At first glance, you wouldn’t take me for a meathead. I’m 5ft, hair often in pigtail braids, and the majority of the time, you can find me either dancing, smiling, laughing or singing.
What you think of when I say “meathead.”
But my small stature and fun times aside, I’m gonna put it out there and call myself a meathead. Here’s my justification:
- I’m accustomed to 5-6 small meals a day, each consisting of lean protein
- Egg whites, chicken, ground turkey & greek yogurt have been my go-to’s for years
- I find great joy in picking things up and putting them down
- There’s nothing I love more than a good flexing picture
- My last names is GAINES – seriously. Check my bio at the bottom if you don’t believe me.
So yes, I think it’s safe to say that I’m somewhat of a meathead. A meathead that’s about to go vegan.
I know. I know what you’re thinking…”What is she doing? How will she get enough protein? Vegans are crazy. This girl is crazy.” But hear me out.
For starters, I’m not doing this forever (at least I don’t think I am). I am adopting a vegan diet for a two-month long experiment. Veganism is such a heated topic: you’re either a vegan and want everyone in the world to be one too, or you think that vegans are a buncha crazy hippies. But putting all the generalizations aside, there is something to be said about a plant-based vegan diet.
The China Study, “The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition,” found a direct correlation between the growth of cancer cells and the consumption of animal-based milk products. Another massive study showed that red (and processed) meats are associated with significant increased risk of colorectal, colon and rectal cancers. Fabulous. On the contrary, meat contains certain amino acids – the building blocks of life! – that you simply can’t find in plant-based foods. Not to mention, meat provides all that good protein we need to build muscle. (In all fairness, I tried to find studies that said eating meat was good for you and I honestly couldn’t)
But the question remains…what do we do? Who can we trust?
The answer is simple: our blood.
But it’s true! Who better can we trust than ourselves and our physical reactions? The incredible thing about our bodies is that every single one of us is different. Every single one of us will react differently to the same adjustment made to our lifestyle. In case you haven’t realized it by now, there is no “one-size-fits-all” way of eating or exercising that works for everyone. You have to experiment and figure it out for yourself. So that’s what I’m doing…. a two-month long experiment, adopting a plant-based vegan diet. That’s no animal by-products whatsoever: no fish, no meat, no dairy, no Quest bars *gasp*.
To conduct this experiment, I’ll be tracking my food intake, energy levels and mood on a daily basis. I’ll also be working with Inside Tracker, Cenegenics and Skylar Griggs to get serious about this experiment.
Before I get into my results, a quick note about why I was really excited to do this experiment and document it on behalf of Fit University: As young people, we have the attention span of a gold fish. We take every statement we hear as truth and eat up what the media wants to be the next big trend (i.e. fad diets). Now, I know these are broad statements, but when was the last time you really dug into a claim made about the newest superfood or “7 minute workout that really works?” I was excited to do this experiment because I was excited to share the data I collected from it, and expose you all to that data. Real science is often not seen in health & fitness articles we skim through on a daily basis…until today. #sciencebitch
So without further ado, here we go. My body as a carnivore as of July 15, 2016…
Inside Tracker: Blood Don’t Lie
Before starting this experiment, I asked a few people why I should or why I shouldn’t go vegan. The pro-vegans said I should do it because it will make me “healthier.” While the anti-vegans said I shouldn’t do it because I’ll miss out on certain macro & micronutrients that are so readily available in animal-based products. Steak was also a common answer – straight up, “Don’t go vegan because steak.” Fair.
So to really see just how healthy going vegan will make me, I turned to Inside Tracker. Inside Tracker lets you see “how healthy you are on the inside” by analyzing the level of minerals/vitamins/lipids, etc. in your blood and giving you nutritional, physical and supplemental recommendations to improve those levels. Here’s how it works:
- Buy your test online. There are 6 options depending on what you’re looking to analyze.
- Schedule a lab appointment to get your blood drawn (this is included in the price of the test).
- A few days later, open your email with results and recommendations for improvement. Easy as [vegan] pie.
As a society, we’re so caught up on what fitness should look like on the outside, that we so rarely stop and think about what’s going on on the inside. Inside Tracker let’s you into that unknown layer and gives you scientifically backed info you need to improve it.
While I won’t list every biomarker I had tested, here are a few that I think are most important to analyze in this experiment. At the end of the two months, I’ll get my blood work done again and see how things have changed. Let’s start with the bad stuff!
