Archive | Dance Health

Tackling Common Dancer Questions and Myths

Tackling Common Dancer Questions and Myths

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.

As a dietitian for dancers and a former professional dancer myself, I get lots of emails. Many of these questions are about some common dancer myths that I remember from when I was in the school and the company. Here we take a deeper look at some of these and try to separate fact from fiction.    

Dear Dietitian: “I am a 17-year-old female ballet dancer (5’4″) and I have struggled within the last year in knowing what a healthy weight is for my body. I read online that ballet dancers should be 10 lbs. lighter than a healthy BMI for normal people, despite the fact that their muscle weighs more than fat. Is a BMI of 20.4 (over 120 lbs.) overweight if I wanted to get into a company?”

The term “BMI” refers to a calculation of someone’s height to their weight. I haven’t heard that ballet dancers have to be 10 lbs. lighter than a healthy BMI. This is one of those dancer myths. Healthy BMI is a big range and beautiful, successful, professional dancers come in all shapes and sizes. There is not a correct weight or BMI that dancers have to fit, and BMI doesn’t take into account muscle mass.

Successful ballet dancers are lean and muscular because they regularly make smart, healthy choices, not because they starve themselves to fit some arbitrary calculation or number on a scale. They know that they can’t eat junk, fast food or drink soda. Real professional dancers know that if they want to look good in tights, they have to fuel the body well with healthy food. It’s possible to eat well and still have a great career. Dancers shouldn’t define their potential for success by a number on a scale, but instead focus on hard work in the studio and smart food and beverage choices outside the studio.

Dear Dietitian: “I am 23 years old and I just got a company contract, but this past season my energy levels have been terrible and I am having trouble feeling strong at the end of class. I have tried eating more protein and less carbs, but it’s not working. Should I increase my protein before class?”

Energy levels depend on many factors. First, don’t go for more than three hours without eating. Never dance on an empty stomach. Second and most important, carbohydrate or “carbs” are the preferred source of energy for any athletic activity. The body likes to save protein for rebuilding muscle after exercise, maintaining fluid balance and many other biological processes. Eating protein and no carbs before dance is a great way to feel exhausted. Eat complex carbs like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Try a bowl of oatmeal/porridge before class.

Energy levels can also be affected by hydration. Are you getting approximately 2800 ml (10-12 cups) of water per day? If not, make sure your water bottle goes everywhere with you and refill often.

Nutrition status can affect energy levels. Are you getting enough vitamins and minerals? B-vitamins and Iron are just two examples of nutrients that contribute to energy levels. If low energy persists, let your doctor know so he/she can rule out anything medical or food allergy related. Now get some good sleep and keep dancing. 

Dear Dietitian: “I am 15 years old and am in school during the day and dance in the evenings for 3-6 hours each day. It’s late by the time I finally get home after dance and I have lots of homework so I don’t eat much. I heard other dancers say that you shouldn’t eat after 8 p.m. anyway. Is that true?”

It is a myth that you shouldn’t eat past a certain time at night. Those calories don’t “turn into fat” just because you are going to bed soon. This is a critical time for muscle building, so eat something even if it’s small and quick. The body doesn’t shut down at night. You need nutrients even when sleeping. You have been dancing hard in class and rehearsal so you need to provide the building blocks for repair and strengthening if you want to improve.

An example post-dance meal might be some bean and veggie soup and a whole grain roll or quinoa. Rice, veggies and soy are easy, or you could have a sandwich and/or a salad with garbanzo beans with a glass of soy, flax or almond milk. Avoid the temptation to stop by fast food on the way home and get a calorie bomb meal. Instead make smart choices. You will gain strength faster if you provide nutrients post-exercise. 

For more letters to the dietitian related to these topics, see and feel free to send your own questions to the dietitian.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at

Photo (top): © Photographerlondon |

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Dance Injury Prevention 101: Your Friendly Neighborhood Athletic Trainer

Dance Injury Prevention 101: Your Friendly Neighborhood Athletic Trainer

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.

Who is an athletic trainer?

The National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) defines Athletic Trainers (AT) as “health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.” They specialize in educating and treating patients in order to prevent injury and re-injury. As the name suggests, they primarily work with athletic populations but they may work with other patient groups under the umbrella of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Considering all they do, I’m surprised I didn’t find out about Athletic Trainers until I was in college, which is when I discovered them through the assets of the university sports teams. Fortunately, I was able to access care because of my proximity to some massive sports funding, though I was left wishing I’d known about what ATs could do for dancers earlier in my training. A lot of dancers don’t realize they have access to the great expertise of ATs, particularly those at university.

The dancers at SUNY Purchase, however, know all about the amazing care dancers can get from a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC). They have regular access to Lauren Kreha, ATC, Clinical Specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Lauren provides clinical care as well as a great deal of preventative care for dancers in companies like Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Ballet Hispanico, as well as at Purchase. She wants dancers to see her before they are injured so that they can avoid dance injuries.

Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

Lauren Kreha working with a dancer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kreha.

“You don’t need to be hurt to see me. A lot of the time, dancers in my athletic training room just come for nutrition advice, to vent, or work on getting stronger. Athletic trainers have the opportunity to build rapport with dancers before they’re hurt, which makes it easier to comfort and treat them in those moments of crisis.” ATs like Lauren put in the extra work to make sure dancers like you don’t get injured, get well as quickly as possible, and return stronger so they don’t get injured again.

Can I trust them with my dance injuries?

Just as you would trust a doctor, physical therapist, masseuse or acupuncturist, an AT is a licensed health care provider, and whether or not you should trust them with your injury depends on what kind of experience they have with dancers and our somewhat unique needs. Fortunately, ATs are used to working with athletes who have extremely similar demands to those of dancers. Just as they know an athlete needs to get back onto the field or court, they will understand your need to get back into the studio or on stage as quickly and painlessly as possible. 

