What Every Dancer Should Know About Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
Many dancers are deciding to go meat-free (vegetarian) or animal-product–free (vegan) because they want to fuel their bodies with plant-based foods. These diets can be beneficial, but they can also cause problems if you don’t make thoughtful and healthy choices. Here are a few basic tips for dancers curious about a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
Many dancers claim that eating mostly plant-based foods helps them look and feel better. Keenan McLaren Hartman, a member of Nashville Ballet, says that her energy increased when she started making conscious food choices. “I’m able to sustain my technique without feeling like I’m going to crash,” she says. Hartman started eating vegetarian eight years ago, and found that her skin cleared up around the same time. Plus, she didn’t feel weighed down after eating a meal. “I still eat eggs and cheese, but I buy my eggs from a local farm in Nashville and make sure they’re free-range and organic.”
Lauren Herfindahl, a second soloist at Boston Ballet, focuses on plant-based whole foods and avoids packaged and processed items, although she eats Greek yogurt, cheese, and fish once in a while. “I experimented with this lifestyle because I read that it’s better for your body and for the environment,” explains Herfindahl. “After a month, I started feeling lighter and I had more energy.” But she admits there’s been a big learning curve, like finding ways to get enough protein. “It’s all about finding what works for me.”
Eating vegan or vegetarian also means that you need to eat a greater volume of food because you don’t get as much protein per serving. A 3-ounce can of tuna, for example, has 21 grams of protein; you have to eat five cups of broccoli to get the equivalent amount.
“There’s no one right way to do it, and there are certainly a lot of wrong ways,” Bonci says. “If you feel tired and don’t have the strength to make it through a couple hours of class or rehearsal, then you need to make some kind of compromise.” Be aware of what you’re putting in your body. Make it a mindful activity, so you’re eating quality foods and getting enough of what you need to keep yourself healthy and strong. “You’re fueling your machine,” says Hartman. “Some people might need meat, and that’s okay.”
A version of this story appeared in the October 2017 issue of
Dance Spirit with the title “Plant-Powered.”