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Q: What are some tasty meatless protein options?
A: As many triathletes move toward vegetarian or plant-based diets, and because the protein needs of athletes are higher than that of our less active friends, I answer this question often in my practice.
Soy products—including tofu, tempeh and edamame—are high-protein meat alternatives. Tofu can be marinated and grilled, or cooked into a delicious breakfast scramble (add vegetables and salsa for flavor and fiber). Edamame is available both frozen (in the shell and already shelled) and dried for an easy snack. At 20 grams of protein per cup of tofu and 17 grams per cup of edamame, soy is a protein powerhouse.
Legumes (including beans and lentils) are also high in protein. Pinto, black and kidney beans are easy to add to almost any meal, and provide 15 grams of protein per cup. Lentils come in many shapes and sizes, and at 18 grams of protein per cup, are worth trying. Azuki beans (17 grams of protein per cup) can be made into great-tasting soups or sweetened desserts. Seitan is another alternative made from wheat gluten, the protein found in wheat, so it is not suitable for those seeking a gluten-free diet. It is a chewy protein alternative delivering 18 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving. By including many of these foods in your daily diet, along with triathlete favorites like oatmeal (5 grams of protein per cooked cup), Greek yogurt (13–16 grams of protein per 5 ounces), cottage cheese (13–16 grams of protein per half-cup) and protein-rich vegetables (about 3 grams per half-cup each for peas, corn and potatoes), you have many options to ensure you meet your daily protein needs.
Lauren Antonucci, R.D., is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, three-time Ironman finisher and the founding director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.