nutrients in a plant-based diet (without unnecessary nutrients we’re already getting from our food), provided in forms that increase absorption, and combined to work together as a whole, delivered in a convenient vegan capsule.
About the Author:Matt Tullman is determined to help the plant-based movement reach 30% of the population by 2030. To make that happen, he’s currently focused on starting, advising, and investing in plant-based companies. He also serves as Managing Partner of No Meat Athlete and, in collaboration with Matt Frazier, created Complement and Complement Plus.
If you’re anything like me, strength training feels super intimidating.
For starters, you have to know what exercises to do that enhance your other activities (like running, cycling, etc.). Then there’s the question of how to do these exercises correctly to avoid causing an injury.
Plus, for me anyway, there’s the fear of looking silly at the gym next to guys with loads of experience and the muscles that come with it.
That’s why for the longest time, I just avoided strength training all together… to my own detriment. Because as soon as I started doing just 10-15 minutes at home regularly, I saw almost immediate results both with my appearance and my running performance.
In today’s episode, Matt and I share their very different approaches to strength training (he likes the gym, I don’t), and the first steps you can take to get started.