I am sure you’ve heard this before, but protein is extremely important for your body. I cannot stress this enough. It doesn’t matter if you’re a star athlete or if you can’t even remember the last time you worked out—we all need protein to survive.
As a vegetarian, people often ask me where I get my protein. It’s a legitimate question, as I can see where people are coming from. Usually meat is the standard “good” protein source.
However, I am here to say to you CAN get enough protein as a vegetarian. Usually it just means putting in a little extra effort to make sure you get the amino acids your body needs.
As previously mentioned, everyone needs protein in order to keep going, and athletes need even more protein to rebuild their muscles. Below is a list of good ideas if you are looking to decrease your meat intake (hello, meatless Monday), if you are going vegan/vegetarian, or if you want to mix things up.
Vegetarian Protein Sources
Okay, I am starting with this one because I truly believe that tempeh is superior to tofu. Not only does it have a much better texture, but you also don’t have to worry about “soft,” “firm,” or any of that. There is both unflavored and flavored tempeh; the two are great for different reasons. Whole Foods is an awesome location to find unique flavors, but you should be able to find regular tempeh at any standard grocery store.
Grilling or sautéing tempeh works beautifully. Try drizzling on some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or barbecue sauce to add some extra flavor. It is also super easy to make it ahead of time, such as the beginning of the week, and then store it in the fridge so you have it to easily grab & go.
Tempeh is made from naturally fermenting cooked soybeans. This is why tempeh doesn’t have that uniform consistency that tofu does, as you can see the whole soybeans in tempeh. Natural fermentation aids in breaking down the nutrients found in soy, which makes its proteins more digestible for the body.
I don’t say this about everything, but when choosing your tempeh, be sure to always choose organic. This way you avoid GMOs and other harmful things that can be found in soy. Always avoid extremely processed varieties, too. As for nutrition, tempeh contains 160 calories per half cup serving and 15.5 grams protein.
Tofu is also good, but you gotta SPICE IT UP because it’s very bland on its own. I usually use extra-firm to cut it into cubes and then sautée in a frying pan. It’s also great grilled when cut into thinner, rectangular squares. Read this recipe for an unbelievable red lentil curry (GF, V) with spiced tofu.
Tofu is made by curdling heated soy milk and adding a coagulant. It is more processed than tempeh is, and contains 94 calories with 10 grams of protein per half cup. You can find tofu at almost all grocery stores; oddly enough, it is usually located knew the produce, rather than another spot.
Nut butter is truly an everyday essential for me, and I am 100% serious. A slim number of days go by without me having at least a spoonful either on toast, in oatmeal, or, hey, just straight from the jar. I love mixing up the different types of nuts, such as peanut or almond, as it switches up the flavor and gives your body different nutrients. Cashew butter is also great! Read more here about the health benefits of nuts.
If you aren’t fond of the taste of plain nut butters, there are also fun flavored varieties you can try, such as vanilla almond butter. Read more about the different nut butters here on your guide to all nut butters. Also look at this recipe for wonderful steel cut oats with frozen blueberries & almond butter.
Packaged Protein Bars
Protein bars can be a great on-the-go snack, but you should be sure to look at the ingredients label and nutrition facts. Most brands are chalk-full of sugar, processed ingredients, and a million foods you would never find in your home. Read this for all my favorite energy bars. Here are a few ones I like:
Luna Protein Bars: A nutritionist recommended these to me; I at first was skeptical of the ingredients, but then I realized the majority of them are simply added vitamins. Luna Protein Bars have 12 grams of protein, 14 grams of sugar, and 160 calories. My favorite flavors are Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Mint Chocolate Chip. ❤
ThinThink Protein Bars: These are a great protein source, as each contains 20 grams. However, each bar contains around 9 grams of sugar alcohols, which can be hard to digest and thus cause bloating. Everyone is different, so test out to see if ThinThink bars work for you. Each bar contains 240 calories.
KIND Bars: KIND Bars have a wide variety of different bars and flavors, but my favorite are their Nut & Spice bars. Each bar is made from nuts with an added drizzle and, of course, spices. I love their Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt flavor. That one has 6 grams of protein, 4 grams added sugar, and 200 calories overall.
Homemade Protein Bars
These are great because YOU get to decide exactly what YOU want to put in them. I love this chocolate & peanut butter homemade recipe! Make your own protein bars at the beginning of the week so all you can just grab one when you are running out the door! After cutting the bars, try wrapping each one in wax paper. Aluminum foil could work too if you are out of wax paper.
