When I first started healing my relationship with my body and with food, talking about nutrition was, of course, a touchy subject. Especially when I was first attempting to eat more food. I was told to “eat more protein.”
My smart-mouth responded with, “I already eat a lot of protein” but snapped shut when asked, “How much, exactly?”
Was I eating “a lot,” “too little,” “too much,” or even “enough?”
My head swirled with more questions:
Do dancers have extra protein needs?
How much is enough?
What kind is best?
Does timing matter?
Will it make me bulky?
Most dancers I talk to and work with have these same questions . But ultimately their main request it, “I just want to tone.”
Well folks, here’s a look at where that tone comes from and some other fabulous reasons to eat more protein!
This macronutrient is my favorite to talk about because, as my clients have revealed, “it’s magic.“
Protein is the stuff that holds your body together. Without it, you will literally begin to break down. It is responsible for the body’s ability to repair various tissues, like muscles, ligaments, bone, and hair.
For dancers, this impacts our athletic performance and our aesthetics.
Adequate protein reduces the risk of injury and helps you look, well, hotter. This is because it has the ability to build muscle mass (tone) and maintain that muscle. Additionally, it can prevent muscle loss and avoid that watery “skinny fat” look.
Simply put, this macronutrient is super important for both fat loss and muscle gain.
As a bonus, it also keeps you feeling full for much longer than both fats and carbs, so it is a must-have regardless of your fitness goal.
When calculating the energy yield of protein you should know that:
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
How Much Protein Do YOU Need?
As with most fitness-y things, your protein needs depend on a lot of variables.
The average sedentary woman can get by with 12-15% of the total calories coming from protein. This means, if she’s eating a 2000 calorie diet, then 60-75 grams of protein per day would be “fine.”
But YOU are not the average woman. YOU are a dancer, a dedicated athlete trying to attain a refined, bulletproof dancer’s body.
For active women like #DancersWhoLift, I recommend eating around 0.8 – 1 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass.
i.e., a 115lb dancer should eat 86-115 grams of protein/ day.
Meeting your protein needs has a few major benefits for people looking to drop a few pounds:
- It helps prevent muscle loss when you’re in a calorie deficit
- It keeps you feeling full longer
- It has a high thermic effect. This means that it raises your metabolism just by eating it. Higher metabolism = faster fat loss
This is why I’m insistent about anyone trying to lose body fat upping their protein game.
If eating nearly 100g of protein sounds daunting, believe me you’re not alone. And while it may take some foresight, and will leave you feeling full, it’s totally doable.
Here’s a sample day of eating 100g of protein
What Are Some Good Sources of Protein?
This is the best part.
Yeah, you CAN get your protein in through shakes and bars… but wouldn’t you rather EAT it?
The most common sources of protein? Meat. Red meat, chicken, eggs, turkey, pork, fish, dairy, and protein powder are all excellent sources of protein.
So many times I find myself face-palming when I hear women talking about the “other” high protein foods, like peanut butter, almonds, peas, legumes, or beans.
Yes, technically these foods do have protein in them, but they are not “good sources” of protein. Often they have a small amount of protein and a significant amount of another macronutrient.
Take a look at this.
In fact, when following other fitness professionals or “diet experts” on social platforms, if they suggest that nuts and nut-butters are a “great source of protein” my red flags fly up and I’m immediately suspicious of their advice.
Because listen, while a serving of PB might have 7 grams of protein, if you’re trying to eat 100g of protein in a day, that’s barely a drop in the bucket!
Now if you’re reading this like, “Okay, well thanks Amber. I’m a vegetarian and I’ve been counting almonds as my protein. Now what do I eat?”
Have no fear!
If meat and animal products aren’t your thing, or even if you’re trying to cut back on animal products, no drama!
We live in an awesome time to be alive! There are so many well-thought, macro friendly, and affordable plant-based protein options out there! You just need to get in the habit of looking at the nutrition labels.
On the dancerswholift instagram page I have a “highlight” of my favorite grocery store finds, this includes and entire series of vegan and vegetarian options.
But if you’re not interested in scooting over there right now, here’s a sample day of how to get 100g of vegan protein in your day without any almonds.
In conclusion, be wary of “healthy foods” that are commonly listed as good sources of protein. Nuts, beans, and legumes, for example, while healthy are an example of this.
Does timing matter?
On a larger scale, not really.
But for the purposes of a recovering dancer, athlete, or someone who is trying to look hotter? Yes-ish.
The body is best able to utilize protein after a hard workout or dance class and when it’s eaten in moderate regular doses throughout the day.
Remember, protein takes longer for the body to breakdown and digest. Sure, you can eat 100 grams of protein in one huge meal, but there’s a good chance you’ll just feel full and uncomfortable.
For this reason, try to divide up your protein into regular meals and snacks.
I, personally, am an advocate for meals. Three to four meals throughout the day, plus a post workout or post-rehearsal protein-based snack, like a shake or yogurt, should keep you full, fueled, and flexing those muscles.
Many fitness professionals suggest trying to eat 10-20 grams of protein with a balanced meal within 1-hour post-exercise, as a means to reduce soreness, fatigue, and repair muscular damage that inevitably occurs when you’re highly active.
However, studies show that if you miss this “window of opportunity” the body’s muscle building/repair response will still occur if the protein is eaten within 24 hours of exercise.
Eating enough protein while lifting weights and dancing consistently, can change your body and your dancing in no time.
Eating a diet balanced in protein, fats, and carbs will fuel you for your rehearsals, performances, workouts, city ventures, and strengthen your body all while hopefully restructuring your relationship with food.
Further questions? Coaching? Reach out below.