As Lauren points out, an AT’s training makes him or her ideal for working with dancers. “We understand the need for a dancer to return to peak physical condition as quickly as possible, and are highly skilled in finding ways to make that happen,” she said.

Also critical for dancers is getting help right away so an injury doesn’t get worse because care wasn’t available or the dancer was afraid to go to someone about his or her injury. Sometimes, this means getting help immediately in the wake of a serious injury that can threaten the overall health, livelihood, and even the life of the dancer. “Athletic trainers are also prepared to evaluate injuries right after they happen and make quick decisions about returning to activity or referral. One of the things that makes me most proud to be an athletic trainer is that you can not only trust me with dance injuries (e.g. ankle sprain) but also life-threatening injuries. I am ready to respond if your heart stops beating, and can save your life.”

Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

Lauren Kreha stretching a dancer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kreha.

How does an athletic trainer differ from a physical therapist or a personal trainer?

Though they have a similar name, ATs and personal trainers have very different roles. ATs go to school for a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in athletic training, and 46 states also require them to become certified (that’s the “C” in ATC). They work under the direction of a physician to prevent, diagnose and intervene in emergency, acute and chronic medical conditions. They are healthcare professionals. A personal trainer develops and implements exercise programs according to fitness goals and is not qualified to provide medical care.

Physical therapists and ATs have more in common when it comes to schooling, level of expertise, and what exactly they are permitted and expected to do with a patient.

After beginning an education that started out with a combined Athletic Training/Physical Therapy track, and learning the skills that both professions attain, Lauren realized she wanted specifically to pursue the AT because of the critical care component. “Athletic trainers (in the traditional sense) are there when an injury occurs. There’s a lot of excitement in immediate care and acute assessment that you don’t get in the clinic.”

How do I find a trustworthy ATC in my town?

Because ATs must practice under the direction of a physician, they will be associated with medical teams at clinics, hospitals, high school and university settings, and other medical organizations. Lauren makes a particularly important point about getting in to see an expert at your school or medical center: “If you don’t currently have access to their care, change that! One of my interns last summer was a dancer at my athletic training alma mater. We talked about getting the dancers access to the athletic trainers on campus, and then [she] went back to GVSU and made it happen!”

SUNY Purchase dance students

ATC Lauren Kreha working with a group of her SUNY Purchase students in a “Running for Dancers” workshop. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kreha.

Sometimes it’s not obvious how to find an AT, but if there are athletics in your town, there is probably at least one AT associated with that team, and you can seek them out or inquire if there is a branch of their services that non-team athletes can access. Never be afraid to ask, you might just find your new best friend in injury prevention and rehabilitation! 

Lauren Kreha, ATC, is a Clinical Specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center. She provides backstage coverage for Broadway shows and dance companies in New York City as well as injury prevention assessments and educational lectures to the dance community

Photo (top): ATC Lauren Kreha working with a dancer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. Photo courtesy of  Lauren Kreha.

Posted in Dance Health, Teacher Tips & Resources, Tips & Advice1 Comment

How to Take Care of Your Body and Mind During Summer Dance Intensives

How to Take Care of Your Body and Mind During Summer Dance Intensives

By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.

To many young people, summer means endless days of freedom, ice cream and time to relax. For dancers, however, summer can mean long days, weeks or even months of classes and intensives. Dance companies and schools around the world offer unique summer training programs designed to push young students further in their technique and performance skills. These programs can be both exhilarating and exhausting. So here are some tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your summer program.  

1. Warm up properly.

With the higher temperatures of summer, the temptation to skip a thorough warm-up is strong. You feel warm, so your muscles and joints must be ready to go, right? Wrong. Simply feeling hot from the 90-degree weather in 100-percent humidity does not equal giving your body the preparation it needs to dance. Your joints need a thorough warm-up to start releasing the synovial fluid that protects the joint itself during movement. While your muscles may feel more flexible and open than usual, warming up gets your central nervous system in gear and ready to protect yourself from injury.

2. Drink enough water.

It might go without saying, but staying hydrated is one of the most important parts of taking care of yourself during long days of dance. You need to drink plenty of water before, during and especially after a day of rehearsal and class. When in doubt, drink more.

3. Eat well-balanced meals.

Some programs could have you dancing for 8-10 hours a day, maybe more. Depending on your typical training regimen, this may be more hours of exercise per day than you’re used to. Consequently, you’ll need a bit more fuel than usual to get you through the day.

During hot summer days, many people feel that they have less of an appetite, especially in the evening, so make sure you eat a full, balanced breakfast to get you off on the right foot and ready for a day of dancing.

Focus on whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats throughout the day, and keep snacks around like nuts and fruit to eat in between class and rehearsal. At lunch and dinner, be sure to stock up on veggies to replace the nutrients and minerals you’ve been using, and don’t forget to get some healthy carbohydrates in there for extra energy. Trust me, you’ll need it. Remember, you can also rehydrate by eating foods with high water content, such as fruit and leafy greens. 

4. Know your limits.

It’s important to know when you need to rest. Most summer programs have fairly strict rules about attendance, but if you have completely exhausted yourself, you won’t be getting as much out of your summer dancing as you should. If you get an option for an afternoon off, take it if you need it. Make sure to establish a good relationship with your teachers and directors so that you can both determine if you need a break. 

Injuries are common during summer programs, often because you are dancing more than your body is used to. Pay attention and listen to what your body is telling you. Take time at the end of the day to cool down, stretch and elevate your feet. This can be a great way to check in with how you actually are.

