As dancers, you know your body is your instrument. But have you ever thought of yourself as an athlete? Dancers are indeed athletes, with many dancers training 6-8 hours per day five to six days per week. Sports nutrition is key for dancers, just as it is for all athletes. Good nutrition is critical for energy, for the body to repair itself daily, and for injury prevention. Adequate calories, protein, and water are necessary for your body to keep up with the demands of strenuous dance training for hours every day. Proper nutrition is key to high performance and injury prevention. Nutrient timing is also an important component of sports nutrition. A proper diet will fuel your body correctly, allowing you to perform at your highest level.
Don’t starve yourself! Your body needs adequate fuel in order to perform. This is much like fuel for a car. The car won’t run without it. Neither will your body. You can’t have your best extensions or leaps without proper energy. Many dancers limit food prior to an audition so that they look extra lean. The most likely consequence of extreme calorie limitation is that you don’t have enough energy to get through the day’s class schedule. This is because you have depleted glycogen stores of fuel in your body. The second consequence to calorie limitation is injury, which can cause you to sit out for a period of training, performance, competition, or audition, and possibly be permanent.
By the same token, the proper fuel is required for your body to perform at its peak. Similarly to a car, if you add water or diesel instead of unleaded fuel to a car, it will not run properly. If you don’t have enough or the right fuel for your journey, your car will stop running before you get to your destination. This is similar to dance athletes needing proper nutrition to fuel the body. Not only do you need enough fuel to get you through your class and rehearsal schedule, you need the right kind of fuel (nutrients) to avoid crashing in the middle of activity. In other words, eating junk food won’t get you through your schedule or allow you to perform at your peak. You will crash in the middle of your scheduled day or performance. Does this mean a dancer can never have any sweets or other empty calories? Not at all. The key is moderation and timing. A good guideline to remember is no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from sweets or empty calories. An average female dance athlete needs 2,000 calories per day which means 200 calories or less come from treats.
To properly fuel your body and avoid injury, dancers need adequate carbohydrate, protein, fat, and water. To receive these essential nutrients, eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible that are made up of mostly whole, unrefined foods that retain their nutrients and fiber. This is the rule for the majority of your food intake. Right before, during and after an event, think of fueling more than nutrition. At these times, eating refined or processed foods make the most sense so that food is digested easily and energy can get to muscles quickly such as a sports drink, protein bar, or protein shake. It is important to include carbohydrate and protein in the post workout/recovery window. Recovery nutrition occurs 15 minutes to one hour following exercise. The carbohydrate does more than restore energy, it helps with immune function and decreases the amount of muscle breakdown. Protein has a slower absorption rate than carbohydrate and will help build muscle. Be sure to eat a small amount of protein along with carbohydrate and fat at each meal and snack to maximize muscle building and repair.
Since fats can cause discomfort and possibly impair performance, choose dietary fat at meals and snacks further away from training and performance or competition. Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts and nut butters, and olive, canola, or avocado oils. Omega -3 and omega-6 fats from fish are also good choices.
During training sessions of two hours or longer, drink 16-20 oz. sports drink or water and a few pretzels or crackers. Fifteen minutes following your training session, eat a protein bar or a protein shake or a snack with equivalent protein and carbohydrate similar to the sample AM/PM snack above. Drink at least 64 oz. of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
|Shantha M. Wilson, R.D. received a B.S. in Clinical Dietetics from Brigham Young University. She has worked as a dietary director for Sunrise Healthcare Corporation. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and is in private practice. Shantha offers consultations and classes for dance studio patrons to make life easier and healthier. She participated in dance and cheerleading in her youth and competed in ballroom dance during college. Shantha resides in Arizona with her husband and three children and works as a freelance contributing editor. She also started ShOvation Online Ticketing which is another service offered to make life easier for dance studio owners and their families. Contact: email@example.com. This content is copyrighted and used by National Dance Week with permission.