How To Nail Nutrition As A Vegetarian
If people tell you you need meat in your diet, because you won’t get enough protein otherwise, then send them to my Instagram page. If they say that a vegetarian diet doesn’t fuel you properly for training, then show them my FIERCE program in action.
I haven’t eaten meat in years (though I do vary between a pescatarian and vegetarian diet every so often) — but I train as hard as anyone. Whether it’s HIIT, Muay Thai or strength work, I smash every session fuelled only by vegetarian food. And I recover as quickly as anyone.
I do take some supplements to make sure I’m getting every nutrient that I need — they include Essential Amino Acids and a Whey Protein Isolate. I’d recommend you check in with a nutritionist or dietician too, to ensure your health needs are met when changing diets.
Let’s also not forget how much of a foodie I am — so before you ask, no I do not feel like I am missing out. If you’re considering a vegetarian diet, then let me share some of my knowledge on the subject — starting with protein!
How vegetarians get their protein
The first thing people will say about being vegetarian if they don’t know enough about nutrition, is that you can’t get enough protein without meat. It’s just not true. There are so many sources of protein available to vegetarians.
I’m not just talking about the packaged meat substitutes, there are plenty of everyday foods that are packed with protein and all the macros you need to fuel your body properly. Beyond meat and fish, most people aren’t aware of the protein content of many foods.
Here are a few of the best ways to pack in the protein, build muscle and recover quickly from a HIIT workout.
Go nuts about nuts
For years I was a pescatarian and many of my proteins came from fish and seafood. Recently my son asked me why I was eating a fish and I was all of a sudden back to being full vegetarian, but I am certainly not missing out.
Nuts have always been a big part of my diet. Not only are they high in protein, but like avocados, they also contain healthy fats which make you feel full and satisfied after eating.
You don’t need too many nuts in your diet — a small handful of almonds as an afternoon snack, or some cashews scattered through a salad or stir-fry adds protein and texture.
Peanuts are also a surprisingly great source of protein with 7g of protein in just a small handful. The same goes for peanut butter which can make for a great pre-workout breakfast on toast, or a protein-heavy snack on sliced apple (it’s tastier than it sounds!)
You can’t beat an egg!
Is there a more versatile food source than eggs? They’re an inexpensive source of high-quality protein with 13g of protein per 100g and you can use them in so many different ways. You can also change your macros and cut down on fat, by varying the number of egg whites to yolks in whatever you’re cooking.
Personally, I haven’t enjoyed eggs since I was pregnant with Swayde back in 2017. These days I only eat them disguised in pancakes, noodles and baked goods. But they’re definitely a great source of protein for most people.
Starting the day with poached eggs on whole grain toast is a good solid breakfast. Smash some avo on the toast, add mushrooms and spinach, then break a poached egg over the whole thing.
An omelette with plenty of healthy veggies is another healthy option, with more egg whites than yolks in the mix. You can also use eggs in my clean fried rice dish, or add them to leafy greens for a healthier version of caesar salad.
Sowing the right seeds
Seeds are another great snack. A really small handful — sometimes mixed with nuts — together with some fruit makes a really healthy snack either before or after training. You can sprinkle pumpkin or sunflower seeds over salads for an extra hit of protein. Or add a spoonful of chia seeds to a smoothie when starting your day with a healthy breakfast.
Believe it or not, those tiny seeds are packed with essential amino acids, minerals (calcium, zinc, copper and magnesium), dietary fibre and vitamins. You may never look at seeds the same way!
Full of beans
Beans, pulses, legumes — I love them all! From kidney beans in a healthy Mexican dish to chickpeas in a salad, or my clean butter curry. Lentils are also a great source of protein and can bulk up soups.
You can also add tahini to chickpeas to make a healthy hummus, as the ideal snack served with sliced raw veg.
Like seeds, chickpeas are also packed with minerals, vitamins and fibre — they’re super healthy and great for improving digestion.
Dairy is not scary
Cheese is another great source of protein for vegetarians. Don’t overdo it, just use it for flavour and texture, but including cheese on a veggie lasagne or pizza is perfect in moderation.
Other dairy foods such as natural greek yoghurt and cottage cheese are high in protein and have good natural fats. You can add yoghurt to that smoothie you put the chia seeds into — while cottage cheese is a perfect snack on corn thins, or with some fruit.
Other veggie protein sources
I could go on, but there are clearly so many ways you can get protein without eating meat. As well as the common sources mentioned above, you can get protein in wild rice, quinoa, oats, grains, sweetcorn, or tofu.
If you want to make small changes to your diet and introduce new habits gradually, then swapping white rice for quinoa is an instant change that you’ll hardly notice, but will be great for you. Quinoa has twice the protein of white rice and more fibre and is super tasty with curries and tagines.
Protein is also present in veggies themselves — broccoli, spinach and mushrooms are all great sources of protein. A vegetable omelette in the morning with extra egg whites is one of the best breakfasts you can start your day with.
While fruits don’t generally have a lot of protein, it can still contribute to your overall intake. Plus fruits contain many essential vitamins and minerals that are great for your health, too.
Finally, did I mention edamame — it’s a veggie superfood that can be eaten in so many ways. Full of protein, fibre, antioxidants and vitamin K, it’s great for your heart health.
No, being a vegetarian is not boring!
Okay, so we’ve got past the protein argument against giving up meat.
The final myth is that vegetarian cooking is boring... Followers of my Instagram page who have seen my 'Day on a Plate' posts will know that is not the case!
As a complete foodie, I can tell you that there are so many great veggie dishes to enjoy.
It’s all about flavour
Forget meat, it’s all about flavour and texture when it comes to interesting recipes. From firm and crispy tofu to clean tofu spaghetti, or from plant-based shepherd’s pie and salad, to a stacked veggie burger — it’s flavour city on my plate! What makes the difference with vegetables is the variety of colours and textures, together with herbs and spices for punch.
And by the way, good old toast with butter and Vegemite is totally vegetarian and my absolute favourite.
Try going a week without meat
If you want to eat well and train hard then vegetables still provide plenty of protein, and the carbs you need, to fuel training and aid recovery.
Why not give it a go — try a week without eating meat and see how great you feel. You’ll smash your workouts and certainly won’t be missing out on flavour — or protein!
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.