10 Ways to Fight Fatigue on a Vegan Diet
I’m sharing these tips along with my personal story of fatigue on a vegan diet.
Common questions and concerns
- I went vegan or vegetarian and I’m feeling weak or tired.
- I went vegan and I’m feeling depressed.
- My adrenal fatigue got worse on a vegan or plant-based diet.
- I’m eating a vegan diet and getting dizzy spells.
If any of these issues related to you, then read on! You’ll probably find at least one tip or more that can help you resolve your fatigue on a vegan or plant-based diet.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.
10 Ways to Fight Fatigue
1. Get good quality sleep
I went through several months where I would go to bed at a normal time, but wake up only 4-5 hours lately completely awake. So, rather than toss and turn for hours, I would get up but then be exhausted later in the day.
Insomnia is a horrible, horrible thing and addressing it has by far been the best thing I could have done. Here’s a post I wrote with Healthy Sleep Hacks and some of the easy tweaks I’ve made to improve my sleep quality.
2. See professionals and get appropriate tests to identify medical problems
I waited too long to ask for help. When I told my doctor about my insomnia, he suggested that it might be my thyroid hormones levels so we did the appropriate blood tests to confirm. Women are more likely than men to develop underactive thyroid, but women are also often told by doctors that their thyroid levels are fine. This article talks more about the exact thyroid lab tests you need to have evaluated.
If your thyroid is indeed fine, you might still have underlying medical issues that you can get tested for, including chronic infections like Epstein-Barr, parasites, heavy metal toxicity, exposure to mold, or something else.
Working with a functional medicine practitioner is always my best suggestion for getting to the medical root cause of fatigue. I like the site Re-Find Health for finding a qualified functional medicine practitioner.
3. Take appropriate medications and supplements for fatigue
I ultimately decided that there is no shame in taking prescriptions or herbs or whatever supplements I need to feel my best. After fighting the idea of taking hormones to deal with my PCOS and pre-menopausal symptoms, I finally agreed to try it and my insomnia immediately improved. This book about female hormones has been invaluable.
There are lots of supplements that can help with fatigue too! Dr. Aviva Romm, a wonderful natural health-based medical doctor, recommends these supplements for women.
You might also like the article I wrote with natural ways to increase energy which includes a whole list of supplements that can help.
4. Use a plant-based protein powder supplement and eat more protein rich plant foods
While I’ve also been taught that vegans don’t need to worry about protein, I feel better when I supplement with a plant-based protein powder and eat protein rich plant foods like hemp seeds, beans, quinoa, etc.
Maybe it’s because I am so active, but, I do have to think about where I get my protein. Seriously! Increasing my protein levels has been so helpful in feeling less fatigued on a vegan diet.
5. Practice stress management
This is right up there with getting enough sleep. I’ve made some changes in my life such as not pursuing a doctorate and following my passion instead, as well as making sure I have enough “me” time including meditation and other healthy habits like enjoying nature, listening to music, and socializing with friends.
No matter what diet you’re on, managing stress is so important!
6. Get appropriate exercise
I’ve come to realize that there is a fine line between not enough and too much. I’m trying to balance my cardio and strength training better now, with the emphasis on strength and flexibility training, with just enough cardio to feel good.
I’ll never be an endurance athlete and too much cardio exercise just makes me tired. Being cautious about not over-exercising can be really important for those of us who have had adrenal fatigue and are on a vegan diet.
7. Drink green tea
I’m not going to deny that drinking caffeinated green tea in the morning, with another cup just before lunch, has made a huge difference in my energy levels. I found some cool research on how green tea is energizing more than just from the caffeine, due to an amino acid called L-theanine.
Apparently you can get the amino acid in a supplement without the caffeine (or you can drink decaf green tea), but I’m content with my routine for now, especially while it’s cold and drinking a hot beverage is just comforting. I really love making matcha tea, in addition to regular green tea.
8. Eat a variety of plant-based foods with minimal processing
While I’ve always been pretty good about eating whole foods since I became vegan, I continue to make every effort to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and avocados. I definitely feel my best when I avoid the processed foods and just eat real food.
9. Soak and sprout foods
This is a whole new realm for me and something I want to write more about in the future, but I’ve started soaking and sprouting a lot of my grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, to make sure that I’ve getting maximum absorption of the minerals from plant foods. I mainly got turned onto this practice after my husband started having trouble digesting oats. There are a lot of great sprouted options available for purchase now too.
10. Consume minimal refined sugar
Ahhh, the sugar monster. I’m pretty sure I was born craving sugar and it’s a constant battle to manage those cravings. While I’ve tried abstinence and it did help, it ultimately felt too restrictive for me.
So, I’m practicing moderation and using stevia in most of my desserts instead of using “real” sugar. I’m not making any recommendations here except to say that is working for me. This post has tips on how to give up sugar without going crazy!
My Personal Experience
While my hormonal imbalance (PCOS) is something I’ve had since adolescence and certainly years and years before I started following a plant-based diet, the fatigue has been something new in my life.
It started last summer and while I initially blamed it on the intense research and writing I was doing for my master’s degree thesis, I didn’t understand why I didn’t bounce back once the project was over. The way that I really noticed the fatigue was because I would wake up tired and I couldn’t maintain my normal levels of exercise.
For someone who works hard to eat a balanced vegan diet and who loves being active, this was devastating. Additionally, since I am still a fairly recent cancer survivor, I wondered if the process of having my thyroid gland removed had somehow thrown off my entire system and if I would ever feel like my normal self again.
I’d also like to say that while I rely heavily on Western medicine to address my health issues, I did tons of research from a holistic perspective. I want to give strength to the argument that eating a plant-based diet is nutritionally adequate and complete, but because we all are different, it can take some tinkering to find out what works best for each of us based on our individual needs and history.
You can read more about the health reasons you might always be feeling tired here. Additionally, if you’re open to learning more about the risks of a vegan diet, then you might also be interested in eight vegan diet dangers.
Here are some of the ways that I’ve been addressing some of the issues that I’ve battled. I can say that I am feeling a lot better, not perfect, but definitely better.
Update: as of June, 2014, I am no longer following a vegan diet. Here are more posts about fatigue and my transition away from a vegan diet:
- Why I Am No Longer Vegan
- How to Reintroduce Meat After Being Vegan or Vegetarian
- Eight Vegan Diet Dangers
- My Journey to Clean Eating
As we all know, finding good health is more of a journey than a destination, so I will continue discussing this topic in the future and please feel free to post your comment below. I love learning from you!