“You don’t eat meat…? Then how do you get your protein?!”
If I had a penny for every time I heard this question I would have a lifetime supply of protein powder, creatine and BCAA’s by now. Being a vegetarian and hitting your macros is, granted, not as flexible as it is for those with an omnivorous diet – but it is still pretty simple. With a bit of planning and some knowledge of what packs a good amount of protein, you’ll be reaching your macro goals without a worry.
For the following list I’ve opted for six choices that are readily available and, more importantly, will work in lots of different quick and easy recipes. It may initially seem more efficient to chomp down on veggie burgers by the pound, but it’s essential for your body (and maybe more so for your sanity!) to get a varied and balanced diet.
14g of protein per 100g
What’s that? You think that quinoa is only for health food nuts? This grain is so incredible that NASA wants to grow it in space. It is one of the only plant foods that is considered a complete protein (this means that it boasts all of the essential amino acids), and it contains omega-3 fatty acids.
To prepare it you just need to add it to a pan of water, bring it to the boil, lower the heat and cover it for ten minutes, and then fluff it through with a fork. Yes, I too have shuddered at the thought of something I own originally hailing from Gwyneth Paltrow’s gold-encrusted food cupboards, but quinoa really does walk the walk.
If you’re still not convinced then compare its mighty 14g of protein per 100g of product to 3.8g for cous cous and 2.6g for brown rice. Boom!
2) Greek Yoghurt
10g of protein per 100g
Greek yoghurt, like peanut butter, has an excellent amount of useful and healthy fats. Watered down, It can sub in for the milk in a protein shake. For a quick and on-the-go breakfast, it’s a great filler to bulk out any sweet ingredients you may have lying around.
Granola works nicely, fruits (especially antioxidant-rich dark berries) are perfect. Blend in some honey or chocolate spread, seeds, nuts and your choice of flavoured whey protein powder for a guilt-free yet decadent dessert.
The ultimate in culinary success came when I subbed out cream cheese for 0% greek yogurt in a dense and rich baked cheesecake.
The probiotics in greek yoghurt will also give your intestines some help. This is especially important if, like me, you’re chowing through generous portions of veggie meat substitutes. Buying large 1kg pots and eating it every other day with a variety of toppings will keep you happy and healthy until your next shop.
3) Cottage Cheese
10.5g of protein per 100g
I didn’t hear about cottage cheese until just under a year ago and I can’t believe that it had eluded me for as long as it did. Don’t balk at the word ‘cheese’ – this stuff just doesn’t have the same fattening reputation as a slab of cheddar or brie.
It’s a low calorie food ideal for cutting, it works in savoury and sweet dishes (I’ve used it in a delicious cinnamon-apple oatmeal plenty of times) and even the “low fat” versions are macro-friendly.
Remarkably, it is laughably cheap – the supermarket ‘value’ versions are even cheaper for essentially the same product. Fancy some tasty curds in your soup? Go for it. To top a salad? Of course. To replace creamy sauces in a spaghetti dish? That’ll work perfectly. It really is a revelation.
8g of protein per 100g
Tofu seems to be a mystery to lots of folk out there: It’s processed soy milk, nothing more and nothing less. It tends to gets a bad rep as being a flavourless, mushy hippie food but it’s usually because of poor preparation and impatience.
You’ve got to treat your tofu nicely. If you’re finding that it’s a little hard to work with then buy the firmest you can find. Supermarkets are starting to stock tofu more readily but your nearest Chinese supermarket will provide larger quantities and more varieties. It will also be a lot cheaper.
Best way to prepare your firm tofu is to drain it, slice it thinly and fry it up in a pan until it’s nice and crispy. Tofu is a sponge for seasoning so add paprika, soy sauce, garlic… and the rest! You get a huge amount of protein for your caloric buck and it’s delightful in asian stir-frys.
5) Peanut Butter
25g of protein per 100g… but I wouldn’t recommend eating that in one go!
Does peanut butter require any introduction? PB contains, per serving, 3mg of Vitamin E, 49mg of magnesium, 208mg of potassium and 0.17mg of Vitamin B6. It’s also full of monosaturated fats that are good for you (brain function, heart health, all that important stuff).
We’re not going to get into the eternal debate of “chunky or smooth” but if you’re not content with simply having peanut butter on toast then start adding it to your protein shakes! Here’s an easy fix: one tablespoon of PB, one banana, some milk, a scoop of whey, add some chia seeds if you’re feeling fancy, then blend it all up for a bulkaliciously good time.
Also deserving of special mentions are the less famous but equally delicious almond and cashew butters, which regularly make their way into my homemade protein bars, cookies and flapjacks.
13g of protein per 100g
The battle as to whether eggs are a super-food or they’ll inevitably kill you has raged on for decades. As you may have guessed, I am in the former camp and I eat eggs more or less every day.
If you’re on a cut or have certain health problems for which you need to watch your intake, you can keep the white and ditch the yolk, which stores the potentially cholesterol-raising fat. I hasten to add that, as mentioned previously, fat in moderation is a good thing!
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the many exciting (and sometimes complicated!) ways you can prepare an egg, but if you’re not culinarily inclined then here’s a neat trick that has saved me many times after sleeping in past my alarm: Crack two eggs into a bowl, add the seasonings of your choice, then put them into the microwave on high until they firm up – usually less than two minutes.
Take Home Message
In addition to these many delicious foods, quick and simple protein shakes are the go-to to maximise muscle recovery and lean muscle growth. Even if you’re heading more towards being plant-based, opt for the likes of pea protein, hemp, brown rice protein, soy protein etc – each with the similar 20-ish gram of protein content per scoop as whey protein has.
Enjoy experimenting with your delicious, vegetarian-friendly foods!