SHEA JOZANA

Coach | Blogger | Artist

Ve-Gains: Training on a Plant-Based Diet

Quite often when I mention to (non-vegan) people that I’m plant-based I’m instantly met with questions about protein… Where do I get? Is it hard to get enough? Etc. Being vegan definitely carries less of a shock factor these days as the movement continues to explode and vegan options keep appearing everywhere, but clearly there is still work to be done because many people seem to be unaware of this fact: Animals that are reared for food get their protein from plants, in the form of amino acids which integrate into their tissues. When humans eat animals, the protein is broken back down into amino acids, so really this is second-hand protein versus going straight to the source… Plants.

I won’t get into why one diet is healthier or more eco-friendly/ethical than the other because that’s not the point of this article - you can find more about those aspects HERE. The misconception that a vegan diet is lacking in protein and can’t support goals of being muscular or strong/athletic is something that I once believed myself. I can say now with hindsight that this was simply ignorance and a lack of education outside of my then, meat-based eating. I’m using the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ synonymously but to be clear, what I mean is that nothing that I eat/consume comes from animals.

After making the switch my whole attitude towards health and training changed; I became less concerned with being ‘hench’, adopted a more holistic approach and took part in a charity boxing event which made me lose quite a bit of weight. I then had a moped accident and dislocated my shoulder which meant I couldn’t train the way I wanted to for a while, so when people asked the million-dollar question, “have you noticed any difference in performance?” I struggled to answer. When setting goals at the beginning of this year I decided that I would change all this and launch my own investigation into training on a plant-based diet; how well could I develop my physique and performance?

Having picked up injuries from the moped incident (severely sprained ankle as well as the dislocation) and ego lifting (back irritation), the first challenge was deciding how to demonstrate performance increase. Throughout the first month of training I was trying things out to see what did and didn’t feel right. By February I had decided on fronts squats since this puts less load through the lower back, I wasn’t even considering the lift that had given me issues due to going too heavy and sacrificing form; deadlifts. That was until I spoke to a couple of friends who suggested that it might all be in my head… Injuries are a funny thing, even once they’ve healed it’s like our mind hasn’t moved on. Still overly cautious and waiting for even the slightest sensation to register as a signal to stop. Determined to test this new diet against my once favourite display of strength, the deadlift, I took the plunge and it turns out my friends may have been right.

Training Approach

Here's a breakdown of how I trained over the 5 months:

 

January – 3 session p/w:

1.) Upper body push-pull (bodybuilding)

2.) Legs – Experimenting with mostly unilateral (single leg) movements

3.) Upper body push-pull (bodybuilding)

 

February – 3 session p/w:

1.) Upper body push-pull (bodybuilding)

2.) Legs – Front squats (hypertrophy) + accessory work

3.) Upper body push-pull (bodybuilding)

 

March – I took some time off to focus energy elsewhere with sporadic training sessions dotted in for maintenance.

 

April – 3 sessions p/w:

1.) Upper body push-pull (bodybuilding)

2.) Legs – Front squats (strength) + accessory work

3.) Upper body push-pull (bodybuilding)

 

May/June – 4 sessions p/w:

1.) Upper body push-pull (bodybuilding)

2.) Legs – Front squats (strength) + accessory work

3.) Upper body push-pull (bodybuilding)

4.) Deadlifts (strength)

 

You can view the full session plans HERE and a few points to note:

  • I had set goals of the 1RMs I was aiming for in my last week of doing the front squat and deadlift so I progressively increased the load without much thought to % of 1RM – this might not be the best approach if you don’t have training experience, in which case I would consider following a protocol such as 5/3/1 for developing strength on big lifts.
  • The key to growth is progressive overload.
  • Every 4 weeks I took a de-load week and focused on calisthenics (bodyweight training) or in a few instances, stopped completely to allow my body to recover – this is very important, if we neglect to do this our training can become more detrimental than progressive.
  • Form over everything – one rule that I’ve always lived by and paid the price the one time I ignored it is to NEVER compromise on form/technique.

