FUELED BY NATURE: STAYING FIT ON A PLANT-BASED DIET

by Lexi Young
FUELED BY NATURE: STAYING FIT ON A PLANT-BASED DIET

I’m a fitness professional who is fueled by nature. No like, literally. I have been consuming a plant-based diet since 2017 when I saw a shockingly horrible video of how animals are treated in the meat industry both internationally and domestically.

It became painfully apparent to me I was living in ignorance, thinking the animals I was eating were treated differently. That’s when I went cold turkey (pun intended) and cut out all meat and animal products. While my decision to start my plant-based journey started as a way to minimize cruelty to animals and reduce my carbon footprint on the environment, I have watched my body grow stronger and healthier over the course of the last three years and I have no plans of turning back now.  

BUT FIRST, PROTEIN. 

When I tell people I eat plant-based, 99% of the time I get hit with the, “but how do you get your protein?” I gotta say, it always makes me laugh. Where do most animals you eat get their protein? Plants, hellooooo. The African elephant is the strongest mammal on the planet, and it is also happens to be THE biggest plant fan. 

Believe it or not, all the protein an active adult could possibly need can be found in plants. Not to mention they contain important vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients that are necessary to be healthy.

MY PLANT-FUELED TRANSFORMATION 

Prior to my plant-based transition, I consumed “lean proteins” like low fat yogurts, chicken, turkey, and egg whites, thinking that it was only animal products that could help with muscle repair and growth. I liked the taste of fruits and vegetables, but I was completely unaware of the fact that those natural products provided everything my body needed.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how dairy greatly affects the immune system. I attributed my constant habit of coming down with colds/fevers/etc to lack of sleep and not dressing appropriately for cold weather (being from California, I’m used to a hoodie and that’s it!).

After eliminating it, I discovered that dairy consumption is the main culprit. Dairy is tasking on the body’s immune system. Ever notice that when you’re sick and consume yogurt, cheese, or milk, you get even more stuffed up? I kid you not, I did not walk into a doctors office for the first 18 months of my transition. For me, that was unheard of!

As for my athletic performance … as a fitness professional, I can speak firsthand to the positive impact eating plant-based has had on me. First (though not necessarily most importantly) the difference in body composition is night and day. During my first week going plant-based, I noticed a massive improvement in my abdominals. I’ve always been an athlete but for the first time since high school, I could SEE the results of my training. I actually had, dare I say, abs? It was incredible how quickly my body responded to my new dietary approach.

Within two weeks, my recovery time decreased exponentially and my knees, which typically needed extensive icing post-work out, felt better than ever. My endurance increased and I legitimately ran a 10k without any dedicated training. I was in the best cardiovascular shape of my life, yet I hadn’t changed anything about my workout regime. The only thing that was different was what I was fueling my body with.

SKEPTICAL? I GET IT.

Many of my friends and family thought I was full of it when I gushed about the effect a plant-based diet had on my body, performance, and energy. The biggest skeptic of all was my dad. This man is a carnivore in every sense of the word. He fishes and hunts for his protein sources. 

Sadly, he has battled psoriasis, an auto-immune disease, for his entire life. I myself have experienced episodes of psoriasis myself, often times prompted by times of high stress and poor eating (spoiler alert, my psoriasis completely disappeared and has not returned since I switched my eating habits!). 

To prove my point, I challenged my dad- aka meat’s biggest fan- to two weeks without any meat or animal products. Being the overly competitive man that he is, he accepted. During those two weeks, he noticed a 50% decrease in the appearance of his psoriasis. FIFTY PERCENT. No prescribed pill or steroid had ever improved my dad’s condition like that before.

Now, when I visit my dad in California, I open the fridge to find coconut milk and vegan butter. Here is a man that rides horses and ropes cows as a hobby who now brings vegan chia seed pudding in a mason jar to work every morning. Talk about mind-blown.

The effect of a plant-based diet is profound on the human body, and this fact alone drives people like my dad to make conscious decisions about what they put into their body. As Hippocrates said, let nature be thy medicine.  

Lexi and her dad & mom

 

EATING WITH INTENTION CAN BE HARD WORK. DO YOUR BEST AND ASK FOR HELP.

The transformation to a plant-based life takes work and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t slipped up. I’m human, which means I sometimes get lured in by those stupidly good cinnamon roll donuts from Farmers & Distillers. It happens. And that’s okay. The important thing to remember is that as long as you are doing your best, it is enough. I am proud of the progress I’ve made and want others to feel like they can be successful with the adoption of a plant-based diet.

Thankfully, companies like Territory Foods exist and make the experience a breeze. Territory will become your best friend over the course of your first few weeks of a plant-based transition. 

My personal favorite Territory meal is the Grilled Curry Tofu with Cauliflower Rice. It is unbelievable, you won’t even miss the meat, I promise. 

As you notice the change in your body and start to appreciate the deliciousness that nature has to offer, you will find ways to make your favorites recipes plant-based. “But I could I never give up cheese” – good thing you don’t have to. There are quite literally a billion (okay maybe I’m exaggerating, but there are A LOT) alternatives to cow/sheep/goat milk cheese. And they’re good! My personal favorite is the jalapeno Havarti from Daiya. Zero animals harmed in the making, zero compromise on taste. Promise. 

I am always happy to be a resource for recipes, vegan-friendly restaurants in DC (PRO TIP: run, don’t walk, to Smoke & Barrel and get the vegan BBQ platter), and tips for pre/post-work out fueling. Come visit me at Cyclebar NoMa or Equinox Anthem Row and we can chat all things food. Just remember: #GivePeasAChance

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lexi Young is originally from sunny Los Angeles. She retired for the Department of Defense in May to pursue her MBA at George Washington School of Business. When she’s not studying, she teaches fitness at Cyclebar NoMa and Equinox or is doing social media marketing for the Farmers Restaurant Group. Her favorite hobbies include boozy brunch and exploring DC with friends. Find her on Instagram at @oheylexi. 


Reader disclaimer: Lexi is not a trained nutrition professional, her experience is personal, and the views of our guest authors don’t always reflect the views of the company. As with any dietary shift, consult your doctor before making any significant changes to ensure it’s the right fit for you. 

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