Nutrition for Dancers: Eating for Energy

In order to have a successful dance season, whether you are a competitive or recreational dancer, you not only have to train and practice hard but you also have to give your body the right tools that it needs in order to function optimally. These tools include having a good quality and varied diet with enough calories, drinking plenty of fluids, regular massage or physio, good quality sleep, taking care of injuries and even supplementing, if necessary. Today we will focus on the advantages of a good quality diet.

The benefits of a healthy diet are numerous but for dancers this is even more so important due to the extreme stress and demands that we put on our bodies everyday. With a proper diet we can decrease or prevent injury, improve strength and stamina, decrease inflammation and muscle soreness and increase our focus, concentration and energy.

With a proper diet we can also prevent or decrease fatigue. This is crucial because when a dancer becomes fatigued it is the most common time that injuries may arise. Lets take a look at just a few ways to prevent fatigue from setting in:

-To avoid fatigue a dancer needs to make sure that food intake is sufficient. This means eating breakfast before leaving for a morning class, eating snacks throughout the day to keep the blood glucose level stable, especially carbohydrate with protein for sustained energy, and eating regular meals with carbohydrates, fats and protein. The body needs to have a constant level of glucose in the blood to survive. (The brain alone consumes 66% of total circulating glucose supply)

– Since a dancers schedule is so erratic having snacks with you at all times is one of the best things you can do. For some dancers, small meals throughout the day may work best. What you eat before, during and after are also very critical to your energy level and performance. (We will explore this further in future articles)

– Make sure you do not eat too much before class or rehearsal, as your energy will be going to digesting the food you ate. If you have small breaks during dance classes (10 min or so) having something that is easily digestible, such as a fruit or vegetable can help with your energy level.

– Drinking enough water throughout the day is extremely important. (Fatigue is one of the signs that you might be dehydrated). Adding electrolytes to your water can also be helpful.

– Make sure you get enough sleep.

It is also important to remember that the more exercise that you do the more calories your body needs to function properly. If you restrict your calorie intake you are putting yourself at great risk for injury, muscle loss, hormonal imbalance and a slowed metabolism. You will also be stressing your liver and have poor concentration while feeling tired and sluggish throughout the day.

The body tends to resist change. So if a low calorie diet is continued and there is not enough nutrients coming in from the food we eat the body will try to function by taking nutrients and breaking down muscles, bones and other tissues. This process is very dangerous and damaging to the body and can lead to numerous health concerns.

This is what can happen when we restrict food intake:

If you are having an extremely low calorie diet or not eating enough carbohydrates your body will use protein for energy instead of fat. This is because protein can be converted to glucose (our main energy source) in a process called gluconeogenesis. Fat is not used for energy here because it takes longer for it to breakdown into its energy source. After a few days of a very low calories diet, fat may be burned using ketones as energy. Ketones can be damaging towards the liver, kidneys and muscles cells and we want to avoid getting into this state.

This is why it is importation for dancers to have a constant supply of carbohydrates in their diet. We want to use carbohydrates and fat as energy sources and avoid using protein.

Here are just a few examples of good carbohydrates to include in your diet: whole grain/multi grain bread, fruits, veggies, grains (quinoa, brown rice, millet, oats, barley, spelt, kamut),  starchy vegetables (yams,sweet potatoes, squash), lentils and beans. Simple carbohydrates such as candy, pop, cakes, cookies and bread with white flour should be avoided or limited.

Some sources of protein are: chicken, turkey, seafood/wild caught fish, tofu (organic and in moderation), eggs, dairy products, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. For prolonged energy combine carbohydrates with a protein.

Fats are essential in our diet. Choose unrefined oils, avocados, flax, hemp and other nuts and seeds, fat from dairy products (you need some fat in order to absorb calcium and fat soluble vitamins A,D,E,K), butter and oily fish are just a few options.

So if you are looking to increase your energy and concentration this season try to have a varied diet filled with whole foods.

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