Must eat nuts and beans. The vegetarian athletes mantra.

tofu and chickpea red curry

I’ve become a weekday quasi-vegetarian. It happened by accident really. My husband has been working away from home Monday to Friday and so I’ve been cooking what I crave and what the children like – which is mainly cheese, beans, fish and vegetables. Sometimes chicken – but since our move we no longer have a decent local butcher, and the long aisles packed full of meat from variable backgrounds at the supermarkets have put me off carnivorous activity. 

So I came to question the quality of our fully vegetarian dinners, and whether they could actually be healthier and better for sport than the meat alternative. Look at Martina Navratilova and Dave Scott, if it works for them maybe going veggo is the way forward. Clearly some athletes thrive on a vegetarian diet, and part of the reason is that removing animal protein from our diets often results in reduced fat intake and weight loss. Also protein is replaced with carbohydrate which helps performance particularly for endurance athletes. 

One main issue with a vegetarian diet is to be sure that high quality protein is consumed to allow for muscle growth and repair. Plant proteins often miss one or more essential amino acid, and so different types of plant foods need to be combined to provide the all amino acids e.g beans and grains, or nuts and seeds. The Australian Institute of Sport recommend that vegetarians  consume 10% more protein than general athlete recommendations as plant proteins are less well absorbed. They also suggest experimenting with vegetarian meat alternatives when your training load is high. At other times good sources of vegetarian protein are: lentils, beans and peas, tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein. There’s also a higher requirement for iron and calcium as they are less easily absorbed from a vegetarian diet. See the AIS’s nutrition tips for vegetarian athletes.

So you really can excel in sport on vegetarian diet, you just need to get the balance right. Just think ‘must eat nuts and beans’…. or ‘must eat lentils and tofu’  (but that’s less catchy). Whatever your veggie protein keep it varied and don’t be afraid to experiment with other meat alternatives. And try out my Thai red curry recipe – I’ve made this perfectly balanced for recovery with  4:1 ratio carbs:protein, and hits the recommended 20g protein per portion, so it’s perfect for after a training session. 

Thai red curry with chickpeas & tofu
Yields 4
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
  1. 1tbsp red thai curry paste
  2. 400ml coconut milk
  3. 1/2 butternut squash (0.5kg), peeled and diced into bite sized pieces
  4. 200g green beans
  5. 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
  6. 1tsp rapeseed oil
  7. 300g plain compressed tofu, cut into 1" cubes
  8. 1tbsp fish sauce
  9. juice of 1/2 lime
  10. a handful of fresh coriander
  11. 2 cups Brown rice
  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add brown rice - boil for 25minutes or until cooked
  2. Add the red curry paste and the solid top layer of coconut milk to a large heated saucepan, cook for a minute
  3. add the rest of the coconut milk and the butternut squash, simmer for 7min
  4. add the beans and chickpeas, simmer for 5 minutes
  5. meanwhile in a separate pan heat the rapeseed oil and fry the tofu cubes until brown and crisp on the outside
  6. add the fish sauce and lime juice to the curry
  7. serve on a bed of brown rice topped with the crispy tofu cubes, a sprinkling of fresh coriander, a wedge of lime and a few cashew nuts.
  1. Keep tasting - I love loads of lime juice so keep adding till it tastes right to you. You can also add more fish sauce or soy sauce if it needs more salt, and freshly shopped red chilli if it needs more heat.
  2. Do you eat fish? This curry taste great with salmon and/or prawns instead of the chickpeas and tofu. I also love it with pakchoi and sugarsnap peas.
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of pack nutrition labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 553g serving %RI
Energy kJ 329 3% 1816 21%
Energy kcal 78 3% 431 21%
Fat 1.5g 2% 8.5g 12% Low
Saturated Fat 0.2g 1% 1.2g 6% Low
Total Sugars 1.7g 1% 9.2g 10% Low
Salt 0.2g 3% 0.9g 15% Low
Protein 3.6 __ 20g