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