Homemade Protein Shakes
Ah, similar concept here: YOU get to chose exactly what YOU want to put in your smoothies! Chocolate protein shakes are awesome because they taste exactly like an ice cream milkshake. Look at this recipe to use protein powder, banana, and PB2. Check out this recipe for banana, nut butter, and, of course, protein powder.
“Green” shakes are great, too. You can add tons of spinach, and this spirulina-cinnamon smoothie is my favorite! Perfect for any morning with a piece of toast 🙂
Making a big batch on a Sunday or Monday is super practical! I would never have the time to make a smoothie every single morning, so I make a big batch and then portion it into 8 ounce glasses so I can then grab & go. Don’t wait too long, though! Smoothie tastes best when they were not made too long ago.
Hummus is such a versatile addition to any dish—I love it with carrots for a snack (one of my favorite food combinations) or adding it on top of salads! Hummus is essentially garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas) with usually some tahini, garlic, and other spices. Try flavored hummus, such as red pepper or lemon, for an interesting twist. It’s also great for picnics.
This is a stellar snack, whether you’re at home or packing something to eat on-the-go. Greek yogurt has more protein, and is usually an addition to my lunch, where I always add granola & berries (plus cinnamon & dark chocolate, too).
Siggis is a great brand of yogurt, as their philosophy is to make true Icelandic yogurt with little sugar and lots of protein. On a regular basis, I eat yogurt that is either 0% or 2% milk fat.
It was only a little bit ago that I learned sprouted bread has way more protein than your typical wheat or white. Sprouted bread is stellar for getting in protein when you’re really just eating your daily toast !! If you can, find bread brands that have 6-7 grams of protein per serving. If not, at least 3-4 grams is better than nothing.
Beans & Lentils
When I traveled to Nicaragua, I am not exaggerating when I say I ate rice & beans three times a day (once at each meal). There’s a reason this combination is such a staple, and it’s because together they contain every amino acid your body needs. Try this chili (GF, V) for an awesome bean recipe, which also works great for making ahead of time.
Lentils are also a nutritional powerhouse because they contain protein, fiber, and lots of other beneficial nutrients. My favorite recipe for lentils is this coconut red lentil curry. It is packed with flavor and rich in curry spices.
Lentil Pasta and Edamame Spaghetti
Ah, I first found the lentil pasta at Costco! However, there is a variety of brands out there that sell “pasta” made from 100% lentils. It tastes so similar to real pasta that you’ll harder tell the difference, except for added flavor & nutrition.
I’ve also tried edamame spaghetti, which is a similar concept. It’s made from 100% edamame, and thus contains great protein. Serve both pastas as you would any regular pasta. I love it with roasted veggies and homemade sauce 🙂
Carbohydrates have gotten such a bad rep lately, that people have often forgotten the amazing benefits of whole grains. Quinoa is one that provides awesome fiber & protein. Learn to microwave it here and/or eat it for breakfast! Freekeh is another delicious grain that isn’t extremely well know. Find a recipe here.
To name a few more, I love barely, buckwheat, and brown rice. Experiment with what YOU like best, and don’t be afraid to branch out!
My favorite is a poached egg on avocado toast. Nothing beats starting your day off like that! Eggs are extremely versatile and can be made a huge variety of ways, whether it’s scrambled, over easy, sunny side up, or hard/soft boiled. My favorite scrambled eggs recipe is here.
Another great way to have eggs is eating shakshuka for dinner. It is a poached egg dish in a flavorful tomato sauce. Find a potato & Swiss chard recipe here or another here with bell peppers & garbanzo beans.
Beyond Meat Burgers
Ah, I recently found these gems at Whole Foods! I love making them because they taste delicious and are a great way to get lots of protein; each burger (GF, V) has 20 grams of protein. To go with my burger, I found thin hamburger buns (also at Whole Foods, each one 100 cals). I toasted the bun and then added 1/4 avocado, tomato slices, lettuce, and even some hummus, as well. I love its savory flavor with the crisp + warm bun and all the veggies.
I would definitely recommend finding these at a grocery store near you! Beyond Meat’s slogan is “the future of protein.” They started in 2009 and currently argue that by decreasing or eliminating your meat consumption, you can (a) improve human health, (b) positively impact climate change, (c) address global resource constraints, and (d) improve animal welfare. Read more about their company’s philosophy here.