The best part of The Plant-Based Athlete, in my opinion and many others’, is the “Day in the Life” section — the exact daily diet and workout routines of 25 plant-based athletes, many of them world-class.
Of course, I also slipped my own Day in the Life in there, for a decidedly non-world-class, but nonetheless well thought-out and effective, example.
But in the past six months since we submitted the final manuscript, a lot has changed for me personally.
Having turned 40 around that same time, I’ve enjoyed a rush of motivation, and built workout and diet habits that I’m not just proud of, but addicted to.
Meanwhile, my family moved to a new city, with my son and myself living on our own in Charlotte for two months while my wife and daughter stayed back in Asheville to finish out second grade (for my daughter, not my wife). Which is only relevant here because of what it meant for my time: I was charged with homeschooling him, getting him to all of his soccer commitments, and working to release a new book… all of which forced me to be as deliberate and efficient as possible when it came to preparing and eating healthy food.
With that intro, I want to present my current “Day in the Life” routine. It’ll be more detailed than a typical summary (or those in the book), because for me this is the jumping-off point for what I hope will become a return to creating lots of content.
I’ll provide explanation and context along the way, and cover the three big pillars that make up my daily health rituals: diet, exercise, and sleep.
The Plant-Based “Warrior Diet”
I’ve been inspired recently by a book called The Warrior Diet, by Ori Hofmekler. It’s not a new book; it’s from 2001, and one of the first (modern) books to propose a diet based on intermittent fasting. It’s based on a long fasting period, punctuated by vegetable juice and fresh fruits, with one meal a day (OMAD) in the evening.
The book was recommended by Pavel Tsatsouline, my kettlebell guru, in one of his books. I am, of course, eating a 100% vegan version of the diet.
In fewer words: it’s “undereat during the day, overeat at night.”
The Warrior Diet is not a plant-based book, but it’s also not a Paleo book like the title makes it seem. So it’s easy to do a vegan version.
It’s about eating like a gatherer during the day — eating only small amounts during a period of work — and feasting at night, a celebration of one’s efforts and temperance during the day.
The diet isn’t meant to be followed strictly, every single day. There should be days when you overeat, and days when you don’t eat at all. That’s almost certainly in line with how we’ve evolved to eat.
Before I get angry emails asking “Aren’t we supposed to eat like royalty in the morning, and like paupers at night, the way they do in the blue zones?”, please know: I’m not at all convinced that the Warrior Diet, even a plant-based version, is the optimal way to structure one’s meals. The book is based largely on theory, not on data from empirical studies, and it’s easy to construct a diet that “sounds” good from theoretical arguments like this.
But I do believe that intermittent fasting and caloric restriction, in general, are good. And of course I believe that a plant-based diet is not just excellent for long-term health, but also adaptable.
Mostly, though, this diet is fun! It’s probably short-term experiment, but right now, when I’m as busy as I am, it makes me feel better about having so little time for food preparation during the day (and helps me get more nutrients from veggies than I was getting, even if vegetable juice isn’t the same as whole foods).
I’ve also really enjoyed the challenge of eating nothing until noon (except coffee), liquids until 2, and raw until 4. It nicely matches my tendency to get so absorbed in activity during the day that I forget to eat (I’ve never been someone who is hungry in the morning, either), so it has been very easy to adhere to the main principles, and I feel a lot of energy and that my moods are good.
I should admit that I don’t pay much attention to the other concepts of the diet, the macronutrient suggestions. Perhaps I eat somehow fewer carbohydrate in my meals than I did before, on the author’s advice, but this is a very minor change.
My Day in the Life
7:00am: Wake up
Not by an alarm. This just seems to be when I naturally wake up if I went to bed on time and slept well (which isn’t always: see below).
7:15am: 12 ounces of homemade pour-over coffee
I use a Chemex to brew 12 ounces (or sometimes 16) of light-roast coffee. I love everything about this habit — the ritual of spending 3-4 minutes to make a single cup, the taste, and the buzz.
