After being forced to come home due to the COVID-19 virus, we spent most of our evenings during the quarantine by watching movies. One of the items on our list was the Netflix hit, the Game Changers. The story follows a badass MMA fighter who revisits his dietary choices due to an injury. The show features many prime athletes who claim to perform better due to shifting to a plant-based diet. Besides the anecdotes there are several doctors making appearance and countless researches presented in the movie to verify those claims.
One of the most shocking yet heart warming part of the movie for me was a group of firefighters in medically bad condition following a one week vegan diet showed extreme improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar and cortisol levels. If one week on this type of food can improve your life this much, imagine what shifting your meal plans for the rest of your life could do! I had to see it for myself.
The rules of the vegan challenge
Eat only plants
Based on what the movie was talking about and the firefighter scenes, eating solely plant based food sufficiently fuel your body throughout the day and should improve your sleep as well.
No other lifestyle changes
No experiment can be measurable if there are too many variables at play. To eliminate this factor I’m going to follow the same routine I did before the challenge started. Still having curfew in the country helps with maintaining the daily schedule.
This could be part of the previous rule as I was not taking any beforehand, but one of the myths the movie was busting quite extensively was that all nutrients are coming from plants and you can absorb them as is. To be true to the challenge I’m not going to add any of the conveniently available supplements – like iron, selenium, zink, calcium – to my diet.
To avoid being in deficit I made a list of all the veggies, fruits, grains I’m planning to incorporate to my meals and added some extra ones like flaxseed after searching for foods high in those nutrients vegans often get from pills. On top of that I’m using the app created by one of the doctors appearing in the movie – Daily Dozen’s – to keep track and make sure I don’t miss out on anything.
Vegan Challenge – Day 1
As I was already following a plant-focused diet, my breakfast was not changing much. I only upgraded it with homemade almond milk to cross off the nuts from the recommended list right in the morning. I did not expect any difference, yet I felt hungry way earlier than usual.
Lunch was much more challenging for me. Luckily my wife, being vegetarian for a while, cooked a really rich and tasty lentil soup which we ate with homemade bread. I ate so much I felt like bursting any second. That afternoon I was really agitated. I couldn’t find my place. And having so much food in my belly, doing my regular calisthenics was quite a challenge. I felt exhausted by the end and really hungry.
For dinner we had my signature eggplant dip with a lot of veggies and I ate everything up within minutes.
I ended up overeating my RDI by 36%. My macros shifted to 69% carbohydrates and only 21% protein. But I had a decent iron and calcium for the day.
Vegan Challenge – Day 2
Breakfast started as usual. A really superb version of a banana smoothie with so many toppings to avoid going hungry too soon. I was still quite irritated and jumping on every bad word or tone. My wife was still very understanding and I started cooking lunch quite on time to avoid going hungry.
A traditional bean stew with vegan hash browns and pickles accompanied by the homemade bread was quite a mouthful. My caring wife made banana oatmeal cookies for us to ease the afternoon. I was starting my workout in much better shape than the day before. Yet I was so exhausted by the end, I needed a short nap to regain my strength.
Dinner was the same as the day before as you cannot make small batches of eggplant dip. And we added some fruits for dessert.
Vegan Challenge – Day 3
I started the day with high hopes as by the third day I usually had some good indicators in my previous diet changes to see if I’m going to the right direction or not. Breakfast was an overnight oat, that lasted longer than the previous day’s. I was in a much better mood already. My wife prepared a soy sauce mushroom stew with bulgur salad and veggies. It did not last long, luckily the oatmeal cookies were there to snack on. And the tofu cheese cake was looking good as well.
Dinner was homemade hummus and I prepared the pita with flaxseed. It was delicious and fulfilling. We slept like a baby that night.
Vegan Challenge – Day 4
I woke up a little tired, which was surprising as the movie was promising immediate improvement in performance. Yet I was struggling the whole day with my push-up routine. I had to drop the weights to 1/3 to be able to complete the sets during the workout.
