Every so often I get contacted by a vegetarian athlete asking how to get enough protein into their vegetarian diet. No problem. I pass on a few suggestions and life goes on.
Then, weeks later, I get contacted by another vegetarian athlete also looking for protein.
I’ve been contacted by enough vegetarian athletes about protein for athletes that I figured it was time to do a post. So welcome to the almost vegetarian post on protein for vegetarian athletes and the rest of us! (Is it me, or was that quite the mouthful?)
Protein, it does a body good
Certainly dairy products, if you eat dairy, are a great way to get protein (bonus, they are also a good source of calcium).
By dairy I mean anything made with milk, such as butter, yogurt, cheese and so on.
Now here’s the fun part. It doesn’t have to be sheep milk. It could be, for example, goat milk. Which nicely increases your options. Chèvre anyone?
(One little caution, however. A lot of cheese is made with rennet. Rennet is calf stomach. So read those labels and look for cheese made with vegetable rennet and be persistent because it may be difficult to find.)
The perfect protein
Eggs. Perfect. Assuming, once again, that you eat eggs. But if you do, any type of egg will work, from hen eggs to goose eggs and duck eggs and quail eggs and, well, all types of eggs.
Of course, the yolk is pretty high in cholesterol, so you want some moderation here. But no worries if you version of egg is strictly egg whites, as in an egg white omelette.
And I highly recommend you try and get organic eggs. They are expensive, but, hey, let’s not give up meat only to load up on pesticides.
Ahhhhh nuts! (And seeds.)
You like them, they like you, and protein here we come.
Just like with dairy and eggs, any old variety will do, from peanuts and pine nuts to cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds.
Now, you do need to eat these as part of a varied diet (this is pretty sage advice for everything you eat) and you do need to take into account that these are high in fat and, of course, can be fattening. But with a little moderation, these can add some nice crunch to your day.
I wrote a review about a rice maker a while ago, and we’ve been eating a lot more rice ever since.
Matter of fact, we have found that it makes a nice underlayer for everything from beans (of course!) to vegetables.
And, bonus, for us, and for protein, any kind of rice will work. So load up on basmati, jasmine (the scent of this cooking is one of the few things that will drag my husband away from his computer, even if he is wining), brown (great if you want something hearty), red, arborio or carnaroli (risotto anyone?), and so on.
Beans and peas and lentils, oh my
Good and good for you and easy and cheap.
For example, take peas. In the spring, when they are fresh, we load up on English shelling peas and just sit around, shelling and eating and gabbing. Great. In the winter, when fresh peas are just a sweet memory, we get frozen organic peas (Trader Joe’s has them and I seem to remember they are pretty cheap) and cook ‘em up with shallots and rice in a creamy risotto. Very satisfying.
As for beans, I am learning how to cook them now, and once I have a handle on it, I’ll write about it (Now, I keep cooking them too long and the beans burst. They still taste good, but it makes them a bit mushy. I need more practice to get my timing down.) Ditto for lentils, but I’m starting to haunt Indian cookbooks for ideas (although if you have any, please comment, pretty please!).
Soy products and wheat proteins
You know soy, from soy milk to tofu, miso, and TVP (textured vegetable protein).
I put soy milk in my ‘nanner every day, I stir fry with tofu a few times a month, and my husband has invented a TVP taco that is great (just like a regular taco, only he uses TVP and chillies instead of ground meat). I bet kids would like my husband’s version of tacos.
And wheat protein is another word for seitan. Be careful here if you have a wheat allergy because they use the protein part of flour, the wheat gluten, to make seitan. But if you are craving meat, this has just the right taste and texture, especially because you can stir-fry it or bake it or roast it or even stew it.