Dancing is a rigorous activity, much demanding in terms of energy, physical strength and endurance. While regular practice is fundamental to mastering the craft, proper eating habits are as necessary to reaching peak performance on stage or in casual dance parties for the dancers.
Finding balance in nutrients’ intake prevents fatigue, supports muscle recovery after hours of training, and helps in energy control for effective weight management. A careful combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, the main energy dense macro-nutrients, is therefore, essential to fuel the body and mind, and keep them ready for a good dancing experience, at any time.
CARBOHYDRATES: THE MAIN FUEL FOR THE BODY
As part of a healthy diet, carbohydrates make up 55 to 60% of energy intake. They are the main source of fuel supporting brain function and muscle endurance throughout the day and during vigorous activities. Good sources of carbohydrates are found in whole grain cereals and bread, grains (rice, quinoa, oats, and barley), starchy vegetables, pasta and fruits. Simple sugars present in muffins, jams, chocolate bars, and candies are less favorable options as they induce rapid increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, resulting in fat buildup.
PROTEINS: THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF MUSCLES
An adequate daily intake of proteins is critical for proper support of muscle growth and repair, following dance practice sessions or regular workouts. A range of 15 – 20% is recommended for dancers and active individuals. Animal sources like low fat dairy products, lean meats, and fish supply all essential amino acids (i.e. building blocks of proteins), required to sustain biological processes, and therefore, are recommended as part of a healthy diet. For vegetarians, meals containing combinations of grains (rice, wheat, quinoa, oats…) and legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas…) can substitute for animal sources, as their compositions of amino acids are complementary.
FATS: FOCUS ON THE GOOD ONES!
Fat is an essential component of a complete diet, as it carries fat-soluble vitamins, provides energy during prolonged continuous activity, and takes part in many metabolic processes. 20 – 30% of energy from fat is an acceptable range where fats consumed must preferably be of plant origin, like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados that contain unsaturated fats, deemed heart healthy. For a good lipid profile, it is recommended to limit intake of saturated fats, present in fatty meats, dairies and poultry, and trans-fats from fried food, associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and obesity. Instead, low fat dairies, fish and lean meats are healthier selections.
FLUIDS: STAY HYDRATED WHILE SWEATING…
Fluid intake is equally important for support of long practice hours and strenuous workout sessions. The average daily intake is 2 Liters; dancers and active individuals will have to increase intake beyond this value to compensate for fluid losses during workouts and to stay hydrated for optimum performance on stage, during practice hours or workout routines.
MICRO-NUTRIENTS & ANTIOXIDANTS: HIDDEN ACCESSORIES OF A HEALTHY YOU…
Dancers are advised to meet their vitamins and minerals’ needs through including a variety of fruits and vegetables in their balanced dietary plan. A special attention is due to the minerals, calcium and iron, as low intakes of calcium is associated with increased risk of stress fractures and compromised bone health, while an insufficiency in iron stores induces rapid fatigue, loss of appetite and inability to perform. Rich sources of calcium are dairy products; it can be found in fortified foods and beverages as well. Iron derived from animal sources is better absorbed than that from plant sources; however, for individuals who do not eat meat, they can get their requirements from dark green leafy vegetables, soy, beans, iron-fortified cereals, and dried fruits. Besides, vitamin A, C and E are rich in antioxidants and prevent sickness, soreness and fatigue. Dancers are advised to consume foods high in these nutrients, like citrus fruits (lemons, oranges, grapefruit…) and brightly colored fruits and vegetables (red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, blueberries…).
DIETARY PLANNING: FREQUENT SMALL MEALS TO BOOST METABOLISM!
Dancers must care to keep their energy intake within adequate range, in order to maintain a healthy body composition and a relatively low body fat proportion, while avoiding nutrient deficiencies and low endurance from poor quality diet and little caloric intake. To maintain high energy and concentration levels, dancers must eat small frequent meals, never miss a breakfast, a lunch or a dinner, and add small snacks, in between, to regulate appetite. Meals and snacks must be made of a combination of Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats that act synergistically to keep nerve cells engaged and organism fueled, for optimum performance.
NUTRITION TIPS FOR TRAINING / PERFORMANCE
Dancers may have a snack low in fats and fibers, 1 – 2 hours prior to any performance / practice session, to avoid gastrointestinal distress and bloating that might hinder performance. The snack should provide sufficient fluid as well to compensate for anticipated losses during activity, and be high in low to moderate glycemic index carbohydrates to optimize upkeep of blood glucose (main fuel) levels.
During prolonged exercise hours, dancers should stay well hydrated by drinking water regularly, and have a small snack during workout to maintain carbohydrate levels, deemed necessary to prevent fatigue and keep the brain alert.
To improve recovery post rehearsals, dancers should hydrate well and eat within 40 minutes after practice/exercise. The meal should consist of a combination of carbohydrate and protein in 4 to 1 ratio, to replenish depleted glycogen stores (stores of energy in the muscles), while the body is at its peak for absorption of nutrients. This process will simultaneously induce the growth of lean muscle tissues, inevitable for subsequent training sessions.
Good carbohydrate-protein combos suitable for main meals and small snacks during the day:
- Tuna and beans on wholegrain crackers
- Fruits and nuts
- Low fat yogurt and fruit, topped with nuts and seeds
- Low fat cheese on crackers
- Rice and chicken breast
- Pasta salad with tuna
- Quinoa salad with grilled chicken strips
- Whole grain toast with sliced tomato, low fat cheese and turkey
- Whole grain toast / bread with peanut butter and banana
- Banana and blueberry soy shake
BE CAREFUL WITH PORTION SIZES!
As shown above, it is advised to choose as snacks, “meal type” foods but in smaller amounts, for energy control. Dancers differ in metabolic needs depending on their respective weights, body composition, fitness level, type of dancing activity, and subsequent energy expenditure. Therefore, they need to take into account not only the quality of food ingested but the quantity as well, in a way not to deviate from daily requirements, as part of a focused and personalized weight management plan.
 A high hypoglycemic index food causes a rapid increase in blood glucose and insulin levels resulting in quick uptake of nutrients by the cells, associated with higher risk of weight gain and chronic diseases. Lower hypoglycemic index food has slower, smaller effect.