Muscles aren’t just for meat eaters. Vegetarians and vegans can also build muscle mass and strength without sacrificing performance. If you’re looking for some inspiration, we’ve selected a few recipes from the new nutrition guidebook, “The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes for Active Living,” written by lifelong vegetarian, registered nutritionist and former British bodybuilding champion Anita Bean.
“More and more people are cutting meat and adopting a ‘flexitarian’ eating pattern with fewer animal products and more plant foods for health, ethical or environmental reasons,” says Bean, who has written 27 books on nutrition and fitness, including the best-selling book, “The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition,” now in its eighth edition.
“Large-scale studies have shown that a vegetarian diet has numerous health benefits, including a longer life span, less cardiovascular disease risk and a lower risk of certain cancers, Type 2 diabetes and obesity,” she says. “I also wanted to dispel the popular myths about vegetarian diets, namely that they are low in protein and cannot support top-level performance. There are plenty of examples of world-class athletes who are vegetarian or vegan. There are also many studies that show that a vegetarian diet can benefit health as well as performance.”
While eating more vegetables daily isn’t a hard sell — we all generally agree that is a must — finding ways to add more fresh produce to your diet can be tricky. Here’s where Bean offers a solution: “All the recipes [in this cookbook] are easy and quick to make. You don’t need to be an experienced cook to manage them! My recipes make use of everyday foods that are inexpensive and widely available in stores. The recipes are designed with the specific nutritional needs of active people in mind. So, there’s a focus on protein, iron, omega-3s and calcium, and nutrients that assist with energy production, muscle recovery and healthy immune function.”
Below, Bean shares five favorite recipes from her new book, and explains the nutritional benefits of each delicious dish. All main meals, excluding desserts, offer approximately 20 grams of protein or more per serving.
1. Butternut Squash and Pea Risotto with Parmesan and Pine Nuts
“Risotto is a fantastic source of carbohydrates, which you need before training, so it’s a really great pre-workout meal,” says Bean, who made this weekly for her daughter to eat before swim practice. Another reason this is Bean’s go-to dish: “You’ve got just about every color in there. Butternut squash has a really beautiful gold color and it’s a good source of keratin, which is an antioxidant. You’ve also got kidney beans, which contain fiber and protein. And it has peas, which add vibrancy as well as protein and vitamin C. I like to add pine nuts and other nuts, like cashews and almonds, to get some extra omega-3’s as well as some protein and B vitamins.” If you want to lower the calorie count, Bean advises swapping out rice for extra vegetables. “I might put in some celery or mushrooms to create more volume and give more portions,” she says.
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/4–1/2 red chili pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1–2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 3/4–2 1/2 cups hot vegetable stock (or 1 1/2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon dissolved in boiling water)
1/2 (14 ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup pine nuts
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan, and cook the onion over moderate heat, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add the chili and garlic and continue cooking for about 1 minute.
Add the rice, and continue cooking for 1–2 minutes, stirring constantly until the grains are coated with oil and translucent.
Add the butternut squash and half of the hot vegetable stock, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the liquid is absorbed (about 5 minutes). Add the remaining stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring and continuing to simmer until the rice is almost tender (about 15 minutes). Add the red kidney beans and peas, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. As a guide, the total cooking time should be around 25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the grated Parmesan and pine nuts, and season with lots of black pepper. Serve with Parmesan shavings and extra black pepper.
Per serving: Calories: 613; Total Fat: 20g; Saturated Fat: 4g; Carbohydrate: 81g; Dietary Fiber: 14g; Sugar: 11g; Protein: 21g
2. Black Bean and Vegetable Curry with Almonds
“This dish offers a good mixture of both carbohydrates and protein, which you need to promote a speedy muscle recovery,” says Bean, who makes curry at least once a week. “Like most beans, black are rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins and iron. They are also a brilliant source of fructooligosaccharides.” (Those are low-calorie, indigestible carbohydrates that enhance flavor and promote immunity, bone health and the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.)
While this recipe calls for potatoes, Bean often prefers to use sweet potatoes, which contain more beta-carotene. “Try to vary the vegetables,” she says. “If you make this more than once a week, you will want to mix the flavors.”
Speaking of flavor, Bean uses coconut milk for taste. If you want to reduce the fat or boost protein and calcium, consider skipping the coconut milk and instead use more Greek yogurt.
1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
1⁄3 cup frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup ground almonds
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional garnish)
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large pan, and add the onion. Cook gently for 5 minutes until softened. Add the vegetables, spices, garlic, and ginger and cook for a further minute, then add the chopped tomatoes and about 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and cook for 10 minutes. Add the beans and continue cooking for 2–3 minutes.
In a separate bowl, mix together the coconut milk, yogurt and almonds, then stir into the curry. Turn off the heat, taking care not to boil, otherwise the yogurt may curdle. Stir in the cilantro, and season with salt and pepper.
