As I’ve previously written, I am doing a 12-week fat loss “cut” with a program called Renaissance Periodization (AKA RP). In short, my RP coach advises on the macros I should be eating on days that I go for long runs, days I do workouts such as Orangetheory, and days I rest or do easy/moderate runs. The point is to lose fat but keep muscle. The diet has taken some adjusting to, but after nearly 11 weeks on the plan, I’ve figured out some tricks and hacks that I want to share with other RPers, or folks just interested in eating more-RP-like. If you are on a macro-based plan, all of these ideas can be adjusted to fit your macros!
Oh, and as a reminder, I am a vegetarian. So all of these tricks are vegetarian-friendly and some are vegan-friendly! And I will do longer post re-capping my experience with RP and my results (!) once I am finished up my 12 weeks (just before the Phoenix Marathon!!!)
Overnight Slow Cooker Oats
These have been my staple carbs on RP for several reasons: (1) they fit perfectly in my template; (2) they are easy to portion; (3) they are easy to take on the go, even on a run (in portioned plastic baggies) and can be eaten without a bowl or spoon; (4) my husband will eat them; (5) they are easy to customize with unsweetened coconut, chia seeds, etc. or just plain; (6) I don’t get sick of them, even if I have them three times a day.
Add 4 cups steel cut oats, 8 cups of water, some salt, a dash of vanilla, and a sprinkle of cinnamon to a slow cooker. Cook for up to 8 hours (can be done overnight, but really only needs like 4 hrs). Generally, 1/2 cup of the finished product = about 20g carbs.
Note: At one point, we tried to be cheap and make slow cooker oats with regular rolled oats, and it was a terrible failure. Luckily, we were able to find steel cut for a good price on Amazon.
Easy Tofu Stir Fry
As I got the hang of RP, I realized that tofu was going to be key to my success on the diet as a vegetarian. It is an awesome protein source without a bunch of carbs, and it is filling. If you are vegetarian and don’t eat tofu on RP, godspeed. A stir fry is, in my opinion, the easiest of the easy tofu dishes. I buy some firm or extra firm tofu, cut it up or even crumble it, add some RP-approved seasonings, add heat, and stir. I had no issues cooking my tofu without oil in a non-stick pan. But what about those seasonings? I stuck to the basics: liquid aminos/soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. I bought the ginger and garlic in those little easy squeeze bottles. This dish is hard to mess up. Just be sure to cook the tofu until it at least starts to get some color — raw tofu is pretty gross.
The word “casserole” really doesn’t conjure up images of superdeliciousness — you might think of Aunt Edna’s tuna casserole, or the (admittedly appealing) green bean casserole served at the holidays. But, really, a casserole is just a layered and baked dish. Although I found myself able to enjoy tofu stir fry almost daily, I did want to mix things up a bit. Enter: the tofu casserole. My best one so far was Tex-Mex themed and contained cubed butternut squash, diced tomatoes (I used canned), taco seasoning (again, I just bought this, but you could make your own), black beans (canned!), and tofu. This one required a little math to figure out how much tofu I’d need to add to balance out the carbs in the squash and beans. (Remember, count both carbs and proteins in the beans.) But I think I ended up with one good sized squash, two blocks of tofu, and one can of beans. Layer the ingredients (I did squash then beans then tofu then tomatoes) and bake until crusty on the top.
Relatedly, Tofu and Ricotta Casseroles
I love baked pasta dishes with ricotta cheese. I knew I wouldn’t get very far with pasta on RP since my carbs were restricted, so I sought to re-create the feel of baked ziti or manicotti without the pasta. I came up with a tofu and ricotta casserole. I put homemade tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes in a casserole dish, and then I topped it with a tofu/ricotta mixture of silken tofu, part skim ricotta, an Italian cheese blend (parmesan, romano, etc.), oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and chili flakes. I baked it all until the top got golden brown. Delicious enjoyed with some low-cal shiratake noodles, with some bread, chickpeas, or a little pasta (if you are allotted enough carbs), or alone! Don’t forget to count the macros in the dairy. For me, this ended up being 20 g protein, 1/2 serving fat, and some stray carbs. I made a similar casserole with a tofu ricotta blend on top of butternut squash, plus some added thyme, and it was also delicious.
Meringues and Cloud Bread
I’ve eaten a lot of tofu during my cut, but it hasn’t been my sole source of protein. I used some TVP, beans, and of course protein powders. And eggs. A lot of eggs. If you are vegan, skip this part. For most of my RP meals, I’m assigned the equivalent of six egg whites’ worth of protein! Egg whites are filling (so much volume!) and pretty versatile, but I got really sick of egg white omelettes and frittatas. And I was craving food that reminded me of my beloved carbs, which were pretty well restricted on this diet. So I decided to try making meringues, which are basically cookies made out of egg whites. What’s not to like? I later found out that others have used a similar technique to make a product called “cloud bread,” sort of a savory meringue. I didn’t actually try to make cloud bread, but I imagine it would work pretty well. But anyway — meringues. I used liquid egg whites for most of my egg white meals because I didn’t want to be super wasteful with my fancy whole eggs. In a clean bowl, mix egg whites, splenda or stevia, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Mix with a hand mixer. Keep mixing. Mix more. When the eggs are super frothy and form stiff peaks, use a spatula to spoon blobs onto a parchment or silpat-lined cookie tray (if you want to get fancy, use a piping bag or a baggy with a hole cut in it to make nice rounds). I tried baking these at different temperatures and for different lengths of time. They are more toasted-marshmallow-like if you cook them at 300 degrees or more and let them get golden brown. The inside will still be soft, such that the meringues might collapse a bit outside of the oven. For a crunchier, drier meringue, cook at 250 or below for a longer period. At the lower temperature, I still like mine to get some color, but the inside will be more fully cooked than otherwise.
