As part of any fitness regime, you have to make the biggest changes in the kitchen (you can’t work off a bad diet) but that challenge seems to be even greater for those who want to avoid meat.

Whether you want to go vegetarian or vegan, or even just cut down your shopping bill and not be eating six chicken breasts a day, most recipes and eating plans that you’ll find will lean fairly heavily on poultry, as well as plenty of fish. However, if you want to keep the meat eating to a minimum, then finding a plan or a few meals that can make the best use of the power of vegetables is easier said than done.

Eating large quantities of meat can not only lack flavour and be a little bit boring, but it may also leave your digestive system struggling to break down the food and turn it in to the fuel your body needs. So what are the alternatives? The Man Cave caught up with Steven and David Flynn of The Happy Pear recently to run through some meat-free options for a healthy lifestyle that don’t skimp on the flavour or the nutrition, so that you can still impress with your cooking skills on a date, and make sure that you don’t undo all your hard work in the gym when you get home to the kitchen.

“Greens like spinach and kale pack a serious punch when it comes to protein, and pound for pound they have more protein than most meats” David tells us, so adding them to your diet is an absolute no-brainer. However, focusing solely on your protein intake and ignoring everything else your body needs is a path fraught with hazards too.

“People get so obsessed with protein because they’re told that they have to have it, but Colin Campbell, who wrote The China Study and is one of the world’s leading biochemists, he found that there’s a direct correlation between consumption of animal protein and prostate and breast cancer. It’s the same correlation between smoking and lung cancer, to the same degree, which is a worry.”

“The modern Irish man is a lot more conscious of a whole lot of things that we might not have been in the past: our style, our diet, of being healthy, and eating lots of fruit and veg is a great way to go about it.”

If gains aren't your goal, then there's even more joy to be found in a diet that keeps your intake of meat low: "in terms of minimising your body fat, eating a plant-based diet that’s high in nutrition makes total sense. It’s high in water so it’s good for your skin, it’s got a protein content of about 8-10%, it’s low in cholesterol and it’s rich in vitamins and minerals. That means you feel better, you have more energy and you look better...which possibly means you're going to get more sex! That's the driver of it all!"

So why the focus on protein? "This is the thing; we're all on the bandwagon that we have to eat meat, but that's not necessarily the case. It’s about making a choice for your own life and doing what you want to be able to do". If that means you want to build muscle, or you're an endurance athlete, there are some tasty, energy packed dishes, all from the new Happy Pear cookbook that are perfect for anyone who wants to fuel their body for peak performance, without sacrificing on flavour.


If you're in the gym to build muscle, then you're burning a lot of calories, so there's one important piece of advice: eat loads, but make it the right stuff. "Most men want an alternative to eating another chicken breast and more broccoli, especially if you’re cooking for someone else, and a dahl is absolutely great for that. Most importantly, it's easy, it’s not rocket science!"

To make this recipe you need:

  • 500g red lentils
  • 2 red onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Half a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 1 courgette
  • 4 medium tomates
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3 tsp medium curry powder
  • 3 tbsp tamari or liquid Aminos or soy sauce
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • juice of a lime
  • small bunch of fresh coriander

If you have time, soak the lentils for a few hours before hand (not essential, however). Peel and finely slice the onions, garlic and ginger, cut the courgette into bitesize pieces and chop the tomatoes.

Saute the onions, garlic and ginger in a large pan with 4 tablespoons of water, stirring regularly ensuring that they don't stick to the bottom (add more water if this starts to happen). Once the onions are soft, add the courgette, tomatoes and a teaspoon of salt.Put the cover on the pan and cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes, or if you have more time, cook the veg a little bit longer, as this adds more flavour.

Add the lentils, lime juice and the spices, along with two litres of water, and bring to the boil. Once it's boiling, lower it to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes, stirring regularly so the lentils don't stick. Serve with a sprinkle of the fresh coriander.

Endurance athlete

Long distance running requires plenty of energy that you can call on when you've hit the wall, as well as being able to recover in time to get back to your every day activities, which itself is tough enough.

"Even daily life is an endurance sport these days, and the body recovers really quickly from eating fruit and veg. A chicken breast can take up to 50 hours to work its way through your body, which slows your system down. You can get protein from all vegetables, we’re just conditioned to eating so much meat and we don’t need to be".

There are plenty of examples of endurance athletes like Scott Jurek, who has won tons of ultramarathon events such as the Hardrock Hundred or the Spartathlon, and does it on a plant-based diet. You can get everything you need from a meal that has lots of veg, and these raw power bars will make sure your tank never runs empty.

To make this recipe (about 16 bars) you need: 

  • 200g almonds
  • 45g pumpkin seed
  • 95g sunflower seeds
  • 45g ground linseeds/flaxseeds
  • 40g sesame seeds
  • 30g goji berries
  • 60g dried apricots
  • 50g dessicated coconut
  • 35g cacao nibs
  • 80g cacao butter
  • 125ml honey
  • 50g almond butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping you need: 

  • 50g cacao butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 55g cacao powder
  • 70ml honey
  • dessicated coconut to sprinkle on top

Put the nuts, seeds and dried fruit, along with the coconut and cacao nibs, in a food processor and blitz it until they're all chopped to make the base of the bars.

Melt the cacao butter in a bowl over a pot of boiling water, then add it to a bowl along with the almond butter, salt vanilla essence, and the seed mix to a bowl. Mix together, then blitz in a food processor for 2 minutes. Spread the mixture in a tray and place in the fridge for around two hours, or ideally overnight. 

If you want to add the topping, melt the cacao butter in the same way as before, melting it slowly and stirring frequently. Once it's melted, whisk all the other ingredients in (except the coconut) and then spread evenly on top of the base using a spoon or spatula. Leave it in the fridge again, for at least two hours, and sprinkle on the coconut when set. They last for up to three weeks in the fridge...if you don't eat them all first!


“Smoothies are so easy, and you can make them really protein rich by throwing in plenty of greens, and they’re tasty too”. That makes it the perfect combo to help your body get going as quick as possible after a hard workout or a long run, and smoothies are so quick to make that you've got no excuses not to eat healthily. 

For this recipe you need: 

  • 1/2 a ripe avocado
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 100ml apple juice (or two apples juiced)
  • 2cm cube of fresh ginger
  • a few ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients in a blender (or double up to get two serving out of it) and you're done. The ice adds a nice texture that makes it creamy, and the tang of the lime and ginger makes this a distinctive taste. Couldn't be easier. 

For more great recipes that are healthy and delicious, check out the Happy Pear cookbook which has everything and anything you need to know about getting some more fruit and veg in to your diet. The recipe for the Viatnamese sweet almond curry is worth the price alone, trust us on that.