Glucose: Normal levels are 70-99mg/dL.
AKA sugar, AKA Carbs. Glucose is your body’s primary source of energy. Having high glucose puts you at risk for Diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain and other fun things. Read more about glucose here. My glucose is in the normal range but as you’ll see from the graph below, is creeping up to borderline high.* Inside Tracker recommended I consider a vegetarian or vegan diet to lower my blood sugar. I think they know something…….
HDL: Normal range is 40-50 mg/dL (men), 50-59 mg/dL (women).
HDL means high-density lipoproteins, if ya wanna get fancy. If not, “good cholesterol” will suffice. Inside Tracker says that HDL acts “as cholesterol scavengers, picking up excess cholesterol in your blood and taking it back to your liver where it’s broken down. If your levels of HDL are low, you may be at greater risk of poor heart health.” My HDL came in just a few points above low. But good news…if I lower my glucose, my HDL should increase. On the opposite side of the spectrum, both my LDL (“bad cholesterol”) total cholesterol were optimized. Sweet!
Triglycerides: Normal range is < 150 mg/dL.
A complicated way to say fat cells. If you eat more than you burn, calories turn into triglycerides. Like HDL, high tri’s (not a medical term) are associated with high glucose. My level of triglycerides was high and one of Inside Trackers recommendations was to lose weight (omg how could they?!). This will connect with my findings from Cenegenics..but more on that later.
Iron (Ferritin + Hemoglobin): Normal ferritin range is 24 – 336 ng/dL (men), 11 – 307 ng/dL (women). Normal hemoglobin range is 13.5 – 17.5 g/dL (men), 12.0 – 15.5 g/dL (women).
A necessary mineral in our bodies that does all the things. My iron group showed optimized based off of my ferritin (protein that stores iron) and hemoglobin (iron-containing little guys that carry O2 from my lungs to my brain, muscles & digestive system). Optimal levels of iron improve strength, increase endurance, and enhance overall aerobic performance. As Skylar told me, this is an important mineral to keep track of during the next 2 months as vegans are at a greater risk of iron deficiency than meat eating peeps. Read why iron is so important here.
Calcium: Normal range is 8.5-10.2 mg/dL.
Keeps yo’ bones strong. My blood shows that my calcium levels are currently optimized – which is very interesting when you look at my bone density test done by Cenegenics. Stay tuned. But according to my blood, my calcium is good. Again, Skylar let me know that calcium is another mineral vegans need to be aware of since we tend to think of calcium coming from milk, yogurt & other dairy products.
Vitamin D: Normal range is 20-50 ng/mL.
Think of Vitamin D as Calcium’s best friend. VD helps the body absorb calcium and therefore, keeps your bones healthy. My current VD levels are swell but I’ll need to be wary (and potentially take a supplement) since very few foods – especially vegan ones – contain VD.
My results Glucose: 89mg/dL HDL: 50mg/dL LDL: 67 mg/dL Triglycerides: 148mg/dL Ferritin: 63ng/mL Hemoglobin: 14g/dL Calcium: 9.9mg/dL Vitamin D: 42ng/dL
Cenegenics: Hello Sarah, Meet Your Body
So now that I have a rundown of all things blood, I decided to take things a step further to see how this whole vegan thing would affect my body on a more physical level. Enter, Cenegenics. Cenegenics’ main goal is to help patients “get and stay healthy through a personalized program of nutrition, exercise, corrective hormone therapy, and nutritional supplementation.” Cenegenics provides a ton of tests, a few in which I was particularly interested in for this experiment.
It’s easy to think that we’re healthy or fit – or an the contrary, unhealthy and unfit – but Cenegenics takes the guessing games out by giving you real data on the spot.
RMR: Average is ~1350 for a woman my age & height.
Resting Energy Expenditure. In other words, how many calories you burn if you were to sit in bed and watch Netflix ALL day. Of all the tests with Cenegenics, I was most excited for this one. I’ve always attributed my difficulty losing weight to having “a slow metabolism.” When in reality, my metabolism is quite great for a woman my age… 17% better than the average, in fact! This is probably (definitely) due to the amount of muscle I’ve earned over the past few years. More muscle = stronger metabolism. What my RMR results made me realize was that my slow metabolism excuse can has got to go, and I just like to eat a lot – more than my body burns unfortunately.
Body Fat: Normal range for the average person is 18 – 24% (men), 25 – 31% (women).
