No(meat)vember

So this month (November 2015) I have decided on an experiment, something I have wanted to do for a long time but either the time hasn’t been right or I just haven’t been bothered.

As a person who enjoys cooking/creating meals etc and enjoys eating them even more – I have become more and more aware that there is so much focus on the meat part of the dish, yet this appears to be the least varied area. While obviously you can do a lot to meat to keep it interesting etc etc, it still remains that the muscle* part of an animal becomes what a meal is based around, and the reason for this generally (especially from a male point of view) is that’s where we get protein from!

I have become increasingly bored with using the same chicken breasts, steaks, and pork chops in some way or another. 

*I’m well aware that offal eg liver is massively nutritious and cheap, but I’m also aware that it tastes bloody horrible, don’t pretend it doesn’t. For the purposes of this experiment I will obviously be avoiding this too.

My experiment/hypothesis is that as there are much, much more varied sources of proteins from very nutritious and massively varied sources, to expand my culinary creativity and expand my range of foods, for November I will not be eating meat! Vegetarians around the world rejoice! Lets do this!

Pig Hog Roast
Farewell, sweet friend

Note: I know that I already have a fantastic title, but I am also open to further suggestions (Novembeef? No, don’t be thick).

This will be an official experiment so prepare yourself for clever science words. I’ve already used ‘hypothesis’ so let’s see what else I’ve got.

Predictions/Expectations/Risks/Hazards;

  • Body composition stats & expectations – I’m hoping (obviously) that body fat might reduce a little, muscle mass will increase and overall weight will drop. I’ll measure my body composition every Monday to check effects. Energy levels-wise I’m hoping to feel generally lighter and more energised when it comes to exercise and training.
From big man to skeleton
  • That might happen to me.
  • If I get malnourished, feel like I’m dying or generally feel worse for it I’ll pull the plug, although if I do then I think that will have said more about my efforts than an actual meat-free diet.
  • I’m tempted to count Chorizo as a vegetable.
  • I’m not going to be mental about it ie. I won’t be avoiding animal products all together or anything like that although you never know what might happen. This is purely a nutritional experiment not an ethical thing although I do expect to feel very smug throughout.

Week 1

Weight: 69.7kg
Body Fat: 5.1%
Muscle Mass: 48.1%

Ok so the weight & body fat is lower than I expected it to be and the lowest it’s been in a while – will be very interesting to see the effect here…

After one final meaty meal (beef joint roast dinner) on Saturday night, Sunday got me straight into vegetarian eating – I thought I’d start strongly with a twist on a classic (a classic which I hate) – beans on toast.

BEANS ON TOAST
Yes, I have also began spreading avocado on toast. Worship me.
The first day was fine, I seemed to be hungry all day, although that could have come from generally having an active day walking around etc – no real troubles although that evening I found myself dreaming about eating a sausage (and not my usual ‘sausage munching’ dreams… hello boys), worrying that meat dreams have began so early!
 
Throughout the week I’ve stuck to plan without a problem – breakfast is consisting of eggs, mushrooms, spinach etc which is no change – lunch tends to be bean or chickpea mixes with vegetables/salad type things or a jacket potato filled with options provided at work, dinners have then consisted of hefty mixes of nuts, vegetables, beans, chickpeas, quinoa and everything that I can throw in covered in various curried or spiced sauces or whatever I can be bothered to make! I have been using different types of beans a lot which is great as they’re clearly very versatile, although my wife Chloe is suffering from the effects of me gorging on this musical fruit.
 
Food cupboard
Beans, beans, good for your heart.
There have been no real meat temptations – eating at any restaurants I have been to has been no problem as it’s really interesting to see some different options. On Saturday night I had family round and made lots of sweet potato, bean salad, and nutty salad, but also lots of chicken and sausages for everybody else. When I pulled the chicken out of the oven it was insanely tempting – it looked and smelled so good I could have eaten it all but to be fair once I had a plate full of other food it was forgotten about. I’m the best vegetarian ever!
 
Snack-wise I’ve been eating more fruit and the odd Pulsin protein bar. The knowledge that I’m probably taking on a few more carbs than I was before has interestingly stopped my temptation to pick up a pastry or sugary snack when they’re put out at work (although I’m not really supposed to take them anyway..) so that’s a plus! More fruit, less rubbish! I’ve also made the odd smoothie, below is an example:
 
smoothie ingredients
 
Apple, cinnamon, walnuts, oats, milk & Pulsin whey protein. A great winter-warming protein smoothie now that the nights are long, dark, and cold!
 
When it comes to training – the annoying thing is I’m not running.. I picked up a case of medial tib. stress which I’ve ignored for a couple of months but am trying to let recover now which I’m finding very hard! It aches constantly when I walk, any time it feels that it’s eased off it comes back again the next day. I’m finding it very frustrating but have been occupying myself with exercises to balance out any problems I may otherwise have eg. single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts etc, working on some HIIT and Tabata interval work to keep the fitness up, and a disgusting amount of work on the rowing machine and cross-trainer.
Have you ever spent 90 minutes on a cross trainer? If you answer yes then either you’re a liar or a maniac because why would you choose to do this? It was brutal and I hate it so much but has to be done.
 
italy austria border
I miss running so much
I am also cycling a lot which I do actually enjoy, it’s nice to be outdoors and it does get my legs working nicely, even if I don’t think my cardio benefits as much. My good friend and OCR padawan Laura Winter very kindly took me on what was supposed to be a 30-mile or so bike ride (cough cough…42) around the Cotswolds which was great fun and nice to push myself in a different type of activity. It was also nice to be able to smash in a load of cake halfway through a training session.
 