Remember, especially for the hypermobile dancers out there, overstretching can do as much damage as not stretching at all. Particularly if you are really warm and tired, the likelihood of pulling a muscle with vigorous stretching at the end of day increases. Try passive, gentle stretching to decrease soreness and prepare yourself for the next day of dancing. 

5. Have fun!

While summer dance intensives and programs are designed to put you in the professional dancer’s mindset, remember that summer (and dancing) is supposed to be fun! Work hard, but also keep in mind the real reasons why you dance.

Make friends with the other students in your program, enjoy the opportunity to learn and take advantage of opportunities to try new things and learn from new teachers! If your summer is full of workshops and intensives, be sure to schedule in some down time with friends and family.

Especially if you’re attending a program in a city far from home, take the chance to explore and get out of the dance studio when you can. You’ll be surprised at how much having a little fun will improve your dancing and summer experience. 

Photo (top): © Photographerlondon |

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Michael Spencer Phillips: A Story of Injury, Recovery and Inspiration

Michael Spencer Phillips: A Story of Injury, Recovery and Inspiration

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

Michael Spencer Phillips embodies inspiration. As a dancer, he is disciplined, strong at heart and in the body, and passionate. As a dancer who suffered a massive injury that led doctors to believe he would never walk normally again, but who, 11 months later, returned to the stage, Phillips seems almost otherworldly. The RIOULT Dance NY member is now gearing up for the company’s 20th anniversary season at the Joyce Theater, and he says he is dancing better than ever.

During his time of recovery, Phillips pushed himself – mentally and physically – but he did it in a way that, for his nature, seemed necessary. Not once during his journey did Phillips doubt he would perform again. He accepted his situation, committed himself to full recovery and now shares his incredible story that will surely inspire all.

In October of 2012, RIOULT Dance NY was in Florida performing at the University of Florida’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Phillips, who has been with the company for 12 years, was dancing in On Distant Shores, a layered and physically demanding piece for four men and one woman. During one section, Phillips took off for a jump, when he suddenly heard and felt what he says was the worst pain of his life. In that flash of a moment, several thoughts raced through his mind: “Is this the end of my career?” “How do I get off stage?” “I’m not going to be able to go on our upcoming tour to Germany.” “What is going to happen to the remainder of this piece? The rest of the program?” “Can I move?”

With movement fitting with the piece, Phillips lunged and shifted himself off stage. Another dancer threw on the costume to finish Phillips’ role, and for the company’s last work on the program, Bolero, they performed it with seven dancers instead of eight. Phillips remained on the sidelines, with a good friend and fellow company member, Marianna Tsartolia, who rubbed Phillips’ face and told him it would be okay.

Michael Spencer Phillips

Michael Spencer Phillips. Photo by Rachel Neville.

The following morning, Phillips saw an orthopedist at the University of Florida, but since he wouldn’t be Phillips’ long-term doctor, he couldn’t prescribe anything for the pain. The company flew back to NYC that day, October 26, 2012. Phillips was in a wheelchair. Friends carried him up five flights of stairs to his apartment, and he made an appointment to see Dr. David Weiss first thing after the weekend.

But then Hurricane Sandy struck. Subways were not running, people were stranded at home, and the New York University Hospital was flooded. Phillips would be unable to see his doctor or get a diagnosis for 10 days, and during this time he had to live with the immense pain.

Meanwhile, RIOULT had to prepare for the company’s German tour in two weeks. An apprentice had to go into Phillips’ parts, other dancers had to fill in any gaps, and Phillips felt terrible for the burden he felt he had left on the company.

“All you can think of is how it is affecting everyone else, wishing they weren’t having to rehearse so hard before a tour,” he says. “Touring is hard enough without having to dance new parts and partner with new partners.”

The physical pain, too, was wearing on Phillips. “I really could not move the leg or weight bear much,” he recalls. “I didn’t have much stability or strength with that leg. It was like it wasn’t mine. I couldn’t really control it, and it was so painful to stand, sit, you name it. It hurt.”

Finally, he was able to see Dr. Weiss, who saw the immense bruising to the leg, hip and abdomen and said it was unlike anything he had seen before. After x-rays and an MRI, the injury was diagnosed: Phillips had torn the adductor from his pelvic bone. The adductor was intact, but with it came some of the bone, and together they retracted down the inside of his leg and left a hole in his pelvic bone. Phillips had also torn the labrum and had micro-tears and strains to the abdominus rectus and the fascial tissue of the abdominals.

Weiss consulted with other doctors, but none had seen another dancer who had suffered that severe of a hip injury. Due to the amount of time that had lapsed since the injury, Phillips had to face the possibility that surgeons would not be able to get to the adductor and the chance he may never be able to walk normally again.

“It scared the heck out of me,” Phillips admits. “I know that with any surgery there are risks. As a dancer, these seemed like big ones, though. I had so many things that went wrong at the same time that we had no idea if surgery was going to be successful.”

Michael Spencer Phillips

Michael Spencer Phillips. Photo by Rachel Neville.

Weiss recommended Phillips go see Dr. Srino Bharam, a hip specialist who trained under one of the best hip doctors in the country. Dr. Bharam suggested surgery as soon as possible. He would repair the labral tear, remove the scar tissue from around the adductor, and pull and reattach the adductor with screws and a small plate to the broken pelvic bone. Dr. Bharam would also execute bone resurfacing, a slightly controversial technique that would essentially reshape the head of the femur and the socket of the pelvis where it sits. With the shapes of his bones slightly changed, Phillips would have to re-teach his body how those bones moved in the most efficient way. But for Phillips, the advantages of movement potential outweighed what would be a taxing recovery period.

Phillips went in for surgery on December 5, 2012. What was supposed to be a two-hour procedure took seven hours. But it was successful.