Nutrition Approach

I’ve never been one to obsessively count my calories and macros, firstly because I’ve found that sticking to a few basic guidelines works perfectly for me and secondly because let’s be honest, that’s no fun. However, being a personal trainer means I work with people who often have different goals to my own and require a more precise nutrition approach. These are some bottom line facts about nutrition:

  • To lose weight we need to be in a calorie deficit.
  • To gain weight/muscle we need to be in a calorie surplus.
  • We need protein (amino acids) to support muscle growth/recovery and this demand increases when engaged in exercise, especially bodybuilding and strength training.
  • Carb intake should be lower on rest days than on training days and post-workout is the best time for a refeed or cheat meal. Generally, opt for low GI carbs to keep energy levels stable.
  • Natural fats are essential, it’s processed fats that should be avoided along with processed anything for that matter!
  • A vegan diet can be as unhealthy or under nourishing as any other diet if we fail to eat a wide variety of (preferably organic) whole foods. Switching from a meat-based diet to one of processed alternatives is not going to reveal the wonders of a plant-based diet – instead, cook from scratch and think veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and lots of colour!

You can calculate you daily calorie/macro needs HERE.

This was my average intake throughout the 5 months training:

Calories: 2500cal (+ 700cal on workout days)

Protein: 90g (+ 30g on workout days)

Carbs: 330g (+ 100g on workout days)

Fat: 80g (+ 20g on workout days)

To get an idea of what I eat throughout the day, check out this article by Sundried (dinner is missing!) or have a scroll though my instagram to see the food I’ve been sharing since mid-April. Also, ETHCS have just launched a vegan cookbook which is perfect if you’re new to veganism and need some ideas!

My increased intake on workout days was provided by a post-workout shake. Having tried a few different plant protein powders and not liked the taste/texture, I was determined to formulate a shake that was not just bearable, but enjoyable and this chocolate concoction doesn’t disappoint!

INGREDIENTS
Whiz up the following in a blender:
• 1 scoop organic plant protein (cacao flavour) - a blend of pea, rice and hemp which offers a complete amino acid profile and 21g of protein, low sugar
• 1 tbsp cacao powder - for taste
• ¼ tsp cinnamon - for taste
• 1 tbsp peanut butter - fats to boost calories
• ¼ avocado (or ½ banana) - for texture/creaminess
• 3 medjool dates - accounts for 54g of the shake’s total carbs, added for sweetness and to cause insulin spike which pulls nutrients into muscle tissue
• 200ml hazelnut milk - accounts for 28g of the shake’s total carbs, you can use water instead but it doesn’t taste as good
• After blending, add 1 tbsp of chia seeds for added texture and nutrients

In April I introduced 5 grams of creatine monohydrate (creapure) into this post-workout shake – it’s vegan, quite well studied and proven to boost performance in short intense bursts of exercise. Without getting into the science, it replenishes the fuel for our muscles’ explosive movement energy system. I was using this supplement before at my strongest (meat-based) so I wanted to include it in my approach to maintain a level playing field. Something that occurred to me was that, while our bodies do produce creatine, meat-eaters receive additional creatine from the animals in their diet – could this be a factor in the apparent performance difference often thrown at veganism? I have to say I did feel stronger after introducing it and I didn’t bother with a “loading phase”, just the 5 grams post-workout – the body can only store so much before converting the rest into creatinine, a waste product.

The Results

Across the 5 months I gained a total of 4.5kg and kept my body fat consistent. Creatine does draw more water into the muscles so some of that weight will be water, however this trade off was necessary to make a fair comparison against my best performance pre-vegan. I took Styku 3D body scans and progress pictures throughout the 5 months and when comparing January to June, clear physique development can be seen.

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My performance targets were strength based; front squat 1.5 x my bodyweight (120kg) and deadlift 2.5 x my bodyweight (200kg). I reached both of these targets and considering that my deadlift PB (pre-vegan) is 2.75 x BW after more than a year of consistent strength training, I think that achieving 2.5 in such a short space of time supports the notion that performance (specifically strength) development is achievable on a plant-based diet.

This investigation reminded me of how important goal setting is to keep us motivated to train and push ourselves, which is why I have already set new goals for the second half of the year; handstands, levers, flags and planches – all calisthenics (bodyweight) patterns that I’m yet to master. So now that the sun is shining more frequently, you’ll find me out in the park with V-Gang putting in work!

Meeting San Pedro

One week ago my girlfriend and I travelled to take part in a 3 day shamanic San Pedro ceremony - San Pedro, Spanish for St. Peter, is a mescaline based (psychedelic) plant medicine, used ceremonially for thousands of years in Central American cultures by Shamans, for the purpose of healing and "communing with spirit". When you mention psychedelics, people's eyes either light up in interest or narrow in concern. There seems to be a mixed attitude towards (even natural) substances that affect the mind and our perception, although acceptance is growing as we see cannabis legalised in more counties/states and mounting studies proving the therapeutic value and safety of psychedelics.