For me, coffee is a good example of a compromise habit that makes it easy to then go until noon without eating anything else. I realize that a true fast means no coffee, but for me, a single cup in the morning somehow fills me up and satisfies the desire to consume something delicious.
12:00pm: 28 ounces (roughly) of fresh vegetable juice
Typically, I juice:
- A half bunch of celery
- 3-4 medium carrots
- 1 cucumber
- 1 large beet
- Thumb-size piece of ginger
- 1 tiny apple (or one-quarter medium apple)
- 1 lemon
Nothing too exotic — I’m still a newbie! This makes anywhere between 24-36 ounces of juice, which I drink over the course of half an hour or so.
I bought a Breville Juice Fountain Cold to make these juices with. I’ve never been a big fan of juicing, but during such a busy period in my life, it seemed a convenient way to get a lot of nutrients from vegetables (without the fiber, of course, so not as good as the whole food as far as nutrition goes) and a fun thing to try. And now I love it!
2:00pm: Fruit (recently about a quarter of a watermelon, or two mangoes)
3:00pm (preworkout): LARABAR (Cashew Cookie) and a handful of roasted almonds or cashews.
I like the Cashew Cookie flavor because it’s just two ingredients: dates and cashews. Some raw dieters even consider these bars to be raw, though I believe all cashews undergo steam pasteurization before they’re sold, in the U.S. anyway.
Dates are a tremendous source of pre-workout fuel whose energy quickly reaches your bloodstream. These LARABARS contain 25 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of sugar, so a few extra nuts brings the ratio very close to 3:1 or 4:1, making this a perfect pre-workout snack. (Our Plant Bites are great too, of course, and work great pre-workout. I usually I take them on runs… for me they’re best as an on-the-go snack.)
Recently I’ve also been experimenting with L-Citrulline pre-workout. I can’t really tell yet if it helps me.
4:00pm: Kettlebell workout
Nearly every day, I do the prescribed routine from Kettlebell: Simple and Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline (currently with a combination of 62-pound and 70-pound kettlebells).
It looks like:
- Ten minute warmup of several exercises: back bends, wall squats, goblet squats (using arms to pry legs open at bottom), glute bridges, and kettlebell haloes.
- 100 one-arm kettlebell swings (total) in sets of 10, alternating sides each set, resting between each set until I can speak in short sentences.
- 10 Turkish get-ups (total), alternating sides.
- 2 sets of 5 goblet squats, with a pause at the bottom.
If I’m in a hurry I can skip the warmup and shorten the rest periods and knock this out in 25 minutes or so. Most days, though, I take my time and spend 45 minutes on the whole thing.
This workout should energize you instead of wear you out, and I rarely feel too tired to do it again the next day. If I do, or if I’m really busy or dealing with stress, that’s when I skip a day — usually only one or two off days per week.
Even though I haven’t eaten many calories by this point in the day, the pre-workout meal is enough to get me through this workout feeling great. And then I really start eating once it’s done.
5:00pm (post-workout): Tart cherry juice with 5g creatine monohydrate, smoothie made from berries, bananas, walnuts, flaxseeds, and (sometimes) Complement Protein, plus a big salad.
I’ve always been fond of the simple post-workout stategy of “eat something high-carbohydrate immediately afterward, with a bigger, higher-protein meal within an hour or two.”
So I don’t always include Complement Protein in this post-workout meal, but if my dinner will be small, or late, or otherwise not provide a decent amount of protein within a few hours of the workout, I do.
Note the salad! So many people get hung up on macronutrient ratios around workouts that they forget what I believe is the biggest advantage plant-based diets offer for fitness: the micronutrients that aid so much in recovery.
I’m not as consistent with eating salads as I’d like to be — this really should be a daily habit. For me, a typical salad looks like a large bowl of leafy greens (usually baby kale, spinach, arugula, and spring mix) with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. Sometimes I had grape tomatoes or shredded cabbage or carrots, if I have them prepped, but if not, I don’t let that stop me from eating the greens.