Weirdly, I found it tough to consistently get in the amount and type of veggies prescribed on RP, especially when I wasn’t near a salad bar. I think all my veggie-making energy got diverted to tofu. But I did come up with one trick: veggie soups. Most frequently, I’ve made a fat free mushroom miso soup (based made from veggie stock and a little miso paste), thickened with pureed cauliflower. Easy and filling!
Another favorite veggie dish also features cauliflower, and it is just as easy as the mushroom soup. Fat free, low carb buffalo cauliflower! I put a head’s worth of cauliflower florets in a big mixing bowl. Then I added buffalo sauce or sriracha, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. I tossed the cauliflower in the seasoning sauce until totally covered. I usually needed to add a little water to get the sauce to totally cover the cauliflower, but if you are brave, you can use more sauce (less water, more sauce = more spiciness). Spread the florets evenly on a parchment-lined cookie tray and cook at 400 degrees, tossing occasionally. (I also tried making more of a batter for the buffalo sauce by adding a little unflavored soy protein to the sauce; it made the mixture a little too gritty, so I prefer without.) Sprinkle with blue cheese if you’d like.
Other Veggie Tricks
A few florets of cauliflower go undetected in a protein smoothie. Homemade tomato sauce goes great on pretty much anything. Zucchini and asparagus are easy additions to eggs. Celery sticks are crunchy and refreshing with …
During my first few weeks, I wasn’t measuring out my nut portions, and I think that really slowed my weight loss. Then I started weighing out my peanuts and putting them into little plastic baggies. Huge difference. These are easy to grab on the go. I used these for the vast majority of my fats on the plan.
Casein Cookies (Pictured Above)
Casein seems to be a staple across RP plans. The thought is that you eat casein just before bed, and that helps your muscles build and recover while you sleep. Easy enough, and who doesn’t love a bedtime treat? I will confess that my first several weeks of RP, I was not using casein protein powder before bed. I was traveling, and I didn’t want to invest in casein (it sounded pretty gross, and I already had so many protein shakes in my diet in those early days!). So instead I was using low fat cottage cheese (I was allowed fats before bed). Then I saw a bunch of recipes for casein treats on the RP Facebook group and re-evaluated my decisions (i.e., I immediately ordered the largest tub of casein known to man).
One easy way to make great casein treats, especially for on the go, are casein cookies. (I even took a portion to parties if I knew others were going to be eating desserts and I would want to join in on the fun!) The “recipe” can easily be adjusted to meet your protein needs, but basically I would do 3-4 servings protein powder, 2 egg whites, a few tablespoons of cocoa powder, 2 servings of PB2, a dash of salt and baking powder. Mix up, and add water until it is the texture of drop cookie dough. Drop spoonfuls out onto a cookie tray and cook at 350 degrees until cookies are fairly firm and starting to smell like toasty brownies. Let them cool before packaging them up to avoid rubberiness and moisture, and then divide into the proper portions. If they puffed up during cooking, they should flatten out as they cool — that’s ok!
Relatedly, Microwave Casein Mug Brownie
When I didn’t have cookies available but wanted a warm chocolate treat, I’d make a casein brownie in a mug. Basically, this involved mixing casein powder, a packet of stevia, one egg white, and some extra cocoa powder in a mug. Add some water until it becomes a firm brownie batter (if you add too much water, that’s OK, but it may take longer to cook). Then microwave in stages, watching to be sure it doesn’t overflow. When the egg looks cooked and firm, you should have a gooey brownie mixture that is delicious with a dollop of peanut butter or some Halo Top ice cream.
And… Casein Pudding
Some days I did not want to wait around for even an easy mug brownie, and on those days, I made casein pudding. Casein pudding is just a mix of casein protein powder, a little nonfat Greek yogurt (I usually just used a good dollop), PB2 (optional, but I love this stuff), and water or milk (I sometimes used cashew milk, but usually just water). First mix the dry ingredients and yogurt, then add the liquid slowly while stirring until you have the desired pudding-like consistency. You could also add more cocoa powder and stevia if you want, but I didn’t find this was necessary. I liked this best with super cold water, or I’d pop it in the fridge for a few minutes to get nice and cold (if I could wait!).
I hope this is helpful! What are your favorite high-protein vegetarian meals I should be adding to my repertoire? Any other RPers or other dieters with tricks I should know? I am sure there are other little tricks I’ve picked up, but these stood out as the biggest, especially for those of us who aren’t interested in getting through a diet on chicken breasts and deli meats.