I did a short 5k run on Sunday morning to test my leg, it felt ok during the warm up and the run and generally throughout the day, but by the evening (now, when I am writing this) I noticed that it was very tender to touch. It’s driving me bloody mad and I have a niggling worry that maybe not eating meat proteins is hampering recovery. I’m sure this is just me being paranoid though as I’m definitely eating enough and varying everything that I eat!
 
Summary: So far so good! No cravings and still keeping everything nicely varied! Energy levels at a high!

Week 2

Weight: 69.4kg
Body Fat: 7.8%
Muscle Mass: 47.5%

Not too fussed about the exact stats – still in an ok range & my scales tend to have around a 2% differential each time so not looking too much into that! Happy the weight has lowered a bit though (which I suppose would fit in with the other stats).

I should probably point out that I supplement creatine – I have always taken 1 tablet per day (which is a very small amount really) but seeing as creatine is one of the only proven supplements to actually work and is quite hard to get a lot of, I take a tablet. Since becoming vegetarian I have upped it to 2 tablets (steady on, I know), simply because it is very very hard to get this important protein through a vegetarian diet. I don’t cycle it or anything because that’s pointless, but everyone should be taking creatine – it has many benefits, it’s not just for muscle building.

My leg is still bad so not running – focusing on swimming, gym work, cross-trainering etc which is annoying. However, on the flip side of this I had 2 races booked in this week – a night trail race in the Forest of Dean and the UK OCR Championships…

nuclear races obstacle

The night race went ok all things considered – I could feel a bit of an ache warming up but when I was running I felt fine – full of energy and could have pushed harder but I had eaten a pretty big mushroom, rocket & chilli pizza a couple of hours ago so felt a bit sick. Ended up in 2nd place which was a surprise!

The UK Champs went better than expected too – breakfast consisted of cold overnight porridge with chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds (you must try overnight oats they are so convenient) with a black coffee and a banana. My energy levels felt just right throughout, I took a gel with me and had it just over halfway in but didn’t really feel like I needed it, I took it to cover me just in case.

The fact that my energy was at a level that meant I could push hard and (I think) finish in a respectable place against the top UK obstacle racers (results haven’t been published yet) is great news for how this has been going. As a side note, the cold did drain me a bit, and I could certainly feel late in the race where my running endurance has waned since my leg has been bad – but still had enough in me to push as hard as possible the whole way.

nuclear races obstacle

Generally though I am still having fun with the meals I make – no signs of boredom or being too hungry yet. A funny moment happened after the night race when we got back to the host pub for complimentary sausage, onions, and chips. I had no choice but to choose the vegetarian sausage of which I ate about half (to be fair I was still very full from the aforementioned pizza):

veggie sausage and chips
The misery of being a vegetarian
Whereas the very next day I popped into a cafe in Charlton Kings called The Core. Those who have been there don’t need telling how awesome it is, but they serve all vegetarian foods, smoothies etc. I opted for a simple sandwich (beetroot, cashew cheese, onions and maybe some other stuff):
 
Vegetarian Sandwich
A very convincing reason to not go back to meat options

So I am definitely experiencing both sides of the coin here…!

Food at work can also be tricky – we’re provided with staff lunch which rarely includes veggie options so I usually end up with a jacket potato & cheese or some kind of mushroom pasta (with cheese). Dinner on the other hand (for when I’m working late) can be requested – so I’ve received halloumi & egg salads, big pizzas (that aren’t a good idea to run a race on afterwards) and much more creative, tasty meals than I have had from them before.
I will continue to see what else I can get before I leave & start a new job at the end of the month, where I imagine I’ll be going back to packed-lunches! Looking forward to playing around with them!
 
Summary: Energy is still great, enjoying not feeling bloated or over-eating. Two races performed during this experiment have both gone very well despite non-specific training. I will be visiting The Core in Cheltenham more often..

Week 3

Weight: 69.5kg
Body Fat: 5.1%
Muscle Mass: 48.1%

OK so I’ve figured out why my stats were out last week – I was entering my height wrong on my scales so wasn’t measuring me correctly! Disregard my excuses from last week – back on track!!
It’s interesting that my body fat % has remained low considering I haven’t been running – before I needed to rest my leg I was putting in a lot of mileage over hills etc and putting in a lot of intense running – so without that I have still been able to maintain my stats! Win there for vegetarianism.

Food this week has been extra fun – I’ve found myself with a bit more time a couple of days so on Wednesday I decided to go Greek – I made falafel, tzatziki, flavoured sweet potato wedges, and had pitta bread although didn’t really need that as had loads on the plate. All of it was incredibly easy to make and enjoyable to try out something different. I say it was all easy to make, but I tried to make the falafel into balls, then into mini burger-type things but it just would not stay together. It ended up as one giant falafel pancake which I chopped up when it was cooked. Annoying but whatever, it did the job.