Only 12 hours later, Phillips began the recovery process. He started movement therapy with a controlled passive movement machine, a large contraption that held and helped bend and straighten his leg. He also iced for an hour every other hour for the first five days, after which he began post-surgery physical therapy (PT) with Rocky Bornstein at Westside Dance Physical Therapy.

On that first day of PT, just days after Phillips’ leg was essentially opened up and reattached, he was on a stationary bike.

“I kind of rode the bike with a rhythm of a limp at first,” Phillips says. “I only lasted about four minutes on it, but then I realized that it was all going to work out. I would be back and stronger than ever. It would be painful, it would be challenging, but it would be the most dramatic, life-changing and character-building experience of my entire life.”

For four months, Phillips’ PT routine was about six to eight hours a day. During the first eight weeks, he used crutches to get to and from PT and the gym, where he biked, swam (upper body only), walked, used the treadmill, did Pilates, used weights, TheraBands, silks, balance boards, and did hundreds of exercises for every part of the leg and core.

Soon, he started doing ballet barre in the pool, then he did barre outside the pool, and soon enough, in April of 2013, Phillips went back to ballet class with his teacher, Christine Wright.

“I would do a little more each day,” he says. “If there were exercises I couldn’t do yet, I would learn the exercise and do just the port de bras and visualize myself doing it. Once I could move more, but still not jump or shift weight well, I would try and do the combinations small in the back.”

By summer, Phillips was dancing more and more. On September 16, 2013, he returned to rehearsal. By the middle of October, he performed again for the first time! He started with only one piece and added on more repertory slowly. And now, Phillips is back dancing in almost everything he was before!

Now, Phillips will join RIOULT in the company’s 20th anniversary season at the Joyce from June 17-22. “I am featured in some of the work this season,” he says. “It is a huge honor. I’m just so grateful to be a part of it and to be back home on stage with my dance family.”

Perhaps the key to Phillips’ incredibly quick return to the stage was his attitude. Never once did he ask, “Why me?” Instead, he accepted his fate and reacted with resilience and determination.

“I spoke to a panel of doctors at the University of Michigan in April of 2013,” he recalls. “They told me about athletes who were still rehashing what had happened six and eight months after an injury. They were still doing their PT but weren’t recovering quickly, and these athletes were more than 15 years younger than me. I never did the asking of the questions after that first week. It didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was getting back in the studio and back on stage. That’s where I feel I belong.”

“Six months after my surgery, I was already dancing in class,” Phillips continues. “Eight months after surgery, I was teaching and choreographing. Those athletes were still asking, ‘Why?’ Ten months, back to work full-time and putting in six-hour days of dancing. Eleven months, back to performing. Now, back to back. Dancing more efficiently and smarter and cleaner and with more passion and love for it than ever before. It is fleeting. We cannot be performers forever, but we are dancers. If anyone is going to push it to the limits, it will be us. No one has the discipline of dancers. No one. I believe that.”

For information about RIOULT Dance NY’s Joyce Theater season visit

Posted in Dance Health, Interviews2 Comments

High Energy Snacks for Your Young Dancer

High Energy Snacks for Your Young Dancer

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.

As a mom and a nutritionist I am all too aware of studies showing snacks contribute to better concentration, better memory recall, and help kids stay on task1,2.  Students who have regularly scheduled snacks and who don’t go for more than 3 hours without eating, even something small, have decreased anxiety and were reported to be more happy and alert1,2.  I see it in my own kids, but it really hits home to me as a ballet teacher when I have a group of kids late in the afternoon and some of them are clearly fatigued or out of sorts.  An informal poll of my young ballet students showed me that several of them don’t eat anything at all between lunch time and ballet class which can start as late as 5:45pm.  Their concentration, attitude, and motivation are clearly impacted. Take the time to work with your kids to plan and shop for healthy snacks so that they are quick and available at home to grab and go or throw in a dance bag the night before.  Let your kids pick out fruits and veggies at the store and engage them in washing and food prep.  A little planning can make a big difference in your child’s dance class experience.

Another concern is added ingredients. Certain ingredients in foods such as dyes, artificial flavors, additives, and preservatives like sodium benzoate have been shown to affect hyperactivity, concentration and mood3.   With these and renewed concerns over genetically modified foods affecting developing children, it’s not just sugar that is the villain anymore.  As a busy parent myself, I understand all too well how challenging healthy snacks can be so here are some ideas and my dancers’ favorite recipe:

Choose complex carbohydrates with low to moderate protein/ fat for a pre-dance snack. Expect a small snack to last 2-3 hours of dancing. If your dancer is going to be at the studio longer than that, pack two snacks or a small meal.

  1. 1 banana with 1-2 tbsp peanut butter
  2. 1 cup sweet red pepper slices or carrots with 3 tbsp hummus and some pumpkin seeds
  3. Sunbutter or almond butter and honey sandwich on organic spelt bread
  4. 14 almonds and 1 large apple or 1 cup of grapes
  5. ½  cup granola and non-GMO soy yogurt
  6. Shelled edamame or tofu cubes with rice, veggies and soy sauce (make ahead of time and serve cold)
  7. Hardboiled egg or string cheese with 5-10 whole grain or rice crackers
  8. 6oz low fat yogurt (can substitute for soy or coconut yogurt)
  9. Homemade almond milk smoothie with frozen berries, peaches, and flax seeds. (Make a large batch ahead of time and freeze in small grab and go containers)
  10. Pre-made bar or oatrolls (see below) with fruit, dates, nuts and/or whole grains. (Make a large batch and freeze, then put frozen oatrolls in his/her dance bag in the morning so by the afternoon they are thawed and yummy.)

