Q  I wanted to know what kind of diet you suggest for a vegan who is working out, both to get in to shape and lose weight, and become stronger. I would say my aim is to lose at least 25 pounds over the next few months and I plan to do it at a healthy rate. However, I find that no matter what I eat, I still feel fatiqued, even when exercising. I typically eat around 1000-1200 calories a day, and exercise for an hour, 4-5 days a week, burning 500 or so calories each time.  Do you have any advice on how to maintain energy and strength? I have been trying to eat more protein filled meals but I find it hard to keep up my energy. I try drinking more water, I try to eat right.  The root of my question is: vegan fitness – what is best to consume, how much and of what? What gives vegans the energy they need to have good healthy workouts?  Sincerely, Fitness Bunny

Dear Fitness Bunny,

Congrats in your endeavor to a more fit and healthy lifestyle.  It sounds as if you have a consistent exercise plan in place and are monitoring your caloric intake – both are keys to a successful weight loss. Working with weight loss clients, I often find that many are restricting their calories too much and therefore, they do not have the energy to sustain work outs as well as feel fatigued through the day.

Without consulting with you, I can only give general guidelines to follow – as everyone’s needs vary from person to person.  You need to ensure you are eating enough carbohydrates to provide the fuel your body needs – as carbs are your body’s preferred source. Fruits, starchy veggies, whole grains & legumes are rich in carbohydrate as well as fiber. While trying to lose weight, it is important for you to feel full, and fiber certainly helps your body do just that.

Protein is also important to consume and assists in muscle recovery and repair. Hopefully, you are incorporating some resistance training into your exercise routine to develop muscle mass. Surprisingly, you do not need that much extra protein when increasing activity. The average recreational athlete can easily do well with .8-1.0 grams/kg of body weight per day of protein. More than that typically just adds extra calories that you do not need if your goal is weight loss.

Being that fat is calorically-dense, I would use whole foods rich in this macronutrient sparingly when trying to lose weight. Nuts, seeds, and avocados will help meals & snacks feel a bit decadent while providing nutrients, like omega 3 fatty acids.

Staying hydrated is another key component in both weight loss and optimal performance in your work out. Opting for water rather than calorie-loaded beverages will keep extra calories at bay, but it will also help in keeping you feeling full. Be proactive in your water consumption, especially when working out. When you are thirsty during a workout, it is an indicator that you are already dehydrated.

The combination of eating enough calories from a whole-foods vegan diet and drinking water will give you the energy you need to maintain a consistent cardio & resistance training routine, and hence, have a successful weight loss plan.

Photo credit: Fábio de Albuquerque Vilalba via Flickr