The percentage of fat to muscle in your body. A certain amount of body fat is needed to for basic functions of living but too much fat can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and more! While I fall in the “normal” class for BMI, Cenegenics does recommend women don’t go above 25% body fat. So yes, I have more body fat than I should – GASP. This goes back to the Triglyceride count with Inside Tracker…remember it was high? So yes, I said it. I’m overweight. Do you not trust me as a fitness professional anymore?
Cenegenic’s DEXA scan showed I hold the most fat in my upper thighs and lower stomach, where women tend to hold fat. On the plus side (no pun intended), the scan showed that I have essentially zero visceral fat (bad fat surrounding your organs that can lead to all kinda bad diseases). Another thing that was cool about the DEXA was that is showed me my body fat % in each of my limbs..the meathead in me was very happy to see that both my right & left leg have pretty much the same amount of muscle. #symmetry
I’m interested to see how this number changes over the next 2 months. Based on my RMR, Skylar has me eating 2000 calories per day, which with exercise, should have me at ~1500 net calories per day. If you’re not good at math (like me!), that means I should lose some weight over the course of this experiment. I couldn’t really care less about losing weight – that was never my intention with this experiment – but what I do care about is not losing any muscle. Sure, I could lose weight by going vegan (a common misconception), but if I’m losing muscle and gaining fat, I will be one very sad lady. That’s why I’m working with Skylar, to ensure I’m eating both the proper amount of food & the proper types of food so that doesn’t happen.
VO2 Max: Normal range is 33.0 – 36.9 (women), 42.5 – 46.4 (men) for someone my age. Other ages found here.
How efficiently your body exchanges oxygen… the higher your VO2 Max, the better. To put it into perspective, endurance athletes like Lance Armstrong rack up numbers in 70-80 range. Your grandma that chain smokes? Probably 10-20.
My 44.2 score put me above average and in the “Superior” fitness level. *Pats self on back*
Mark explained that leaner people tend to have higher VO2 maxes, so this number could potentially raise if I lose some weight. We shall see.
Bone Density: Normal range based on a T score at or above -1.0.
I didn’t have any expectations for this test…I’m young, I exercise, I’ve only broken one bone (knock on wood), and like Inside Tracker showed, my calcium levels are good. So it was very surprising when two vertebras in my spine showed Osteopenia – bone density lower than normal. Granted, I’m right on the cusp on Osteopenia and normal, but still…this is an issue that needs addressing and I would have NEVER known if I hadn’t taken this test. If you’re familiar with Osteoporosis, Osteopenia is one step below it. This was especially alarming to me because my mom has Osteoporosis so it clearly runs in the family…and again, I’m only 22!!! Wtf bones.
Mark explained that taking a Vitamin D & Calcium supplement and eating an alkaline diet – lots of leafy green veggies – could help to improve this. I’m pretty sure that changing my diet over the course of 2 months won’t make a huge difference but this is something that I will be getting a second opinion on and actively working to improve.
Of all the tests I had done, this was certainly most shocking. It just goes to show you that our bodies have so much going on in the inside that we may never know about. This is why it’s so important to be proactive and treat your body right. Eat good for you foods, exercise, and give your body the love & rest it deserves. Experiment with what YOUR good for you foods are. Figure out what kind of exercise you love most and what works for your body. I may thrive off toast & avocado and you may live off bananas & peanut butter. I may be a meathead and you may be a runner – we will probably never workout together and that’s ok! See you in yoga maybe?
My results: RMR: 1613 calories Body fat: 30.9% (37.8 lb fat, 84.3lb lean) VO2 max: 44.2 ml O2/kg/min Bone density: L1 = -1.2, L2 = -1/4, L3 = -0.5, L4 = -.3
Over the next two months, I’m switching from a heavy animal-based diet to a plant-based vegan one. I’ve started the experiment off with blood work from Inside Tracker and a few physical tests from Cenegenics. I’m working alongside Nutritionist & Registered Dietician Skylar Griggs to make sure I’m getting all the macro & micronutrients I need. At the end of the two months, I’ll be getting all of these tests done again to see how things have changed. For better? For worse?
Til death do us part.
I’ll be checking in back here after a month with an update but if you wanna see what I’m eating & feeling on daily basis, make sure you’re following me on Instagram and Snapchat: username is @sarahjgaines for both.
As I begin my vegan adventure down the road of legumes, kale and tofu, I leave you with one final thought….
Until next time, friends!