Nutritional Advice For Professional Dancers: Can I Try Vegan?

woman holding basket of vegetables

Can a dancer be vegan? It is a question that, a few years ago, nobody would have thought to ask. However, over half a million UK residents now practice the vegan diet, and the number is quickly growing. Given that professional dancers need high intakes of protein, everyone is asking: is it safe to try a vegan diet? What are the risks, and are there any benefits? It’s a difficult topic, but let’s take a look!

What Is A Vegan Diet?

A vegan abstains from eating any animal products. This means more than simply avoiding meat or dairy. Many processed foods involve animal-based additives – such as collagen – somewhere along the way. Therefore, a strict vegan diet involves throwing out all of the traditional dietary rule books and getting creative in the kitchen.

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What Are The Attractions Of A Vegan Diet?

People tend to adopt it for one of two reasons. For many, it is concern for animal or environmental welfare. For others, there is a range of perceived health benefits. Vegan foods have a high content of whole grains, pulses, and vegetables. This gives a much higher injection of minerals and fibre than typical Western diets. If you’ve been reading our nutrition blog regularly, you’ll know that minerals and fibre are the key to optimising cellular activity and releasing energy – both of which are good things for professional dancers!

There are not enough scientific studies to state absolute facts, but the studies that exist show that vegans tend to have fewer sugar spikes, better kidney function, and are thinner. The latter reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancers, and strokes. However, it’s a delicate art. Getting vegan ‘right’ requires careful planning.

What About Protein?

This is the real Achilles heel of the vegan diet, especially for dancers and other elite athletes. There is no escaping the fact that muscles need protein. The more energy that you use, and the more tuned your muscles are, the more protein you need. The diets of star athletes tend to involve a steady influx of steaks, boiled eggs, and endless tins of tuna.

This boosts cellular repair, preventing an intensive workout from requiring excessive recovery time. However, with all of the high-protein foods banned in a vegan diet, the thought of how to get enough can be a little overwhelming for a novice vegan.

The maths is not actually as dramatic as it sounds. Most full-time professional dancers require about 80g of protein per day. A serving of tuna has about 26g. Tofu has around 20g per cup (250ml), so doesn’t lag far behind. Tempeh – an Indonesian soy product – actually outpaces both, with 30g per 250ml. Cooked lentils will rack up an impressive 18g, and chickpeas 16g. So, if you are a fan of bean salads and curries, protein can be managed.

Should Dancers Try A Vegan Diet?

Interesting question! Our researchers have gone through the academic studies and taken a look, and this is a synthesis of what we’ve found. Vegan diets are fairly common among dancers. Over the studies we looked at, the average number was 30 per cent, although some international surveys put this number as low as 2 percent.[1] Overall, this means that many professional dancers are opting for vegan and managing it, and others are trying it.

However, all researchers agree that getting the energy balance wrong can lead to health problems.[2] This is nothing unusual in the dancing world, but is worth taking note of. Many studies have stressed the importance of throwing vitamins into the mix, especially B and D vitamins.[3] Research is unequivocal about the fact that dancers benefit from vitamin supplements,[4] but this is probably more to do with the fact that dancers sometimes have poor nutrition rather than because a particular diet causes a problem. Other studies show that the time and effort required for adopting a vegan diet can have health benefits simply because it forces people into a healthy eating regime.[5]

If you care about dancing, it is good to ask questions. At Ray Rose, we are dedicated to helping you to find the answers. Contact us to find out more.

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[2] Brown, M.A., Howatson, G., Quin, E., Redding, E. and Stevenson, E.J., 2017. Energy intake and energy expenditure of pre-professional female contemporary dancers. PloS one, 12(2), p.e0171998.

[3] Brown, D.D., 2018. Nutritional considerations for the vegetarian and vegan dancer. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 22(1), pp.44-53.

[4] Wyon, M.A., Koutedakis, Y., Wolman, R., Nevill, A.M. and Allen, N., 2014. The influence of winter vitamin D supplementation on muscle function and injury occurrence in elite ballet dancers: a controlled study. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 17(1), pp.8-12.

[5] Dinu, M., Abbate, R., Gensini, G.F., Casini, A. and Sofi, F., 2017. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(17), pp.3640-3649.

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