Protein power! A spicy salute to vegetarians

March 24 2015

Ask any dedicated gym member what the most vital component of their meal is and you will be greeted with a universal reply - protein!

That’s right, protein is crucial for our bodies to improve, grow and develop. Protein fuels our bodies in a way that carbs simply can’t, by providing us with energy for our metabolism whilst also encouraging growth and repair of muscles, internal organs and even replenishing your skin.

Once again, if you ask people what the best protein source is they will probably state meat as the main contender. While this is true, it is a common misconception that protein is found in meat products alone. It may be National Butchers’ Week in the UK, but we are celebrating the vegetarians and vegans among the DW Fitness Clubs family who get their protein fix elsewhere.

The protein breakdown

Proteins are made up of different chains of amino acids, each chain is used to create different proteins in your body. There are 20 amino acids in total, and while your body can make up some of them there are nine that you cannot get anywhere else but from the food and drink you consume - these are called essential amino acids.

When you consume food that has protein in, your body breaks this down into amino acids which are then reformed into the protein that your body needs for energy, muscle repair and growth. Different foods contain varied levels of amino acids within them, high protein foods which contain all of the amino acids are called complete proteins, whereas foods that don’t contain the full amount are called incomplete proteins.

Complete or incomplete, that is the question

Complete protein foods are primarily those that come from animals, such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. However, you can also find complete proteins from some soybean-based foods, such as tofu, edamame and tempeh, and a grain called quinoa.

Don’t worry about getting the right amount of protein if you are a vegetarian or vegan because you can find incomplete proteins in many plant-based foods such as beans, peas, chickpeas, nuts, leafy green vegetables, seitan and seeds.

Got milk? Non-dairy milk such a soya, almond and hemp milk are a great alternative to traditional dairy as these contain amounts of protein in exchange for fewer calories and fat. However, they are not equal to cow's milk, which is rich in vitamin D and K and contains a greater amount of protein and calcium, so only make the switch if you really need to.

The tofu revolution

Vegetarianism is all the rage these days, with trends such as ‘Meatless Monday’ sweeping the nation, as well as a plethora of vegetarian options appearing on the menus of popular restaurants everywhere.

As mentioned earlier, tofu is a staple in the vegetarian diet as it is packed full of protein yet contains fewer calories and fat than meat. Tofu originates from China where it is also known as bean curd. It is made from fresh soybean milk which has been boiled, curdled, cooled and pressed in a similar way to cheese. Tofu comes in four different types, which can add different textures to any dish, these include, extra firm, firm, medium and soft.

Not long ago tofu was considered somewhat bland and flavourless, however people are now experimenting with it and realising that when cooked properly it can be a full and exciting staple for any dish. The joy of tofu is that because it is so plain you can add any flavour or texture to it, allowing you to create a variety of delicious dishes.

As the ingredient of the week for our 40 Days of Fitness campaign is chilli powder, we thought we would provide you with a spicy tofu dish to kick off the week with. Adding chillies to your dishes is a great way of adding flavour, and the heat of the chillies have been known to raise your metabolic rate, which can help you to naturally burn more calories and fat.

Prepare this Thai-style tofu and vegetable stir fry, originally found at, and get ready to meet your favourite new ingredient tofu.

Thai-style tofu and vegetable stir fry


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 100g of peas
  • 1 garlic clove, very thinly sliced
  • 1 large jalapeno, thinly sliced crosswise with seeds (or chilli powder)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 4 large shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
  • 2 cups small broccoli florets
  • 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3 canned plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups light unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves
  • Lime wedges and boiled brown rice, for serving

Total time with prep: 30 minutes

Serves: 4


Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok and add the onion, ginger, jalapeno and stir fry on a high heat for about two minutes. Add in the turmeric, then the mushrooms, broccoli and carrot, and stir fry for a further 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, peas, coconut milk, tofu, water and soy sauce to the wok, stir for about four minutes or until the vegetables are al dente. Finish by stirring in the chopped basil, then transfer into bowls and add the lime wedges to serve. Sprinkle with extra chilli, if you’re daring enough for an extra spicy kick, and serve with boiled brown rice.

So there you have it, a filling and healthy vegetarian curry using tofu. If you prepare this recipe and want to share how you got on, or show off how much spice you could handle, then share your photo on twitter and add #FitnessRevolution. Or join in with our weekly twitter chat on Wednesday at 9pm (GMT) and let us know how you got on. Need extra nutritional advice? Why not book a free consultation with one of our personal trainers for some expert advice?