Some people have high energy requirements, and getting enough calories may be a challenge. Some of the “risk factors” for having high energy needs are: endurance sports, male gender, high muscle bulk and high resting metabolic rate. It is not difficult to plan a whole foods plant based diet to meet these needs.
Even for those with average energy needs there may be difficulties getting enough calories. Gastro-intestinal disease, gastric banding, chronic medical conditions, cancer and recovery from prolonged illness may all present challenges for eating enough plant based food.
We refute the common belief that Australian meal sizes are too large: they are small and too energy dense. Western meals are smaller than those in cultures that eat a more plant-based low-oil diet. When it comes to vegetables and whole starchy foods most Australians are seriously under-nourished.
This culture of small energy dense meals creates some problems for “high energy needs” plant eaters. After a lifetime of energy dense meals, some people find it difficult to retrain their stomach to stretch enough to eat a large meal without discomfort: “eating into the pain”. The common habit of only eating one substantial meal a day will not work with minimally processed whole plant foods: a full day’s allowance of whole plant foods will not fit into a normal stomach. This is normal for herbivores. See Humans are Herbivores page. Restaurants usually do not understand energy density and serve up inadequate portions to vegans – containing little starch and very few calories (Asian restaurants are most likely to understand “a lot of rice”). Large meals can even offend some people.
Strategies for getting more calories
- Eat larger portions* of starchy foods – e.g. potatoes, rice, oats, pasta and legumes.
- Eat more for breakfast and lunch. Don’t leave most of your food intake for the evening.
- Have between meal snacks, e.g fruit and dried fruits such as dates and figs.
- Eat or begin cooking before you are hungry.
- Add calorie boosters to meals: e.g. dried fruits to porridge or nuts and avocados to salads.
- Many athletes have a small snack before morning training.
- Drink some fruit juices or non-dairy smoothies in addition to your main meals (i.e. not as a meal replacement).
- Find some nutritious food – cakes/energy bars (preferably made from dried fruits and whole grains) and a good wholemeal bread.
* What is a large portion? The following are examples for an average sized male (weights are dry weights):
- Morning porridge: 140g rolled oats, 40g dried fruit. Served with fresh fruit
- Lunch: 150g of pasta. Served with soup or vegetables
- Dinner: 200g brown rice or pasta. Served with vegetables and tofu
We recommend you purchase kitchen scales. Aside from getting some idea of your portion size, they are very useful for getting the proportion of water and rice/oats just right.
See also: Plant Based Athletes