Plant-based foods aren’t freebies.
I like to think I eat healthy. But I’ve beginning to wonder if I eat too healthy. Or rather, if I eat too much healthy food.
The thought occurred to me one night one night as I lay on the couch one night after dinner, softly rubbing a stomach bulging from a dinner of brown rice and roasted vegetables. Did I just overeat? I’m a vegan. Is that even possible? Aren’t vegetables just, like, water and vitamins?
I decided that even if none of it came from an animal, I should still know how much food I’m taking in each day. Carrots, I’ve heard, have kilojoules, too.
But before I started tracking how much I was actually eating, I wanted to find out how much I should be eating. Using a handy calculator tool, I found that based on my height, weight, and age, my basal metabolic rate (how many kilojoules my body burns just being) is around 7384 kilojoules. Since I would classify myself right now as ‘moderately active’ (exercising three to five times a week) I’m aiming to take in around 11,443 kilojoules a day.
All of this number-crunching is already burning precious, precious energy. I’d better start fuelling up…
For a typical breakfast, I’ll make about two cups of oatmeal (1388 kJ). I usually toss in a banana (439 kJ), about a tablespoon of almond butter (410 kJ) and maple syrup (217 kJ).
Or when I’m really feeling especially trendy, I’ll toast up two slices of sourdough bread (1548 kJ), drizzle on about a tablespoon of olive oil (502 kJ), and top them with half an avocado (481 kJ).
All in all, I’m usually my starting my day by putting between 2405 and 2510 kJ in the ol’ plant tank.
I work as a server at a restaurant called Egg. I swear it’s not as hypocritical as it sounds. So if I get a little peckish I’ll snack on a small bowl of granola (1673 kJ per half cup) and soy milk (271 kJ per half cup) or a handful of almonds (1715 kJ per half cup) between taking orders. So, I can safely tack on another 1880 kJ.
My lunch usually comes from the restaurant, too. If I sneak the guys in the kitchen enough cold brew, they’ll take a break from cranking out perfectly rolled omelets and throw me together a salad of two cups of mixed greens (62 kJ), half a cup of roasted squash (376 kJ), and a little splash of grapefruit vinaigrette (627 kJ). Along with a bowl of our tomato soup (460 kJ), my midday meal comes in around 1525 kJ.
One of the casualties of making a living slinging hash browns at the crack of dawn is that morning runs are pretty much shot, so after my late-afternoon trot I’ll blend up a cup of frozen blueberries (355 kJ), a tablespoon of almond butter (410 kJ), a frozen banana (439 kJ), a cup of raw kale (1393 kJ), and a cup of water (kilojoule-free, baby!) making for about a 1338 kJrecovery smoothie.
That just leaves dinner. And on one of these cold and dark winter nights, I’m more likely to try to piece together a coherent dish out of whatever I can find in my cabinet than head to the supermarket. My recent go-to has been a cup of spaghetti (920 kJ) tossed in half a cup of a quick homemade tomato sauce (418 kJ), dusted with half a tablespoon of nutritional yeast (41 kJ), and ‘garnished’ with a store-bought seitan sausage (1004 calories). After another helping of pasta (I am nothing if not honest), my personal Olive Garden experience clocks in at 3723 kilojoules.
So that puts me at around 10,773 kilojoules. If I have a little glass of wine (523 kilojoules) I’m right in that 11,300 kJ sweet spot! If I go back for another, well… I can I can always tack on a few extra kilometres to tomorrow’s run, right?
I like to think of myself as a waif-ish little leaf-eater who had to maintain a steady intake of fruits, nuts, and seeds to keep his body from going into shock, but it turns out that I’m finding plenty of ways to fuel. On an average day, I’m bumping up against, sometimes probably even going over, what I should be taking in. And this was me on my best behaviour! Nary a bag of tortilla chips, nor a six pack of Modelo in sight.
I did pretty alright crafting my own vegan meal plan just by following my gut, but now that I’ve tallied it all up, I’ve found some places definite soft spots in my diet that I think a lot of athletes who are trying to eat a more plant-based diet might run into.
First, I lean pretty heavy on the simple carbohydrates. They’re a great source of energy before a workout and important for recovery, but give your body more than it needs, and it’ll break down the excess and pack it on your runner’s butt.
Second, I’ve got to tone it way, way down with the almonds. Nuts are high in protein, but they’re also pretty fatty. But here I am throwing almond butter into everything – stereotypical.
Third, it may be an unintended consequence of my foray into food journalling, but it’s come to my attention I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a rut. When you’re eating little to no animal products, it’s super important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to make sure you’re still getting all of your vitamin and minerals. A man cannot live on bananas and tomatoes alone!
Kilojoule intake alone won’t give you a complete picture of your health and fitness, but it’s important information to have if you’re trying to build muscle or lose weight. And if you’re making a big adjustment to your diet, like taking out or even scaling back on meat, tracking your kilojoules for a day or two can give you a quick snapshot of what you’re doing right and where you could could be helping your performance even more. But don’t obsess over it! Listen to your body, give it what it needs, and take it easy on the almond butter. For my sake.
Ryan Haney is a vegan writer and 3:02 marathoner.