Protein Powder for Dancers
Dancers ask about protein powder a lot. Being strapped for time often leads us to look for easy options for meals and snacks. This is likely a big part of why the protein powder question is such a common one.
Protein powder might be worth adding to occasional meals and snacks to meet your body’s needs. Plant-based dancers or those who consume limited animal products might benefit from including a high-quality, plant-sourced protein supplement.
Before you turn to protein powder to meet your body’s protein needs, focus first on consuming as many whole food sources of protein as possible like nuts, beans, seeds, tofu, eggs, or meats. Protein powder shouldn’t make up a primary part of your diet as we really don’t have conclusive data on the long-term effects of using it.
There are some times when incorporating protein powder is very useful for dancers.
In a pinch, or when you get home super late at night, adding protein powder to a meal or snack can aid your body’s recovery and make your food more satiating.
Read the ingredients. Just like with any packaged food, it’s your job to read that ingredient label and make sure it’s made of foods and ingredients that work for your body. As a dancer, you should become an expert on your body; since you ask so much of it, you’ve got to give it what it needs!
At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a breakdown of an animal-sourced protein powder as well as a plant-based protein powder and the ingredients defined.
Here are 5 things to look out for when you read a protein powder nutrition label:
- Check that it doesn’t have tons of added sugars, sugar alcohols, or artificial sweeteners. A lot of protein powders use stevia, which is a non-nutritive sweetener with little to no calories, if you don’t like the taste of stevia (I’m not a fan), go with the option with a small amount of cane sugar, coconut sugar, or fructose (sugar from fruit).
- Consider when you’re likely going to consume it. Pre-workout can be lower in protein—think less than 10 grams. And post-workout should be higher.
- Will it be a snack or part of a meal? Consider the overall makeup of the meal or snack you’ll be adding a protein powder to. You might not need a full serving of it if you’re eating other whole food sources of protein like nuts or seeds at the same time.
- Read ingredients carefully, and if you’re using your protein as part of a meal, consider one with additional superfoods (chaga mushrooms, maca root, chia seed, goji berry, chlorella, spirulina, acai, or pomegranate are popular).
- Go for high quality. Since this isn’t something you’re drinking every day, go organic and non-GMO and find a company whose sourcing and practices you can trust.
Protein Powder Options for Dancers
Straight up protein, nothing added. Jazz it up with your own superfoods if you desire! Blended with some unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and a banana, this can be a great snack.
For a protein that’s part of a meal and packed with lots of good stuff, check out Garden of Life Raw Organic Meal, Kos Organic Plant Based Proteins, or Mary Ruth’s Organic Protein Powder. These protein powders provide superfoods, digestive enzymes, probiotics, greens, healthy fat, fiber, vitamins, and/or minerals. If you include them in a smoothie, it should help you feel nourished and satisfied for longer and may aid in the muscle recovery process.
Here’s a sample ingredients list for animal-sourced protein:
Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Micellar Casein), Natural Flavors. Contains less than 2% of the following: Sunflower Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Steviol Glycosides (Stevia), Sea Salt, Xanthan Gum, Sucralose.
Let’s break that down:
whey protein isolate – “A whey protein isolate (or whey isolate) is a dietary supplement and food ingredient created by separating components from milk. Whey is a by-product of the cheese-making process. It` can be processed to yield whey protein in three forms: whey isolate, whey concentrate, or whey hydrolysate.”
micellar casein – “Slow release protein derived from milk. It’s absorbed slowly by the stomach allowing a tapered supply of amino acids to the muscle over a prolonged period of time. This makes Micellar Casein the ideal protein supplement for between meals and before bed.”
sunflower lecithin – “…a type of phospholipid abundant in sunflower seeds. This fatty substance is obtained by dehydrating a sunflower seed and separating it into three parts: the oil, gum, and other solids. Lecithin comes from the gum byproduct of this mechanical process. Nutritionally, it is an emulsifier that endows foods with a creamy, moist, smooth texture.”
cellulose gum – “This ingredient is a chemically-treated cellulose derivative.” “Cellulose gum is generally deemed a safe and acceptable food additive (6). However, there’s still potential for unknown risks because it isn’t a traditional whole food.”
steviol glycosides – “Steviol glycosides are natural constituents of the leaves of stevia rebaudiana (bertoni) bertoni, a plant native to parts of South America and commonly known as stevia. They are non-nutritive sweeteners and are reported to be 200 to 400 times sweeter than table sugar.”
sea salt – “Sea salt is a type of salt produced from the evaporation of current seawater.”
xanthan gum – “It is produced when glucose, sucrose, or lactose is fermented by the bacteria xanthomonas campestris. As long as you are not allergic, it is relatively harmless.”
sucralose – “Sucralose is approved for use in food as a non-nutritive sweetener. Sucralose is sold under the brand name Splenda. And it’s about 600 times sweeter than sugar.”
Here’s an ingredient list for a plant-based protein:
Proprietary Blend (pea protein isolate, sunflower lecithin, maca, chia, goji extract [Lycium barbaric], flaxseed), natural flavors, guar gum, glucosylated steviol, silica, Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Let’s break that down:
pea protein isolate – “Pea protein powder is among the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders, as it contains no gluten or dairy. It’s also easy on the tummy and doesn’t cause bloating, a common side effect of many other protein powders.”
sunflower lecithin – See above (“sunflower lecithin”).
maca – Superfood – Check out this post!
chia – “The chia seed is nutrient dense and packs a punch of energy-boosting power. Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them high energy and endurance.”
goji extract – “Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Some legends report that goji berries were eaten by monks in the Himalayan Mountains thousands of years ago and steeped in hot water to help aid meditation and obtain greater health, vitality, longevity, energy, and stamina.”
flaxseed – “Flax is an annual plant, and it is grown both for its fiber and for its seeds.” Flaxseeds are a great source of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s and their fiber content aids digestion.
guar gum – “A fine powder obtained by grinding guar seeds, which has numerous commercial applications, especially in the food industry, where it is used as a thickener and a binder.”
silica – “Silica, also known as silicon dioxide or SiO2, is a colorless, white, chemical compound.” It keeps the protein powder from clumping. “The FDA considers silicon dioxide in food to be generally safe for human consumption, as long as it’s consumed in small amounts.”
lactobacillus acidophilus – “Is the most commonly used probiotic, or ‘good’ bacteria.”
If you’re concerned about any of the ingredients included when choosing a protein powder, find reputable sites to reference and research the ingredients. Because protein powders fall under the category of dietary supplement, “The FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of products.”
As athletes, dancers do require more protein. If you’re struggling to fit enough in with your food choices alone, consider adding a protein powder to bulk up your meal or for an easy snack. Be discerning and do some research before you commit!