As the western world’s food availability continues to thrive, so too does the dietary regulations and restrictions people place upon themselves. In other words, the choice of ‘diets’ to follow increases. There’s; vegetarian, paleo-based, ketogenic, flexitarian, vegan, aktins, low-carb, intermittent fasting, pescetarianism, and many more variations on an activity we all share: Eating. One of the rising trends in this area is the use of protein within the diets, with many high protein diets becoming more popular. Additionally the population in general are adding more protein into their diet through the intake of protein shakes or powders. But is this right for Dancers?
Protein is one of the bodies major food groups, a macronutrient. Although, surprising for many, is one the body doesn’t use as a major energy source. Instead, protein is reserved to create and repair muscle, as well as certain hormones, enzymes and bodily chemicals (WebMD, 2017). The uses of protein doesn’t stop their it is also used in the creation of bones, skin and blood. The role protein plays in maintaining muscle mass is perhaps one of the main reasons athletes and fitness enthusiasts steadily increased their intake of the nutrient. For this group of individuals increasing protein intake can increase the effectiveness of their training (Phillips and Van Loon, 2011) and muscle mass gains as a result of the training (Demling and DeSanti, 2000). The recommended intake for the general population is 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight each day. For example, someone who weighs 100kg is recommended to eat 75g of protein a day. These values increase the more active you are and it’s suggested that 2g of protein per kg of body weight is the optimum level of protein consumpsion for those who are extremely active.
Protein is easily accessed through the meals containing meat, nuts and fish. For those who are plant-based eaters protein can also be found within soy-based proteins and quinoa. In terms of fitness progression it’s recommended that protein is consumed within a two hour window after a training. This is achievable by many of us through regular meals. So why have protein supplements become popular?
In terms of accessibility it vastly increases the convenience of protein consumption. There is no need to worry about whether you’ll hit the two-hour window of optimum effectiveness. Increasingly there’s also a greater range of flavours and types available for both plant-based eaters and carnivores which may increase it’s appeal. Another reason they may have become popular is also the simple convenience of popping in a scoop and shaking. There’s no additional need to weigh it all out and make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein, although some still do.
However, rolling on from that point, protein deficiency is perhaps something we should be less worried about. Especially if you are not vegetarian. In The National Diet & Nutrition Survey of 2003, it was reported that on average the population was eating 130% of the daily recommended amounts of protein. Suggesting that worries about protein intake are unfounded and unsupported. For those who are more active though, increasing protein can make a difference in overall health, as a deficiency in protein can lead to constant colds, weakened hair, sugar cravings.
More importantly for dancers though is that both under- and over-consumption of protein can lead to weaker bones. Dancers rely, like all humans, very heavily on their bones to support them throughout movement. Having weaker bones can increase the susceptibility of breaks and fractures, the risk of which is already higher in dancers. This is perhaps one of the more compelling arguments for dancers to avoid over-supplementation, and is a reason why Dance Magazine is moderately against the use of protein powders if you’re a dancer (Castro, 2015).
Overall, I’m on the fence about additional supplementation. There are a whole range of other issues to look at. The first of which is how you can increase protein intake via more whole food sources. Is their a way to incorporate an extra 20g of protein within your day? 20g is just over the amount of protein 3 eggs will give you. Another is how important is the additional protein to your daily exercise, if you’re dancing a few times a week but the level of dance is only moderate, there probably isn’t a great need for additional protein intake, on the other hand if you’re a full-time dancer and are required for 5 hours each day, plus a show in the evening, getting the correct ‘dose’ is perhaps more vital to avoid protein deficiency and to help maintain muscle function. Getting protein from a whole food source is the best way of consuming it, as the source will also provide other nutrients. However, if you’re struggling with protein intake, having a protein shake or bar on days where your activity levels are high isn’t going to detract from the progress you’d already be making.
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