While shamanism is a term applied to similar traditions across the globe, my experience finds its origins in Peru and was guided by "Dr. Rubén Orellana, who held the title of Chief Archaeologist at Machu Picchu for twenty-two years and acted as the Director of the Institute of Inka Research. As a Shaman or Curandero, Rubén is considered the ‘maestro’ of San Pedro and has an unblemished record, brewing from the early 70s when he acted as one of the first Peruvian Curanderos to work with Western Psychonauts, including his friend Terence McKenna."

The role of the Shaman is to offer a bridge between the physical world and the spirit world, or as Ruben described it, to assist us in navigating the space between being awake and dreaming. I believe that part of the west's fear of these medicines and practices stems from the lack of guidance and understanding that is available in other cultures and passed down through tradition. This inevitably leads to a fear of the unknown which is compounded by the (needless) demonisation and prohibition of psychedelics by the powers that be, who's motivation for doing so can only be seen as malevolent once we investigate them for ourself.

Before going any further I would like to state clearly that trying plant medicines is a completely individual choice, obviously not compulsory for personal/spiritual development and should only be pursued if we have genuine guidance to do so. They are simply not for everyone! Shamanic culture practices responsible use of these powerful medicines - using them to "get f*cked up" is irresponsible and can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Also, please respect the laws of whichever country you are in ;)

My personal reasons for attending this San Pedro ceremony were healing and expansion of my consciousness/perception, both things I have had profound experience of from working with Psilocybe truffles (available legally in the Netherlands). This was the first time I've tried plant medicine in a ceromonial setting while being guided by a Shaman - Ruben took us on a 3 day journey which he described as "reconnecting". For me, the first evening of working with San Pedro was very reflective and my inward attention brought to light, areas that I know need work and healing - this is very characteristic of plant medicines, making them a good tool for personal/spiritual development (but again to reiterate, not the only effectve tool).

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We spent the second day working with the medicine from late morning into the afternoon. The medicine was always given within a circle, comprised of everyone in attendance and led by Ruben with the help of Michele Lukis (Shamanic practitioner, Reiki Master, Transpersonal Counsellor and spiritual healer based in London). The traditional techniques used by Ruben are intended to heighten the senses and relax the mind - whether it be the sweet, yet spicy aroma of Florida Water or the hypnotic sound of a shaker and Ruben's singing/whistling. After taking the medicine for the second time we went out into the beautiful gardens to "reconnect and talk to nature".

While I was yet to experience the strong visuals or euphoria I get from truffles, I found this to be very blissful and relaxing. My mind was much quieter than the previous evening and I completely lost myself to the moment, enjoying the flowers, lemon trees and stunning views. When it was time to have lunch my taste buds literally exploded during what was my third meal from the kitchen, manned by seasoned Chef Leandro D'Andrea (also scout, shamanic practitioner, men’s group facilitator and wilderness guide). All food across the 3 days was vegan (some vegetarian) and intended to compliment the medicine, not to mention delicious too! I'm not sure whether it was the San Pedro, Leandro's cooking or a combination of the two but I will never forget the abundance of flavours and freshness of that lunch, made all the more special by enjoying it with my new family of fellow attendees.

The final day was mostly one of relaxation, presumably to allow us time to integrate/process our experiences so far, although we had returned to the circle to share and discuss as a group after each session with the medicine. The weather on the first 2 days had started mild then turned hot and sunny, but the third day was misty and grey, signalling the incoming thunderstorm as we awaited the closing ceremony, this time at night. That evening Michele led a drumming circle in which everyone either played a drum or used a shaker, while we individually "journeyed" using our imagination - part of the intention that Ruben had outlined for the 3 days was connecting with our inner child and the drumming circle was certainly when I felt this the most. I was indeed navigating that sacred space between being awake and dreaming, something that comes so naturally to children but seems to elude us in adulthood.

Thunder and lightening provided a dramatic stage for the closing ceremony that night. We had spread out across the large recreation room that our tight circle of chairs had been contained in, using pillows and blankets to create nests for ourselves. Ruben distributed the medicine and the put the lights out, the smell of Florida Water and periodic singing/chanting more vibrant than ever. I quickly fell asleep and woke up no more than an hour later, then began a clearing exercise as instructed. This was a very personal experience and I feel no need to share every detail, but I will say that through all the work we had done up to this point, my focus was connecting with the energy of love and understanding - something that I often strive for when working with truffles.

