Proteind and the Dancer’s Diet
Nutrition plays an integral part in any dancer’s life. Eating a healthy, balanced diet promotes health and fitness, allowing the dancer to perform at their maximum potential. Protein, one of the major food groups, is especially important for proper muscle function and stamina.
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential to building and sustaining lean mass. Proteins are made up of amino acids. While some proteins are ingested, others are made by your body. Dancers require almost twice as much protein as normal people because of the increased stress their bodies are exposed to on a daily basis. Protein repairs the muscle fibers that get broken down in class and rehearsal.
Healthy sources of protein for dancers
While found in a variety of foods, poteins can be broken down into two major groups: Plant-based and animal source. Proteins of animal source include meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and dairy. Plant-based proteins can be found in foods like beans, lentils, nuts, tofu, soy milk and tempeh.
The body requires 20 amino acids to make protein, 9 of which are called ‘essential’ and must be derived from food. Because proteins from animal sources contain all of the 9 essential amino acids, they are referred to as ‘complete’. Animal proteins also play a big role in iron absorption. Meat is rich in so-called heme-iron which is more readily absorbed by the body than the non-heme iron found in plant-based foods.
While every dancer’s needs are different, proteins from animal sources are especially beneficial for young dancers, dancers looking to build muscle and those suffering from anemia. Dancers with already well-developed, muscular physiques might want to cut down on animal proteins and eat them exclusively on their days off to promote muscle repair.
Remember: Strenuous exercise and eating a high-meat diet leads to excessive muscle growth!
Protein from seafood has a lower biological value than protein from meat, meaning it contains less essential amino acids. It is recommended to eat seafood up to twice per week for those dancers looking to maintain, but not increase, muscle mass.
Don’t gorge on dairy foods: Eat them for breakfast or during the first half of your day, avoiding them after class or rehearsal. To up your calcium intake, consider substituting dairy with plant-based alternatives like almond, rice or soy milk.
Plant-based proteins are incomplete, meaning they lack one or more essential amino acids. When eaten with carbohydrates, plant-based proteins promote muscle recovery. This carb-protein combo is especially convenient when it comes to snacks. Healthy examples include include yogurt with fruit and/or cereal, whole-grain crackers with nut butter or dried fruit with nuts.
Eating protein according to your needs
Proteins should be consumed according to a dancer’s needs. Requirements differ based on age and training intensity.
In the case of young dancers, proteins take on two key roles. They are responsible for building healthy muscle tissue, cartilage and tendons and aid in the healthy development of major internal organs like the heart, lungs and kidneys.
It is therefore very important to make sure your diet meets your protein needs.
Excess protein can be problematic in that it can cause a dancer to gain too much muscle, leading to an unaesthetic form. On the other hand, a lack of protein can inhibit growth.
Adult dancers can safely cut down on their protein intake in order to keep their muscles long and lean. This holds especially true for post-workout meals and snacks.
While young dancers should eat sufficient protein in their diets to allow healthy muscle growth, adult dancers are encouraged to make choices based on personal preferences and individual needs.