Serve with brown rice or flatbread, if desired.
Per serving: Calories: 592; Total Fat: 21g; Saturated Fat: 7g; Carbohydrate: 66g; Dietary Fiber: 18g; Sugar: 22g; Protein: 26g
3. Rainbow Salad with Goat Cheese
Bean recommends roasting a big batch of vegetables on Sunday evening (it takes about 30 minutes) and keeping them in your fridge for the next couple of days so that they’re ready to eat when you want to quickly make this easy salad. Keep the salad interesting by switching up the leafy greens you use as a base and the protein. “I love goat cheese because it’s a good source of protein and calcium,” she says. Winterize this summer salad by warming up the goat cheese: Cut a thick slice and flash it on a hot, nonstick pan for 20–30 seconds. Or make it vegan, and opt for a handful of cashews instead of cheese.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1–2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
1/4 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, julienned
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 cups salad greens
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Toss the pepper, onion, butternut squash, carrot and sweet potato in the olive oil and garlic in a large roasting pan. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are almost tender.
Arrange the salad greens, tomatoes and avocado on two plates. Pile the cooked vegetables and top with crumbled goat cheese.
Per serving: Calories: 520; Total Fat: 30g; Saturated Fat: 14g; Carbohydrate: 40g; Dietary Fiber: 11g; Sugar: 21g; Protein: 18g
4. Potato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Frittata
“This meal really is super quick, actually, and very high in protein,” Bean says. “It’s got 22 grams of protein thanks to the eggs, which are a brilliant food for athletes. Eggs also contain so many other nutrients: B vitamins, iron, vitamin A and vitamin D in the yolks.” Don’t feel obligated to following this recipe exactly. While Bean likes vitamin C-rich spinach (fresh or frozen), any leafy green vegetable will do. Also, consider adding leftover potatoes or sweet potatoes, too. Whatever you want to add to the mix, just be sure to whisk it with the eggs.
1 medium potato, peeled and thickly sliced
4 large eggs
Salt and pepper
Grated nutmeg, to taste
4 cups spinach
1/2 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
Cook the potato slices in a steamer or a small pan of boiling water for 5 minutes until just tender.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the potatoes, spinach and goat cheese.
Heat the olive oil in a nonstick ovenproof frying pan, then add the onions and sauté for 4–5 minutes until they are softened. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for 1 minute. Pour in the frittata mixture, and cook over medium heat for a few minutes until the eggs are almost set. Place the pan underneath a hot grill until the top is golden and just set.
Slide a knife around the edge and slide the frittata onto a large plate. Serve in wedges, with a green salad if desired.
Per serving: Calories: 363; Total Fat: 21g; Saturated Fat: 8g; Carbohydrate: 19g; Dietary Fiber: 4g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 22g
5. Blueberry New York-Style Cheesecake
“A conventional cheesecake made cream cheese could be as high as 800 calories per slice,” says Bean. “After a main meal you don’t need to double your calorie intake. Desserts are a treat. They are not necessarily part of your daily nutrient intake.”
Still, you don’t have to rule out satiating your sweet-tooth. “If you can make sure that desserts do contribute something useful to your daily intake then it’s a nice bonus,” she explains. “I added blueberries, but you can add other fruits, like bananas, strawberries, or whatever is in season. In the winter, perhaps use dried fruit if you can’t get hold of any decent quality fresh fruit.”
In this “cheat” version of cheesecake, she uses an almost fat-free soft cheese called quark, but you could swap in ricotta.
For the base:
1/2 cup graham crackers or gingersnap cookies
3 tablespoons olive oil spread or butter
For the filling:
18 ounces quark or fat-free ricotta
3/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar with stevia or 1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup blueberries
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Blitz the graham crackers or cookies in a food processor or place in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin to fine crumbs. Melt the olive oil spread or butter in a pan over a low heat. Remove from the heat, add the crumbs, and mix well. Press crumb mixture into an 7-inch lined springform pan.
Place the quark, eggs, yogurt, corn starch, sugar with stevia (or sugar) and vanilla into mixing bowl. Blend at low speed for 1–2 minutes; scraping the sides of the bowl and mixing paddle halfway. (Or, beat together with a large spoon.) Carefully stir in the blueberries with a large spoon.
Pour the batter into the pan; bake for 40–45 minutes until just set with a slight wobble. It should be cream on top with just a slight golden hint around the edges. Turn off the oven, prop open the door so that it is slightly ajar, and leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven (this prevents it cracking).
Once cool, remove from oven. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan, and keep in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
Per serving: Calories: 211; Total Fat: 7g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Carbohydrate: 23g; Dietary Fiber: 1g; Sugar: 10g; Protein: 14g