Saturday night was the real party – I had the day free so we decided on a 3 course meal (because when does anyone normally have 3 courses at home?).

Starter – curried carrot & parsnip soup:

curried carrot & parsnip soup

Main – homemade pesto on various mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and gnocchi:

pesto on various mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and gnocchi

Dessert – avocado brownie/cake:

avocado brownie/cake
Yes
This was all incredibly filling so we spread out eating it over the course of a couple of hours while we watched general Saturday night TV and caught up with ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ (does anyone else watch that show? It’s insane). If anybody reading this is interested in any recipes then let me know & I’ll try to remember them as I tend to make up a lot of it on the spot.

Sunday night at work brought a pizza…

pizza

So y’know… a bit large and bread-heavy but loaded with good stuff and I’ve had an active day so shut your face.

The interesting thing I noted this week is that clearly these are things that I could have easily made and would have thoroughly enjoyed before this experiment, I just never would have bothered. For example instead of making all the Greek foods I would have probably just done steak & potatoes or stuffed chicken breast etc – I would have been looking where to put the meat. Also when it comes to the gnocchi I would have probably had that same amount, but had chicken mixed in too – clearly far too much and more than I need! I think I have mentioned before that this seems to be calming me down from over-eating. Another win for vegetarianism!

Week 4

Weight: 69.7kg
Body Fat: ?%
Muscle Mass: ?% 

My scales aren’t playing ball and are refusing to record my results, instead coming up with an error message. Interestingly this error message displays when the results go below a readable level (5% on these apparently…) so I’m taking that as a body fat loss (win).

OK so with this week leading to the end of the month I guess it’s time to some up how this has gone. As somebody who has eaten meat with pretty much every single meal throughout his life, with a meal not quite feeling ‘complete’ without some kind of animal protein as part of it, I thought that I would find this very hard and very strange.

The strangest thing about the whole process is how normal it has felt to eat like this. From the novelty of looking for vegetarian restaurants/cafes at the beginning of the month, to looking up vegetarian meal ideas, it quickly emerged that I was doing neither and was just creating meals & recipes that I enjoyed eating and happened to contain no meat.

I’m not sure if I’m describing it quite correctly, – I was expecting to be so tempted by meat options that are available, yet weirdly I haven’t been attracted to anything like that even when it’s been right in front of my nose, and the only other option is plain salad or jacket potato & cheese. I haven’t been tempted to just eat the meat option I’ve gone and eaten somewhere better.

Salad
Of course generally salad is the best option..
It has also (probably subconsciously) meant that I’ve eaten at less crappy ‘chain-restaurant’ type places this month, knowing that they won’t have a good selection for me so have eaten at better, healthier places.
I’ve mentioned previously that the meals I’ve made are things that I could quite easily have made before, but simply wouldn’t have bothered! I’ve made the Greek dish again since, I’ve made various curries, I’ve made Italian dishes, and I’ve made so many different lunch-box meals that I couldn’t even tell you. Not one of these has felt like it’s missing something or would have benefited from having meat thrown in, in fact it would have taken away from a lot of them.
 
Basically what I’m getting at is that I feel like this experiment was a complete success, I wish I had more stories of struggle or conflict but this has just felt like such a normal, natural thing that I haven’t come up against it!
 
Where are all the angry meat-eaters, when I’ve spoke about what I’m doing the general response it a shrug and a ‘fair enough, sounds like a good idea’. Why was this expected to be so difficult when vegetarian options seem to be so much more varied, interesting, and tasty?
I encourage anybody to give this a go, at least cutting down their meat intake and seeing what other options are there – I’ve found that decent restaurants put a bit more effort into veggie options than they do into their steaks & burgers.
popcorn
So glad my internet history is all good here…
So there you go, will I be heading straight to the pub to devour a mixed grill? Not quite. Will I remain a strict vegetarian forever? Time will tell I guess.
 
I’m enjoying my diet & food intake more now than I have before, so while that remains I will continue on this same path – creating interesting meals that are fun to make and even more fun to eat and I generally don’t see much of a place for meat in that plan. With everything I have coming up in 2016, from moving to on to a new stage in my career, getting married, and many races & challenges I’m looking forward to seeing how this new and improved diet helps me perform (and I don’t just mean my wedding night, ding ding). Obviously I need to buy some new scales too. 
OCRWC Finish Line
I like this picture so it’s going here because it’s my blog and I can do what I want.
Finishing note: I haven’t touched on ethics of animal treatment etc in any of this as that’s not what I wanted the experiment to be about, but naturally I have looked into it.
There’s far too much for me to get into really and I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole thing but I don’t think it’s a secret that there is some disgusting treatment of animals going on out there. Even if I don’t convince anyone to give a bit of vegetarianism a go (which I’m sure I won’t), I at least urge anybody to look at better quality sources for where they get their meat from.

Written by me: Keith Fairburn

Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.

Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.

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