After unapologetically admitting my indulgent nature with treats last week on Instagram, I figured I should balance things out with some healthy talk;) With more and more focus on health and fitness these days, there is an increasing trend in protein shakes and powders. You see them everywhere - available at juice bars, prepackaged in the refrigerator section of the corner market, stocked as a massive variety of jars at Whole Foods and supplement stores. The question is...are they necessary and actually healthy?
I don't know that they will enhance your performance and your body like the magical solutions they are touted to be. But, I do know that dancers are athletes and require protein as a necessary macronutrient to allow for muscle growth, recovery, and function. Especially if you are on my Bad Girl Ballerina team cross-training with weights, protein becomes that much more essential for you. Without adequate protein, you run the risk of your body not recovering after a long day of rehearsals and not having the oomph to fuel your dancing. In other words, you won't be performing at your peak performance state.
While I try to comprise the majority of my diet from a variety of veggies (and healthy fats) to ensure my micronutrient requirements are met, if I skimp on this major building block, everything falls apart. There's a reason protein is considered a macronutrient. It's not an optional, I'll-get-some-once-and-a-while dietary component. Many of the amino acids found in protein are essential nutrients, meaning they must be supplied by the diet in order for the body to function properly. So, is protein important? Yes!
This doesn't mean you need to stuff your face with massive amounts of meat or pour protein powder straight out of the jar down your throat, but it does mean that protein should be an essential part of your diet. There is much debate about how much protein you actually need. I'm not a fan of measuring my food or counting calories, but I know that I function best when I get about 0.5-0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Without getting too technical and breaking out a scale or measuring cup, this looks like a portion roughly the size of my palm at every meal.
Back to protein shakes. For me, real food always trumps a shake. That being said, these drinkable meals can come in handy in a pinch. On those nights when you get out of rehearsal at 10pm and are too exhausted to cook, or when you find yourself with no fresh food in the house (and no money in your pockets;), or when you hit snooze too many times and have to run out the door in the morning...a protein shake can substitute as a quick, no-fuss meal. And, it's going to be way healthier than not eating at all or noshing on junk food in these situations.
But, there's a catch. Not all protein shakes are created equal. Many of these so-called "healthy" shakes are loaded with sugars, artificial sweeteners, highly processed ingredients, and a whole slew of fillers that you probably can't pronounce. As you may guess, these are not exactly the healthy fix you are looking for. My theory is that if it tastes like a milkshake...it's probably just about as "healthy" as one (unfortunately, right?!).
My go-to brand of powder is Raw Organic Whey. It's unflavored, non-denatured, pure whey protein from grass-fed cows. I know this sounds kind of snooty, but if you are going to eat processed foods like this, you want it to be the highest quality possible. There are no fillers or additives, so it definitely doesn't taste like a milkshake. It doesn't taste bad on its own, but I've come up with a recipe to doctor it up a bit:
Bulletproof Ballerina Protein Shake
- 5 Tbsp Raw Organic Whey (about 20 grams of protein)
- 1 scoop Naked PB or Naked Choc PB (6 grams of protein, no sweeteners or fillers)
- 1-2 Tbsp nut butter of choice (almond, macadamia, cashew, pecan, coconut, ect.)
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk
- 5 ice cubes
- Optional add-ins: 1 Tbsp Maca powder, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, handful of frozen berries or greens
Again, this shake is not something I rely on for all my nutritional needs and not something I consume every day. Even with the highest quality protein powder, it's always better to reach for real food. Our Paleolithic ancestors didn't have a Vitamix back in the day...just real, whole food found in the wild. So, while these new powders sound like healthy, modern alternatives, I always go with the tried and true method of eating what nature provides to be on the safe side. But, once or twice-a-week, this protein shake can make the difference between feeling undernourished and flat in rehearsals and performances versus vibrant and powerful.
Check out what Jess Spinner at The Whole Dancer has to say about protein shakes, as well. She gives some valuable information about different options and a breakdown of ingredients found in many of the shakes out there on the market. It's hard to know what is "healthy" these days, so being educated about the science behind these products is very useful. As always, if you have any questions, don't be afraid to reach out to me anytime!