If you love fitness, you probably care (some more than others) about food. Fitness and food have been a symbiotic relationship ever since the start of time.
My first interest in food’s role in society was during one of the history classes when learning about the French Revolution and the infamous Marie Antoinette quote “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, or simply “Let them eat cake” (she probably didn’t say it). Little did I know that fast forwards a couple of centuries later it would be another French person who made me dive even deeper into my understanding of food.
The very first day Charlotte walked in for a job interview, I noticed her well written CV and her interesting diet options. I’ve never been a quote on quote ‘food person’ but this was so interesting, I’ve never met someone who’s eating vegan by choice and has an enormous passion for fitness. So my curiosity into the world of veganism probably started there, the more I researched the more I understood. During this time Charlotte, recently a new Iron Hive staff started to train for the Sport of Powerlifting. So as an ex-competitive Powerlifter myself, I understood the role that food has to play with recovery. At that time, I had very little idea on how she was working for us doing shifts of 8-10 hours per day, recovering to train for her sessions and even going on to compete while maintaining her current diet regime.
January 2023 comes along, or for some it’s “Veganuary” season. But this year it’s different, upon launch the Veganuary challenge obtained new sign ups every 2.4 seconds on average (Vegconomist, 2023). Eating plant based has transformed from being a ‘trend’ to a ‘lifestyle’.
Data from the Mintel Global New Products Database highlights the size of that growth, between 2015 and 2021, the number of new consumer packaged goods launched with a plant-based claim has grown by nearly 700% (Mintel GNPD, 2023). Veganism is now a global culinary lifestyle on its own. In the U.S. Vegetarianism rose by 600%. Whereas in Hong Kong, 22% of people are practising a plant-based diet. In China, the government is getting on the vegan train, by encouraging people to cut their meat consumption in half. Although eating vegan has seen a huge momentum it’s still quite misunderstood within the realms of sports and fitness, where stacking as much protein (mostly chicken) as possible is seen as ‘good’.
To understand something it’s sometimes best to go to the source, the following passages are of an interview I did with Charlotte on her lifestyle, training and eating habits. Some may choose not to read on after this, but I’m sure for those of you who do, there’s a wholesome joy outside our everyday eating lifestyle to be discovered.
Writer’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and concision. When did you first hear about plant based diets? Well, I would say about 4-5 years ago on social media when vegan was the ‘new diet’ I would say. For those of us who don’t know the difference between vegan and vegetarian? So… a vegetarian you’re not allowed to eat meat, fish, seafoods. As for veganism, it’s not just about meat, you also don’t eat any animal products such as; milk, dairy, butter and eggs. Also, some people choose not to eat honey as well. So let’s take it back to before your plant-based diet regime, what were you eating back then?
Just a typical bodybuilder diet, rice, chicken and a lot of fish actually. Oh and a lot of eggs 3-4 per day, but just a typical bodybuilding diet. How did you find the initial transition from your old diet to the current one you adhere to? For me it was a slow transition, I didn’t go fully vegan from the start, maybe 3 days per week and then it slowly became easier. I gained more knowledge on food during the process and eventually started substituting the diet to become fully plant-based. Before we get into more training specifically, I want to honestly ask you, have you ever gone off track from your vegan based diet? You know when I have to travel it’s not the easiest thing, especially when I first started, I would always have to check if there are vegan options. But yes….. I have gone off track a few times. So you were now doing bodybuilding and eating plant-based, how did this impact your training? Oh, I had to eat so much for volume. For instance you can’t expect to eat 100 grams of chicken and fit your macros. When it comes to vegan options you’ll need to be consuming a lot more. For me, to get the same amount of protein I’ll be needing to eat 200-300 grams of tofu. It was a bit hard to get all the food in at the start, also I’ve been having to take supplementation more seriously as well. So you do Powerlifting now, the training demands have changed from the Bodybuilding days. How has your diet adapted to this? Powerlifting, I think the diet is more flexible. I still track my protein, but other macros (carbs and fats) I don’t take as seriously. For recovery protein still needs to be quite high and keeping on track with supplementation is something I take seriously. As a powerlifter now, you obviously get a lot of questions on your diet. Do you feel like there’s some sort of stigmatisation regarding vegan lifters? So actually, I feel like around my Powerlifting peers there’s much less stigma than when I did Bodybuilding. Since the diet is more flexible, it’s easier. But yeah…. Sometimes of course I hear things like ‘Do you get enough protein?’. I would say though as a sport and as a community Powerlifting is much more open minded. What question annoys you the most when people talk about your diet? “Where do you get your protein from!?”. People will be like you only eat just beans? Do you only eat beans all day? It’s 2023, especially now in Thailand there’s so many plant based options, even things like plant based means, protein shakes and a wide variety of tofu. Looking back 4-5 years ago, nowadays it is so much easier. Go to any supermarket now, you’ll get vegan sausages, vegan meat, vegan steaks. It’s so much easier now. These days you can even get Thai brands who do plant-based meats, it’s no longer just Quorn or Beyond Meat anymore. Despite all the challenges in the past, why did you stick to your diet? Also, what makes you continue to this very day? So personally for me when I first switched, it was because of animal cruelty and in the way we farmed. So that was the main reason why I switched. But now, the reason I’m staying vegan is because of the environmental concerns that I share. Think about how much resources you need to grow a cow just to eat it. Most of the time, we don’t consume the whole cow. For me eating vegan reflects the contribution I feel I can make to the world as a whole. What recommendations do you have for someone who is training and looking to get into more vegan options? There’s so many great quality vegan choices around, so I would encourage everyone to explore this. But do take it slow, it’s not the easiest thing to go from eating meat everyday to having no meat at all. Starting with things like trying to eat a vegan meal each day or having vegan only days can help ease the transition.
Mintel GNPD (2023) Mintel. Available at: https://www.mintel.com/products/gnpd (Accessed: February 3, 2023).
The Vegan Business Magazine (2023). One person every 2.4 seconds signs up for Veganuary 2023 Available at: https://vegconomist.com/society/charity-campaigns/one-person-every-2-4-seconds-veganuary-2023/ (Accessed: February 4, 2023).