Many children these days have an intolerance or allergy to dairy and gluten. Registered dietitian Colleen McCarthy RD with On Pointe Nutrition knows firsthand how hard it can be to dance “in a fog of gluten intolerance”.  Here are our recommendations for gluten free/dairy free kids:

  1. Apple salad: apples, walnuts, pecans, raisins
  2. Hummus with brown rice crackers or raw carrots/squash/zucchini/sweet peppers.
  3. Soy/coconut yogurt with flaxseed or chia seeds, fresh blueberries or strawberries and 1tbsp of almond butter- mix it up.
  4. Nut/seed mix: almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins, pecan, brazil nuts, dried pineapple
  5. Banana with almond, cashew, or sunbutter
  6. Coconut water, dark chocolate almond milk or coconut milk
  7. Rice cakes with nut butter and a piece of fruit
  8. Oatmeal with flax seeds or a homemade oatrolls (see recipe)
  9. Popcorn, pumpkin seeds, GF pretzels, and dried fruit trail mix

Easy Almond Oat Energy Rolls
(makes approximately 20 rolls)

  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats (regular)
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 Tbs. raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Grind 1/2 cup oats and 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds in food processor until powdery. Transfer to medium bowl; set aside.

Combine remaining 2 cups oats, remaining 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, raisins, sunflower seeds and cinnamon in large bowl. Stir in almond butter, honey, and vanilla until soft dough forms.

Moisten hands, and roll dough into 1-inch balls. Coat balls in oat-pumpkin seed powder.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at

1. Physiology & Behavior Volume 90, Issues 2-3, 28 February 2007, Pages 382-385
2. A mid-morning snack improves memory but not attention or psychomotor speed in school-age children in India Appetite. Volume 47, Issue 2, September 2006, Page 262

Photo (top): © Guille Faingold |

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I’m Sore! Now What?

I’m Sore! Now What?

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

As a dancer, you are constantly using your body in new ways. Perhaps you were challenged in a really hard class. Or maybe your company started rehearsing a new piece of repertory. Maybe you took a modern class that incorporated a ton of deep pliés. It’s no wonder, then, that there are some days when you wake up, take your first step out of bed and think, “I am so sore!”

So what does it mean to be “sore”? And what should you do about it? Here, Dance Informa speaks with Marissa Joseph, CSCS, founder of Working Lines Training.


Joseph says that scientists have differing opinions on what is going on in your body when you feel sore. Some believe that soreness might come from minute tears in the muscle fiber’s contractile units. Others believe that feeling sore may actually be psychological.

“Whichever the case,” Joseph says, “feeling ‘sore’ usually constitutes a feeling of stiffness and ache in the muscle belly due to overuse. Soreness usually comes on the morning after a tough rehearsal or workout or anywhere between 24 and 48 hours post.”

Working Lines Training Founder Marissa Joseph

Joseph leads workshops on the importance of strength training for dancers. Photo courtesy of Marissa Joseph.


It may be tempting as a dancer to stretch it out when you feel sore. It may feel “good”, or maybe stretching has just become part of your warm-up routine. Stretching, however, may not be the best way to remedy soreness, although it does depend on your degree of soreness.

“If it is correct that soreness is actually caused by micro-tears in the muscle, static stretching, like sitting in your splits, will likely cause more damage to this tissue,” Joseph points out.

Instead, Joseph recommends taking the time to do some gentle dynamic stretches: sun salutations, pliés à la seconde, pliés in sixth position while in a cambré forward, lunges à la seconde.

“This will begin to warm up the body while working through a stretch and bring blood flow to the area,” she adds. “Blood carries nutrients that will help repair tissues.”

If you are very sore, to the point where your movement is counteracted, then Joseph advises staying away from stretching entirely.


Depending on the level of your soreness, your mode of treatment may differ. If your soreness is very light, Joseph says it’s safe to proceed into your dance day as normal but with a longer warm-up. If your soreness is moderate, she recommends giving yourself ample time to dynamically stretch and do a few exercises. At this level, Joseph also suggests avoiding extreme movements. If your soreness is at an uncomfortable level and causes discomfort when you move, she advises icing the muscle and taking the day off, without even stretching or foam rolling.

A day off may seem almost sacrilegious to dancers, but it could be the best cure for severe soreness. “Once a dancer starts changing his or her movement to work around a sore muscle, they are at a higher risk of injuring themselves,” Joseph adds. “I know it’s tempting to work through your pain, but be sure to give your body a rest when it asks for it! When your muscle stops being sore, you are generally okay to start your normal routine again.”

Stretching for muscle soreness

Working Lines Training Founder Marissa Joseph says stretching may not always be the best remedy for sore muscles. Photo courtesy of Marissa Joseph.


As a dancer, who is constantly exploring movement or practicing one set of steps repeatedly, you are bound to get sore. It’s part of the game. This unavoidable soreness, however, can be a good thing!

“You will notice that with new stimulus or different stress, your body will generally react by being sore,” Joseph says. “When your muscles adapt to a new regimen or routine, however, you’ve become stronger and should no longer feel achy. I think it is good to be sore sometimes. It usually means that you are challenging your body. The more we physically challenge our bodies, the stronger they will become!”


Make sure you continuously check in with your body, and pay attention to the degree of your soreness.

“If your soreness persists much longer than 48 hours, a dancer should start to be concerned,” Joseph says. “It could be the case that he or she has actually injured the muscle. Also, if the dancer starts to experience any sharp pains, they should seek the help of a health professional.” 

Photo (top): © Softdreams |

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Injury Prevention 101: Tiny Terrors

Injury Prevention 101: Tiny Terrors

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.

As devastating as a major injury can be, sometimes it’s the little things that get us down. When you’re always covered in bruises but have to keep doing that floor work, or you’ve ripped the same hole in your foot twice a day for the past month, you start to get desperate for a cure.