Combined with my own visualisations and guided by my intention, San Pedro shared with me the energy I sought; a combination of feelings, visual geometry (for the first time of the 3 days) and realisations that at one point made me sit up in the darkness, in reverence for what I was receiving. When Ruben finally closed the ceremony it was sometime between 1 - 2 am. We gathered around the dining table while Leandro heated up some soup. Everyone was laughing and discussing the night, clearly excited and still feeling the effect of the medicine which I found so overwhelming that I was struggling to talk! How do you articulate the energy of love and understanding? You don't... You feel it. The soup seemed to bring me back down to earth and after some conversation and saying our goodbyes, we retired to our room to get some sleep before heading back to London in morning.

It was a truly wonderful experience and I have promised Ruben and Michele that I will be joining them in the Peruvian Jungle on a Pilgrimage very soon, meeting San Pedro confirmed that. Check out this free episode of "Psychedelica", a series from a platform called Gaia to learn more about the history and science of psychedelics:

The Event - a short story by Shea Jozana

6pm BST, British summer time at last! The clocks had not long gone forwards and it was brighter in the evenings. This one in particular felt different. There was something in the air and everyone could sense it, a lucid quality that had intensified throughout the day. Gabriel decided to go for a walk. He always enjoyed the forest and thought that today, since everything seemed more vivid, it was the right thing to do.

Along his route he kept noticing the way in which people were looking at him, and at each other. Generally speaking, passersby only exchange a few types of interaction, if at all, but today eye contact was at an all time high. People weren’t just glancing or sharing subtle smiles. Gabriel was surprised to see repeated looks of endearment, as if to acknowledge the strange quality of the day and express comfort in the fact that it was a shared experience.

It was a fresh spring evening and as he entered the forest slowly following the wood chip path, the gentle sound of birds singing stood out more than usual. It wasn’t louder, the song was somehow enhanced as everything had been that day. They call it the golden hour, the time just before sunset when the daylight is softer and everything is draped in a warm glow. From its low position in the sky, the sun was sending beams of light through the trees creating an incredible display.

Gabriel now approached a clearing. Light flooded into view as he passed the tree line, the sun’s disc just above the continuing forest on the other side. He stopped to take in the beautiful scenery and found himself almost overwhelmed as it lavished his sharpened senses. The grass either side of the path in the clearing was filled with plants and flowers that swayed in the cool breeze. Although this place was familiar to him, everything was more striking than ever before.

At that moment, something happened that brought every atom of Gabriel’s body to attention. The sun pulsated, sending a circular shockwave of colour from its edges out into the heavens. As it expanded, the purple wave grew thicker and distorted, completely dominating the sky. Reminiscent of the northern lights on a gargantuan scale, its rapid growth suggested that it was on course to earth. He was paralysed, stuck between disbelief and absolute awe of what he was witnessing.

When it finally penetrated the atmosphere, multicoloured clouds formed and bellowed towards the ground like an explosion of iridescent fire and smoke. It was getting closer by the second and at the same time the general brightness sharply increased. Gabriel felt a warm buzzing in his chest which quickly spread throughout his entire body. Something told him to close his eyes and not be scared. Every hair on his skin now stood on end and the vibrations were so intense that he dropped to one knee and shakily laid himself on the grass.

A ringing sound became more pronounced and raised in pitch along with everything else, until the combined onslaught prevented him from distinguishing any of his senses. Then, complete silence fell. The kind of silence that evokes peace, and liberation from mental chatter. His body felt saturated by it, as if some blissful liquid had permeated every cell. He wasn’t alone. All around the world, planes, cars and machinery were suspended in animation and people laid where they had stood.

It could have have been minutes, hours or even days that passed. All concept of time had disintegrated in the light and vibration that consumed the earth. What was certain though, was that everything had been transformed. The very matter that forms reality was lighter, radiant and surrounded by visible auras that slowly danced with elegance. Gabriel gradually opened his eyes, feeling dreamy although he hadn’t slept. He noticed immediately that the lines between his senses were blurred, everything seemed connected to everything else. As he got to his feet and surveyed his surroundings, what he saw brought tears to his eyes...