In last month’s blog post, we discussed several at-home exercises dancers can do to help keep their bodies in shape. The truth is that a well-planned diet is just as important! Good nutrition helps prevent weak bones, muscle loss, stress-related injuries and chronic fatigue. Plus, a balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, maximize your dance capabilities and provide long-lasting energy during those long competition days. We know fueling your body isn’t always easy, so to help you receive proper nutrition (especially around competition time), we’ve provided a few helpful tips. Read on to learn from dietitians, health experts and fellow dancers!
According to the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, 55-60% of a dancer’s diet should be composed of carbohydrates. Carbs often get a bad rap, but in reality, they’re the major energy source in muscles. Once in the body, carbohydrates are broken down and stored as glycogen. Dancers who fail to eat enough carbs will feel more tired during long practices or showcases, due to a lack of glycogen in the muscles. About 1-2 hours before competing, eat a small carbohydrate snack to increase your energy stores. A carbohydrate snack, such as a bagel or “energy” bar, can provide that added boost needed for top performance. If you do go with a packaged energy bar, be sure to check the label! Avoid bars that contain high fructose corn syrup or excessive sugar, as these will only make you feel more sluggish than before.
To achieve a high-carbohydrate diet, go for nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates (whole-grain bagels, cereal, bread, pasta, rice, beans and fruit). Limit your intake of simple carbohydrates (sugar) — soda, baked treats, packaged cookies and most breakfast cereals.
Tip: Add more complex carbohydrates to your breakfast by eating a bowl of oatmeal and fiber-rich fruit like apples, berries or bananas.
Did you know fat provides structure for all cell membranes, creates an insulating layer around nerves, forms the base of many hormones and is an important fuel for muscles? During exercise, triglycerides (a type of fat) break down into fatty acids and produce energy for muscles to contract. Fatty acids are an especially important energy source during endurance activities — such as a competition or showcase where you’re continuously exercising for an hour or more at a time. A diet too low in fat can have serious health consequences and can impair performance.
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the “good fats” because they’re good for your heart, cholesterol and overall health. Healthy fats to include in the diet are nuts, canola oil, olive oil, coconut oil and avocado.
Tip: For lunch, skip foods full of trans fat (french fries, commercially-baked doughnuts, packaged snacks and stick margarine). Try a salad instead with a combination of kale, spinach, walnuts, sunflower seeds, olives or avocados. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines are also healthy options.
During exercise your muscles produce heat, and your body cools down by evaporating sweat from the skin. You can lose up to 2 liters of sweat per hour during a hard practice or long competition! This fluid loss can lead to dehydration, which can impair your ability to remember and execute complicated choreography. A cup (8 ounces) of fluid every 15 minutes is recommended. Avoid carbonated drinks and large quantities of fruit juice.
Tip: Add a water bottle as part of your dance gear. Following classes and competitions, increase your fluid consumption for the next few hours.
Because dancing requires constant use of your muscles, protein is needed for building and repairing used muscle tissue. Protein is also used as an auxiliary fuel if there isn’t enough glycogen (from carbohydrates) in the body. Healthy sources of protein include animal meats like chicken, fish, turkey or lean pork. Other high-protein foods include eggs, almonds, oats, greek yogurt and cottage cheese.
Tip: Vegetarian sources of protein are beans, quinoa, rice and tofu. Be careful with protein powders — these often contain high amounts of sugar.
Micronutrients (which include vitamins and minerals) are one of the major groups of nutrients our bodies need. Vitamins play an important role in energy production, immune function, blood clotting and more. Here are a few vitamins you should especially be aware of as a dancer:
- B vitamins are a part of energy production. While they don’t give the body energy, they’re used to make energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Sources of B vitamins include whole grains, meat, fish, eggs and leafy greens.
- Vitamins A, C and E play a role in cleaning up damaged muscles that are overstressed and overused. Sources of these vitamins are citrus fruits, carrots, spinach and almonds.
Minerals are necessary for growth, bone health, fluid balance and more. Make sure to include these essential minerals in your diet:
- Calcium is a mineral used for bone growth. Low bone density will increase chances of bone stress fractures. You can find calcium in dairy products, leafy greens and broccoli.
- Iron is a very important mineral for dancers. Our bodies use iron to carry oxygen to the blood, and oxygen is, of course, what we use to help our bodies produce energy. You can find iron in oysters, white beans and spinach.
Tip: Getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet might seem daunting, but they’re found in a variety of foods. If you’re eating balanced meals, you’ll receive adequate nutrition and perform at your best.
Thank you for reading! Have questions? Contact us by calling 816-439-6009 or submitting a form on our website.