So, what are some things we can do about these nasty little injuries? A bevy of dancers shared their thoughts, and expert clinician Alan Kroll, MS, ATC, athletic trainer for many of Broadway’s major shows including Crazy for You, Steel Pier, The Color Purple, La Cage aux Folles, Follies and Jesus Christ Superstar, weighs in with his own special recommendations.

Cuts and split skin

To prevent: A lot of dancers like to use a fat-based balm to keep their skin softer so it’s less likely to split in the first place. This might be coconut oil, Bag Balm or a neutral lip balm. If your calluses start to get craggy, use a pumice stone to reduce thickness or nail clippers to trim tough edges so they don’t get caught and pull the wound open. Some dancers also develop elaborate taping methods, using flexible tape like Elastoplast to weave between the toes for strategic prevention.

To heal: Glue it shut! Almost every dancer I’ve asked responds with Super Glue to close up small cuts on their feet. Make sure the cut is clean and sterile and skin is trimmed, then do as the ER doctor might and use super glue to bring the edges of the skin together. Again, strategic taping can help keep a cut from opening further and keep it covered while it heals. One dancer and choreographer who shall remain nameless even recommended urinating on your open wounds to make them heal faster – but we really don’t need to go that far, and I wouldn’t recommend it – ewww! 

Pro tips from Alan Kroll: Cuts need to be kept clean and sterile, preventing microorganisms from growing. This can be done with an alcohol swab or an antiseptic like Hibiclens. Bacitracin with zinc is an antibiotic cream that will help heal cuts faster. Leukotape is great for holding skin together as it is a strong adhesive and can stay on for a few days! Just be careful taking it off as it can tear skin too (nail polish remover works well as a dehesive.)

Legs with bruises

My poor legs in mid-February after performances with a lot of floor work.


To prevent: Blisters form due to friction on the outer layers of skin. Placing a layer between what rubs and your skin can eliminate that friction. This could be tights, clothing or tape in many cases. Your skin will also toughen up with exposure so you will be less susceptible to blisters once your skin gets used to a new shoe or to dancing barefoot. If a blister is raw for a prolonged period or getting worse, then you need to remove the irritant to let it heal.

To heal: As with calluses, dancers can use a balm or oil to make sure their skin stays soft and doesn’t dry out and harden around the blister. Some dancers like using New-Skin to protect an open blister, while others will just wrap it in waterproof tape that won’t slide around during dance. Keep an open blister clean, sterile and covered.

Pro tips from Alan Kroll: If the blister is still intact, don’t pop it. If it has popped, leave the skin over the wound. If you need to pop it, use a sterile needle to make a small hole at the bottom and let the fluid drain out. Again, sterilize and cover an open or popped blister. Place a soft doughnut around the blister in addition to New-Skin or a Silipos (gel pad) protection. Simple Dr. Scholl’s callus pads work well as does moleskin, which can be cut to size and also used for cuts and splits. Lots of companies make “blister kits” that you can buy at the drug store.


To prevent: Bruises occur when capillaries, the smallest blood vessels, and sometimes tiny veins are broken due to impact, allowing blood to pool near the surface of the skin. The fun purple, blue, brown and yellow colors you see are from your blood! Other than wearing padding, there is not much to prevent bruising except trying your best to control descents to the floor with strong muscles and smooth, coordinated movement, and trying not to run into things! Have we mentioned dancers are clumsy? (See this fun article: Why are dancers so clumsy?)

To heal: Use balms like Traumeel and Topricin, or Biofreeze and other arnica creams.

Pro tips from Alan Kroll: Don’t use a warming balm like Tiger Balm – it’s going to have the opposite effect and bring more blood to the area! Something like Traumeel is great because research has demonstrated that it has the similar anti-inflammatory and healing effects of NSAIDs (like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen), but without the negative soft tissue side effects. 

Don’t let these little troubles get to you! You can easily take care of them so they don’t become persistent problems. Prevention is best, but sometimes that is a more difficult thing to do with a small injury like a bruise or a floor burn which, by the way, you should sterilize and keep clean and covered!

So use the tools of the trade to help you get on the mend quickly. Use all creams, especially antibacterial and antiseptics, as directed, and get creative with experimenting and practicing with your taping and padding techniques. Find something that works for you! Just remember, if anything is causing you persistent or intolerable pain, or looks infected, go see a trusted medical professional.

Alan Kroll, MS, ATC, is the owner of SportCare, and provides injury care and fitness training for performance enhancement to dancers, athletes, musicians and musical theatre performers in the New York City area.

This is merely an advice column. If you have questions or concerns about any of this information or your own cuts, blisters or bruises please speak to a medical professional. Dance Informa is not liable for the misuse of this information and encourages you to speak to a medical practitioner before using any of the techniques or products listed.

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Sports Nutrition for the Male Dancer

Sports Nutrition for the Male Dancer

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.

It is undeniable that dancers are athletes at the highest level. They have to maintain maximum performance, strength and endurance all while looking great in tights. The aesthetic athlete has to pay close attention to what they eat and drink. Sports nutrition for male dancers is an expansive topic, but here are a just a few key points.  

Timing is Everything

Veteran, Principal Dancer with Atlanta Ballet, John Welker, has had a remarkable career and knows firsthand how critical meals and snacks are to performance and recovery.  “Nutrition and eating enough is everything for me,” says Welker. “It’s harder for me to eat enough than not. I always try to eat consistently and constantly throughout the day.  I also started to eat during performances, which might sound weird, but any two-hour show is a long time without any food for me.” What John has found works for him is actually a well-researched concept in sports nutrition called “Energy Balance.” This is the secret for dancing stronger, improving body composition, building muscle, having more endurance, improving performance and reducing injury risk. It’s all about timing healthy meals and snacks to work for you. 

