In our last nutritional article, we looked at the vital role that water plays in a dancer’s body. We discussed how water is required for muscle repair and energy, and looked at the general importance of hydration.
Today, we turn to a topic that many people find a little bit baffling: protein. We hear about protein all of the time, but what does it really mean? Why is it important? How much do dancers need? And what’s the best way to get enough? Let’s take a look.
Protein: A Brief Biography
Protein is one of the most important building blocks in nature. Every cell in the body requires these vital amino acids, and they also play a crucial role in creating the enzymes and hormones that our bodies require in order to function.
In other words, proteins are both the oil in the engine and an important fuel. However, unlike other fuel sources – such as fats and carbohydrates – the body does not store protein. This means that humans need to regularly ingest it. The good news is that – in the Western world at least – ingesting it is easy. Protein rich foods include eggs, meat, fish, nuts, cheese, milk, broccoli, and quinoa.
Protein is also available in concentrated form. Supplements include milkshakes, cookies, and snack bars. These are designed to give athletes a protein boost before or after training.
How Much Protein Do Dancers Need?
There is often a lot of hype about protein being a weight-loss wonder cure. If you’ve heard those stories, push them out of your mind. The first thing to remember is that too much protein can harm the body. The short-term weight loss associated with high-protein diets is only temporary, and overdoing the protein shakes actually leads to weight gain.
Protein overdose is also linked to gastrointestinal distress, dehydration, and – in extreme cases – kidney damage. This is because protein increases the body’s nitrogen load, which the kidneys have to work overtime to remove.
It’s therefore crucial to calculate safe protein intake. You can work out your ideal protein intake by using an online calculator. If analogue is more your style, the recommended daily intake is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. This works out as between 0.8 and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. In real life, that simply means eating a balanced diet.
However, if you are exercising regularly these figures need to be adjusted. Professional dancers typically require between 1.2 and 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This is slightly above the average intake, and equates to roughly one extra tin of tuna or chicken breast daily.
How Do I Get More Protein?
During an era where culinary trends are reflecting issues such as sustainability, there is a keen interest in finding ways to ditch the traditional mantra of ‘eat an extra steak’ when it comes to protein. Protein is found in many different sources, both animal-based and plant-based, so the options are almost unlimited.
This means that you can hunt around for something that suits you. The BBC’s list of 21 high-protein menus covers everything from marmite eggs and soldiers to Thai salmon, guaranteeing something for every palate. Vegan chefs are also masters in the art of sneaking protein into every dish, usually via beans, pulses, and soya. If you think that supplements are more accessible, there are plenty of options available. Your local health shop can point you in the right direction.
If you want to focus on your diet, try keeping a daily food diary. This can help you keep track of how dietary changes are influencing your exercise ability. You might just find that extra protein gives you the va va voom you’re looking for on the dance floor, along with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your body has what it needs in order to perform.
At Ray Rose, we’re dedicated to helping dancers excel. If you’d like to talk to one of our experts, please get in touch! We’d also love to hear your ideas for high-protein recipes and nutrition programmes. Use the comments section below to connect with the community.