June 10, 2013
The Vegan Self-Experiment
What did I do?
I went nearly vegan for 25 days, from April 13 through May 7th, 2013, and subsequently returned to my meat-, eggs-, and dairy-heavy omnivore diet for 25 days. The vegan exceptions: I used either whey protein or BCAAs 3x per week after weightlifting, as I thought it would be important for maintaining muscle mass as my protein and calorie intake fell on a vegan diet. I also refused to suffice with the vegan omega-3 sources of ALA and SDA. I took 1 g/d krill oil* for some of the good stuff: phospholipid omega 3s with an astaxanthin bonus.
Subjective qualitative findings
The two most prominent things I noticed:
Poor sleep – My sleep was noticeably worse. I had a harder time staying asleep, had less REM, and generally did not feel like my sleep was very restful. I can think of no potential confounding variable that would explain this (no added stress, work deadlines, relationship problems, change in stimulant use, etc).
Good mood – My mood was unambiguously rosier than my typical baseline. The most likely potential confounding variable that could explain this was the onset of a sunny warm spring just as I was starting veganism. This is in contrast to a cold sunless winter in the preceding months. I spent more time outside in the sun, which is usually good for my mood. However, upon returning to my omnivore diet, my mood pretty much went back to normal. This suggests causation.
Another thing I noticed after the 2-3 weeks was reduced libido. It did not fall into the toilet, so to speak, but rather went from extremely high to probably more normal levels. Actually, this was not an unwelcome change. Unfortunately, this finding is confounded by my running out of fenugreek supplements (2×550 mg/d) during the trial. In the past I have suspected that fenugreek gives a noticeable boost to my libido. This could have explained most of the difference. However, now after having resumed my previous diet, without fenugreek, my libido is higher, but still a bit below where it started, I think.
Changes in quantified metrics
“Mean” means the average value over a period near the end of the dietary regime. Spreads of two standard deviations of the sample means are given where available.
Temperature was under-the-tongue taken at wakeup. Weight and body fat were taken with a Withings Scale (thanks to dacadoo for loaning it to me!) at wakeup. Withings advises being up and about for 30m to get an accurate body fat measurement, but this wasn’t convenient for me. The blood glucose readings were 12hr-fasted, taken in the morning, as were the blood pressure and heart rate readings. Sleep was measured with the Zeo.
Other subjective findings
Difficulty at home vs traveling: Being vegan while living at home was not particularly difficult for me. On the road was another matter. It’s no fun to show up to catered meals and have to turn down 90% of the food, then pull out some nuts and/or canned beans to get sufficient calories. This definitely lowers quality of life.
Strength: I was surprised that over the first 2 weeks I still made progress in the gym and even felt stronger. This could be a one-off gain from greater muscle glycogen fullness coming from my higher carbohydrate consumption (I noticed this effect to a much greater magnitude when adding carbohydrates back in after being very low carb for months). By the end of the period, I essentially was where I started, strength-wise, but had lost some kg of weight, which on the whole is not bad. I think to properly evaluate the suitability of my style of vegan diet for athletic performance and strength progression would take a longer time period to determine, and maybe more effort on my part to get a caloric excess to gain strength and mass.
Post meal state: I noticed that I generally felt physically lighter post-meal (unless I ate too much coconut milk/oil which made me nauseous for ~ 1 hr). I also felt mentally more clear. The contrast made me more aware of how my heavy omnivore meals were impairing my thinking for a short time afterwords. Going forward, back on my previous diet, I will schedule non-taxing administrative-type work for my post-lunch period, and travel home from work in my post-dinner period. This should help maximize my productive mental capacity.
It’s worth underscoring the power that food-type restriction can have on energy intake, even when eating ad libitum. I’m not a big believer that calorie-counting is a particularly effective way to control net energy balance, but the discrepancy in calories between my two diets is so vast that its safe to conclude that I was taking in way less utilizable energy as a vegan, while still eating to fullness. I personally wanted to maintain, not lose (lean) weight, but for those interested in losing weight, veganism might be a hunger-free way to do it.
This is a condensed account of the full report, which can be found here.
About the Author: Winslow Strong – I’m a biohacker, mathematician, meditator, physicist, and world-traveler. I’m interested in enhancing human health, performance, and happiness with the help of emerging technologies and a citizen-science approach of self-experimentation. https://biohackyourself.com