How to get Energy Balance to work for you

Eating exactly the right amount of fuel for the activity you are about to do is the best way. It is meeting and adjusting your body’s energy (calorie) needs as they change throughout the day depending on how hard you are working. Never go for more than three hours without eating something even if it is small, and some dancers will need to eat every two hours when working hard.

Dancer needs vary dramatically. This is a very generalized example. For a more detailed plan, e-mail

7:00 am breakfast (never skip breakfast)
9:45 am pre-class snack (like a banana) 
11:30 am post-class snack with moderate protein and some carbs
11:45 am-2:45 pm rehearsals: quick, complex carbs during breaks
2:45 lunch mix of protein, carbs, healthy fats and water
3:45-6:45 rehearsals: quick, complex carbs during breaks
6:45 commute home: chocolate soy milk or dairy milk
7:45 Dinner: mix of protein, carbs, healthy fats and more water

Protein Needs and Timing

Adequate protein intake is critical. However, the amount of protein actually needed is often over emphasized in male athletes and getting more that you need can be as bad as getting too little. Protein should be about 12-15 percent of all your calories each day3. Male dancers should calculate their protein needs at around 1.3-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (a bit more if they are still a young growing dancer). So a 170-pound male dancer (77.3 Kg) would need about 100 grams of protein per day. Fad diet Paleo followers often double that at the expense of carbohydrate, which can be a recipe for organ stress and poor athletic performance. Protein is best utilized when eaten in regular meals and snacks throughout the day in increments of 7-20 grams at a time. Protein loading doesn’t actually help. Research indicates that the body might not really use more than 20 grams at a time for building muscle so those extra amino acids end up being expensive extra calories4,5. The amount in a cup of beans and rice, a bowl of oatmeal (porridge) with ¼ cup nuts and flax seeds, 1 cup soy milk, or 3 oz. of chicken is 7-20 grams. Vegetables, beans, grains and soy all have protein and it adds up. Try to eat protein within an hour post-exercise. But up to 24 hours is ok4.


The first two signs of dehydration are fatigue and poor balance. Thirst doesn’t kick in until the body has lost 1-2 liters of fluid1. Dehydration increases body temperature, can affect heart rate, cardiac output and endurance, and impairs ability for nutrients to get to working muscles and for those muscles to eliminate things like lactic acid. An even bigger problem is that in order to move quickly from standing to dancing full out, dancers rely heavily on a storage form of energy called glycogen. The body might burn through muscle glycogen faster when dehydrated thus depleting this important fuel faster than if well hydrated. Use sports beverages only sparingly and when needed, and let water be your main beverage of choice. Avoid high sugar and energy (caffeine bomb) drinks.  

Welker reports that he mostly sticks to water in keeping well hydrated: “Always a glass before going to bed, and always a glass first thing in the morning. Occasionally when I have a very demanding role and rehearsal period, and I need to stay hydrated beyond water to keep from cramping, I’ll make my own Oral Rehydration drink. The recipe is 1 liter water (~4 cups), 6 level teaspoons sugar and 1/2 level teaspoon salt. Mix until dissolved and drink. Also, I have found coconut water and chocolate milk are also very effective.” 

Drink regularly to avoid thirst. Your water bottle should be your constant companion.

Recommendations depend on weight, sweat rate and amount of exercise1,2,3:

Before Exercise: Drink ~400-500 ml (13-16 oz.) of water at least four hours before

During Exercise: Drink 150-350 ml (6-12 oz.) of water every 20 minutes (or at least 20 oz. every hour)

Post-Exercise: Drink at least 720-1000 ml (24-32 oz.) of water

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at

1. Benardot D. Advanced Sports Nutrition.
2. Coyle EF. “Fluid and Fuel intake during exercise.” Journal of Sports Sciences, 2004, 22:39-55.
3. American College of Sports Medicine, Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Joint Position Statement of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly ADA) and Dietitians of Canada. 2009.
4. Tipton KD. “Protein Nutrition and Exercise: What is the Latest?” SCAN’s Pulse. Spring 2011.
5. Witard OC, Tipton KD.  School of Sports Studies, University of Stirling.

Photo (top):  © Viorel Dudau |

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Ways to show your heart some love Valentine’s

Ways to show your heart some love Valentine’s

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.

February is heart health month. This Valentine’s day, we want to help you maintain the one muscle in your body that is always working. Making small changes to your daily routine and dietary intake will ensure that your heart is protected and in top form for rehearsals and performances.

1. Rethink the way you shop for food.

Eating “clean”, “natural” and “unprocessed” are all hot buzzwords, and are certainly a great way to show your heart some love. But how do you really put that into practice? Understanding the layout of a grocery store will keep you from selecting processed foods that could be harmful for your health in the long run. Choose fresh food items usually located around the perimeter of the store and avoid processed goods are in the aisles. If it has a long ingredient list that you can’t pronounce, you might reconsider buying it. Think through meals and snacks ahead of time, create a grocery list and stick to it, and eat a healthy snack before you shop. When you are hungry it is much harder to resist high sugar/high fat foods. The temptation to buy more products not included on your list is higher when you are hungry.

2. Eat more fiber and lower your risk for heart disease.

Young dancers might not be worried about heart disease, but studies show that even one high-fat, junk food meal can affect how the blood flows through arteries (4). Blood flow and arterial health is so important for athletes. Minimally processed or unprocessed, fiber-rich whole grains, such as steel cut oatmeal, Ezekiel bread, quinoa and other whole grain products, are essential for heart health and peak athletic performance. Your body digests fiber-containing foods slower than simple carbs. That means that your blood sugar and insulin levels will remain stable, your body will have sustained energy, and you will feel fuller longer. Fiber is also good for cholesterol levels. Research shows that fiber in whole grains lowers LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol. Fiber is also in fruits and vegetables. You will feel and dance better by eating more natural foods that are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

3. Choose heart-healthy proteins.

Some fish like salmon, trout or tuna may help lower your risk of coronary heart disease. That is because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may also help reduce body fat as well as keep your heart healthy.1 While fish are good sources of protein and fat, there are some concerns that they contain environmental contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, so if you eat fish, do so occasionally and choose sustainable sources (see Beans, nuts, seeds and soy are great sources of protein and healthy fats. Plus, they have vitamins, minerals, and cancer fighting phytonutrients.

