Is the Ketogenic Diet Safe for Dancers?

July 12, 2018

Although the ketogenic diet has been around since the 1920s as an epilepsy treatment for children, it’s experiencing a new wave of popularity. Thanks in part to social media, where “healthy” keto-friendly recipe videos are going viral, the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is gaining ground. But is it safe for dancers?

We checked in with Rachel Fine, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of To The Pointe Nutrition, to see what eating keto means for dancers.

“Carbohydrates Are Like Gas Is to a Car.”


Carbs are the most efficient fuel source. Photo by Eaters Collective/Unsplash

“If dancers are not supplying their body with carbs,” says, Fine, “they’re not giving it the most efficient fuel source in terms of a performance standpoint and getting through the technical and physical aspects of dance.” The body also needs energy for basic functions like sleeping, walking and talking.

Fine says there’s a misconception that someone’s metabolism would drastically flip like a light switch as soon as they reduce their carbohydrate intake. Not so. “Our body is physiologically designed to burn carbohydrates.” The body has to work harder to burn fat and protein and convert it into energy.

Disrupting the Balance


Your body breaks down healthy fats, like nuts, for essential functions. Photo by Remi Yuan/Unsplash.

When fat, which breaks down into ketones, and protein, which breaks down into amino acids, are recruited for energy, their ability to do their regular jobs suffer. Fat serves many functions, like insulating the body, helping to transport vitamins, and working as an anti-inflammatory, while protein helps build and repair muscles.

Negative Effects for Dancers

Unless you’ve been advised to eat a ketogenic diet for medical reasons and are under the close supervision of a doctor and dietitian, keto is not recommended for dancers. Fine mentions a host of effects that can negatively impact your dancing:

Sluggishness

Photo by Caju Gomes/Unsplash

Without enough carbohydrates, dancers may feel fatigued because the body won’t be as efficient at producing energy.

{“adCodes”: [], “adsOrder”: [3]}

{“product_info”: {“caption”: “Buy Now”, “product_price”: 0, “product_vendor”: false, “linkout_url”: false, “product_compare_at_price”: 0}, “headline”: “Sluggishness”, “credit”: “”, “description”: “u003cpu003eWithout enough carbohydrates, dancers may feel fatigued because the body won’t be as efficient at producing energy.u003c/pu003e”, “caption”: “u003cpu003ePhoto by Caju Gomes/Unsplashu003c/pu003e”}

{“product_info”: {“caption”: “Buy Now”, “product_price”: 0, “product_vendor”: false, “linkout_url”: false, “product_compare_at_price”: 0}, “headline”: “Muscle Loss”, “credit”: “”, “description”: “u003cpu003eWhen the body starts relying on protein as another energy source, it’s not able to focus on building and repairing muscle like usual. “Just doing fondues at the barre, you’re making small tears within your muscles that need to be repaired at the end of the day,” says Fine. Muscle breakdown and muscle loss would become a concern.u003c/pu003e”, “caption”: “u003cpu003ePhoto by Scott Webb/Unsplashu003c/pu003e”}

{“product_info”: {“caption”: “Buy Now”, “product_price”: 0, “product_vendor”: false, “linkout_url”: false, “product_compare_at_price”: 0}, “headline”: “Possible Weight Gain”, “credit”: “”, “description”: “u003cpu003eFine warns that it’s extremely difficult for dancers to consume enough calories on this diet, so the body may go into a state of starvation. “When it’s in this state, anything you give your body, it’s going to want to store, not burn.” You may see initial weight loss, mostly from water, but as time goes on, you’ll probably end up gaining weight.u003c/pu003e”, “caption”: “u003cpu003ePhoto by I Yunmai/Unsplashu003c/pu003e”}

{“product_info”: {“caption”: “Buy Now”, “product_price”: 0, “product_vendor”: false, “linkout_url”: false, “product_compare_at_price”: 0}, “headline”: “Loss of Mental Clarity”, “credit”: “”, “description”: “u003cpu003e”Our brain requires glucose,” says Fine. So dancers on the ketogenic diet may notice a decrease in mental clarity and have a harder time with tasks like picking up or remembering choreography.u003c/pu003e”, “caption”: “u003cpu003ePhoto by Ahmad Odeh/Unsplashu003c/pu003e”}

{“product_info”: {“caption”: “Buy Now”, “product_price”: 0, “product_vendor”: false, “linkout_url”: false, “product_compare_at_price”: 0}, “headline”: “Decreased Bone Health”, “credit”: “”, “description”: “u003cpu003e”The intact fiber, vitamins and minerals found in many sources of carbs are what dancers risk losing,” says Fine. That means you may be missing out on key nutrients that promote bone health. If you’re already not taking in enough calories, you’re at a greater risk of developing weaker bones.u003c/pu003e”, “caption”: “u003cpu003ePhoto by Christopher Campbell/Unsplashu003c/pu003e”}

Your Instagram Feed Is Not a Dietitian

Though you may be tempted by beautifully curated food photos promoted by celebrities or friends who want to get into shape, think twice before blindly following their advice. “I can’t tell you how many dancers I see that are going through their Instagram feeds and just learning the wrong information,” says Fine. Remember: Anyone can post a recipe and say it’s healthy, but that doesn’t mean they’re a nutrition expert. Fine warns that many keto-friendly recipes online may have high levels of saturated fats due to large amounts of butter, sour cream, whole milk and animal products. While these are okay in moderation, you should aim to incorporate heart-healthy fats, like nuts, seeds and avocado, into your diet.

It’s okay to use recipes sourced from social media as inspiration, but you may need to tweak them. Instead of filling half an avocado with an egg (as a keto-friendly dish might call for), Fine recommends stuffing the avocado with quinoa or a grain. “The bottom line is that recipes need to be balanced.”