As for the tart cherry juice with creatine: tart cherry juice is a great anti-inflammatory food that promotes recovery, and creatine is a supplement I like when I’m building muscle. I often go months at a time without it, but in general it makes me feel bigger and stronger, and even if this is just a psychological boost, to me it’s worth it since I believe creatine to be safe, and it doesn’t give me any GI issues.
6:00pm: A grain, a green, and a bean.
Almost every night, dinner follows this simple framework.
It could be a burrito bowl (brown rice or farro, spinach and other veggies, pinto beans), pasta dish (whole wheat pasta, pesto, and chickpeas), stir-fry (brown rice, broccoi, tofu), or a stew, a curry, or a veggie burger… the possibilities for a grain, a green, and a bean are endless.
If I can check those three boxes, plus some extra veggies, without a whole lot of oil or refined flour in a meal, then I’m pretty happy with that meal. Some are healthier than others, and that’s fine with me.
I usually cook from recipes — even after 10 years of being vegan — because think the reward, variety, and surprise make it worthwhile.
Oh, and most nights I have a beer or a glass of wine. If it’s beer, I keep it light (4.5% alcohol is usually my max, much as I wish I could drink double hazy IPA’s all the time). Wine is always red and from Spain or Italy, so it sends to be around 12% alcohol, which is pretty low.
The Warrior Diet is based on eating just one true meal, at the end of the day (plus the post-workout meal). When you eat whole plant foods, which tend not to be calorically dense, it can challenging to eat a lot of calories within a single meal, so on non-workout days, I tend to eat an extra meal in the late afternoon.
I’ve been trying eat large portions, to treat every night’s dinner like a feast (in not just the amount of food, but my mindset) and sometimes I find myself grabbing a handful of almonds or eating a tablespoon of almond butter later in the evening.
If this current iteration of my diet doesn’t last, it’ll be because I can’t eat quite enough in one meal to support my muscle-gain goals. But so far, I’m shedding a lot of fat and not seeming to lose muscle (while continuing to progress to heavier kettlebells), so I’m happy.
10:00: Complement Plus, then sleep
Complement Plus is a supplement I created that provides only those nutrients that are hard to get in abundance on plant-based diets — most importantly, B12, D3, and DHA/EPA. A lot of people look at the need to supplement a plant-based diet as a shortcoming, but I actually take fewer nutrients that I did when I was an omnivore (I no longer feel I need a full multivitamin because I get so many nutrients from my food).
As for sleep: concern about poor sleep (and its impact on my mood the next day) has been the source of a lot of stress for me in the past few years.
Very often, I’d say about one-third of nights, I am awake for 1-2 hours straight, around 3-4am. Not stressed, not tossing and turning… just lying there, relaxed but unable to fall back asleep.
I haven’t yet figured this out, but I’ve made drastic improvements, the most important of which came when I bought a ChiliSleep Ooler sleep system — a cooling system that uses water to keep my mattress at 62-68 degrees throughout the night, according to a schedule I set in an iPhone app.
I use an Oura ring to track sleep (and activity), something that itself has caused me a lot of stress in the past, but as the software improves, so does this tool.
I have blackout curtains to keep the light out.
I use a weighted blanket (7.5 pounds), except on nights when I just don’t want it.
I use an Avocado Green Pillow.
And I try not to eat high-carbohydrate snacks before bed, and to avoid alcohol after about 8pm.
I’ve experimented with melatonin, but I don’t like how even a small amount makes me feel the next morning (like a hangover).
Yes, I’ve invested a lot (more energy than money, but money too) in quality sleep. And I think it’s worth it. I feel so different after a night of good sleep than of bad, and the thing about sleep investments is that they don’t require time. They’re just something you buy (and set up, sometimes) once, and then you benefit for a long time without any additional effort.
All in all, I’m thrilled with the energy, positivity, and body transformation that I’ve experienced in the six months since I turned 40. Surely my specific routine will change — I need progress and variety in order to feel fulfilled — but right now, I couldn’t be happier with my health habits and how I feel.