4. Don’t deprive yourself.

Being too restrictive can backfire, and may make it harder to resist unhealthy foods. When you do want to indulge, keep portions small and consider options that also have health benefits. Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonoids, which may improve coronary vascular function.3 Eating dark chocolate every once in a while will keep you from splurging too much later.

5. Try heart-healthy food combos.

Try some oatmeal with nuts or pumpkin seeds or whole grain toast with almond butter for a fiber-rich breakfast that will keep you full while exercising. Try whole grain pita bread with hummus, greens and a veggie burger before a show, or a fresh fruit smoothie with soy milk and flax seeds. The combination of the different nutrients will keep you full without weighing you down. Dancers should aim for 2-3 servings of fruit and 3-6 servings of vegetables per day.  

Eden Morris, graduate student and dietetic intern at the Department of Nutrition at Georgia State University, contributed to this article.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at


1. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics;
2. The American Heart Association:
3. Flammer AJ, Hermann F, Sudano I, et al. “Dark Chocolate Improves Coronary Vasomotion and Reduces Platelet Reactivity.” Circulation. 2007; 116(21):2376–2382. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.713867.
4. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, Sept.-Oct. 2012.

Photo (top): © Elena Schweitzer |

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Strategies to Beat the Holiday Bulge: Small Changes, Big Impact

Strategies to Beat the Holiday Bulge: Small Changes, Big Impact

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.

When the holidays are over and we are left with a few extra pounds, it’s tempting to want to go for the quick fix such as fad diets, questionable supplements or restrictive eating. But that always backfires and might lead to higher body fat and lower muscle mass in the long run. The best strategy for real weight loss is to make small, sustainable changes overtime.  I know it’s not the most sensational or sexy message, but it works. If you want real change that lasts, keep reading…

Small Changes=Big Impact

Little changes add up, leading to big results that are easier to sustain. Cutting 100-200 calories per day can lead to 10-20 lbs weight loss in a year. This doesn’t mean starvation or restriction, just being mindful where extraneous calories come from. For example, some coffee drinks and smoothies from national chains can have 400-800 calories, one pat of butter can have 100 calories, and just two slices of bacon adds 108 high fat calories. Instead of bacon or sausage for breakfast, have ¼ cup of almonds or walnuts on oatmeal. Instead of a burger for lunch, have a wrap with veggies beans and rice. Instead of a protein smoothie for a snack (potentially 700 calories) have an apple, granola bar and some soy milk.

Strategy 1: Start off right

Studies published on the National Weight Control Registry show that 78 percent of people who lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast. Eating breakfast is associated with eating fewer calories later in the day, better athletic performance and decreased binge episodes1. Many of my clients who have trouble controlling cravings or food intake find that when they start their day with a good breakfast and a morning snack three hours later, they have a much easier time losing weight. Breakfast eaters have lower body weight and lower body fat percentage because they burn more fat3. Mornings can be busy times, so plan ahead and get up just five minutes earlier.

Strategy 2: Understand what may be affecting the desire to overeat  

Overeating high fat and high sugar foods can lead to a decrease in the brain neurotransmitter dopamine which affects the foods you desire and the quantity of those foods because it is connected with the areas in the brain associated with “reward”4. Sugary foods result in an addictive response for more. The more you eat, the more you want of these highly rewarding foods4. Don’t worry, all is not lost, we can get back to a healthy balance again by eating mindfully and consuming less of these rich foods. At first, it might feel hard, but stick with it. It does get easier as the days go by. Take one day at a time.

Strategy 3: Vow to eat fresh, real food

What if you didn’t go to a fast food restaurant for the next 21 days? What if you didn’t eat fast food for a whole year? Tastes and cravings change over time. When you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables in the place of less processed junk, and less buttery, creamy or fried foods, you can actually change what you desire and crave. Significantly reduce sugar and butter for 21 days, then see how you feel. That gooey cream sauce might not be as appealing. Make your health a priority this New Year by pledging to fuel your body with food that doesn’t come from a box, a powder, a bar or passed through a car window. Pledge to get a new cookbook or follow a vegetarian food blog.

Strategy 4: Know your triggers

If ice cream is your downfall, don’t keep it in the house. Accessibility is key. Make healthy snacks accessible and easy and it will be much easier to resist unhealthy foods. Keep fresh fruit washed and ready for quick fix.

Strategy 5: Watch Portions 

Serve yourself on a smaller plate, put snacks in small to-go containers for quick bites on the run, and don’t buy the bargain super-size foods. It’s not a bargain if it isn’t good for your health.

Yes, it takes a little planning, and a little extra time. But studies show healthy eating actually costs less. We all lead busy lives in this hectic modern world. “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating, will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” You are worth it.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at



1. National Weight Control Registry:
2. Masheb RM, Grilo CM. High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity. 2013 Dec;21(12):2504-12.
3. Stevenson EJ, Astbury NM, Simpson EJ, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. “Fat oxidation during exercise and satiety during recovery are increased following a low-glycemic index breakfast in sedentary women.”
4. Liebman B. Food and Addiction. “Can some foods hijack the brain?” Nutrition Action. Centre for Science in the Public Interest. May 2012.

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