After breakfast I had a little woodworking to do. Then went shopping for the vegan pizza I was preparing for lunch on bicycle. Since I arrived early to the shop I added an extra 5 km to the distance. Plant based cheese was the most difficult thing to find and for the first time during the challenge we used meat substitute. Seitán, which I don’t consider supplement but still not something you find in anyone’s garden.
My wife prepared an awesome almond based red bell pepper cream for dinner, while she was struggling to wait for me to finish my sets of the afternoon workout.
By the end of the day I was a bit disappointed. As that far, the diet was not living up to the expectations the movie was setting. I felt exhausted and often hungry. Although I was eating on average 400 calories more than I used to.
Vegan Challenge – Day 5
I woke up much more energized than the previous days. And my morning pushups started to show a little improvement compared to the previous ones. Breakfast was also more fulfilling and I became hungry much later.
As I was spending the morning in front of the computer my wife was preparing lunch. Stuffed sweet potato with avocado dip. Really tasty and vegan by design. I did not feel any problem during the afternoon. My calisthenics workout in the afternoon also went well, I added 10 seconds to my L-sit hold.
Dinner was on me. I prepared tortillas with flaxseed and we fried the leftover seitan to make it richer. We couldn’t even finish the whole batch.
Overall my calorie intake was going towards the usual level and I didn’t experience the starvation I was at the beginning. Either the meals were fuller with essential nutrients or my body was getting used to the new diet. I was still anticipating the drastic improvement in my physical performance though.
Vegan Challenge – Day 6
I crushed the morning push-ups and started thinking about going to the next level. For the sake of the experiment I decided to give it another day and do a test after the challenge as I did one right before. It’ll be good to compare the results. Making my now-usual breakfast smoothie started the day well.
I had some unpacking to do in our storage unit, so I spent the better half of the day lifting boxes and checking their content. The wife prepared an awesome chickpea curry for lunch, that did not last till dinner. Right after my afternoon workout I had a snack with her until our vegan pate was setting.
Freshly baked homemade bread with the pate was a great way to finish the day. It was resembling a lot to the non-vegan version taste-wise. I prepared some caramel popcorn for the movie that night. In the shower I started preparing myself mentally for the last day of the challenge.
Vegan Challenge – Day 7
I woke up on the last day of the challenge to the sound of raindrops on the balcony. I quickly gathered myself and decided to do the push-ups outside like always nevertheless. After all, I’m not made of sugar 🙂 or not yet anyway. I did really great, and I was ready for the test the following day. As a reward for the week I made banana pancakes with almond milk and added some chocolate chips on top.
By this time we were comfortable enough in the kitchen to cook without looking up fancy recipes online. We prepared a Bolognese sauce with pasta for lunch and I got a carrot cake as a reward for completing the challenge.
To my surprise I was quite tired in the afternoon and needed a nap, which messed up my inner clock. I struggled through the afternoon workout after that. I could not really tell what went sideways, but I started to get a headache that lasted until dinner. We just devoured all the leftovers from the last days, but it was sufficient for the day.
The next morning I did my pushups to see how did the vegan challenge affected my performance. I went from 45 unbroken reps to 41, which is a 10% drop. In dumbbells I also had to drop 66% to do the same amount of reps. On the other hand my calisthenics workouts were going through the roof by the end of the week.
Mood-wise, after hitting day 3, everything is back to normal. Struggling at the beginning is ok, just power through. I’m really thankful for the support I got from my wife throughout the week.
Overall I’m really glad I did the vegan challenge. Many had doubts if I can complete it as steak, eggs and dairy is normally a stable part of my meals. I’ve learned a lot about nutrition. I think I’ll stick to a vegan dinner while lunch and breakfast will still contain animal products.
Daily dozen score
daily average (out of 24)
Dumbbell used (before)
Dumbbell used (after)
Unbroken pushup (before)
Unbroken pushup (after)
Two weeks have passed since the challenge, now I’m sticking to plant based dinners and ate meat 4 times since. Yogurt and egg is still part of my diet.