Tag Archive | "dancer nutrition"

Sports Nutrition for the Male Dancer


By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
www.dancernutrition.com.

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 Emily@dancernutrition.com.

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 77kg dancer 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 porridge with ¼ cup nuts and flax seeds, 1 cup soy milk, or 85 grams 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 ok.4

Hydration

The first two signs of dehydration are fatigue and poor balance. Thirst doesn’t kick in until the body has lost 1-2 litres 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 hydrated2. Use sports drinks 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 litre water (4 cups), 6 level teaspoons sugar and 1/2 level teaspoon of 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 of water at least four hours before

During Exercise: Drink 150-350 ml of water every 20 minutes (or at least 500 ml. every hour)

Post-Exercise: Drink at least 720-1000 ml of water

Emily Harrison
Emily 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, USA. 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 emily@dancernutrition.com
www.dancernutrition.com

Sources:
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. 

Photo (top):  © Viorel Dudau | Dreamstime.com

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Show your heart some love this Valentine’s Day


By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
www.dancernutrition.com

This Valentine’s day, why not think about your physical heart, as well as your emotional heart. 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 practise? 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 which 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 fibre 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 arteries4. Blood flow and arterial health is so important for athletes. Minimally processed or unprocessed, fibre-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 fibre-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. Fibre is also good for cholesterol levels. Research shows that fibre in whole grains lowers LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol. Fibre is also in fruits and vegetables. You will feel and dance better by eating more natural foods that are rich in fibre, 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 ewg.org). 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 fibre-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 soymilk 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 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, contributed to this article.

Emily Harrison
Emily 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, USA. 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 emily@dancernutrition.com
www.dancernutrition.com

Sources:
1. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: www.eatright.org
2. The American Heart Association: www.heart.org
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 | Dreamstime.com.

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Strategies to Beat the Holiday Bulge


By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
www.dancernutrition.com

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 a 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
Emily 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, USA. 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 emily@dancernutrition.com
www.dancernutrition.com

Sources:
1. National Weight Control Registry: http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/default.htm.
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.

Photo (top): © Ariwasabi | Dreamstime.com

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Can I eat fat and look good in tights?


By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
www.dancernutrition.com

Dancers tend to be cautious about fat in their diets. This is completely understandable given that we have to look good in tights and fat is a very concentrated source of calories. Fats have nine calories per gram versus four calories per gram from carbs or proteins. But what about all the reported benefits of coconut oil, olive oil and omega-3s? Would a dancer’s bone health be at risk without adequate fat to help absorb and metabolize bone building vitamins D and K, both of which are fat-soluble? Plus, fat makes food more palatable, and helps you feel fuller longer.  Smart choices and moderation are what we need for this misunderstood, but tasty, nutrient.

How Much?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends getting 25-30% of your total calories from fat. As a dietitian for dancers, I typically recommend getting 25% because it’s necessary, but we don’t want to get too much. It is saturated fat that you want to avoid. Recommendations are to get less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat. We all should entirely avoid trans fats. Trans fats undergo hydrogenation, which makes them more shelf stable. Baked goods, doughnuts, fried foods and chips are sources of this heart-damaging fat. As athletes, our cardiovascular system is a big part of what makes us perform well and it makes sense to eat foods that support the one muscle that never stops working. Most teenagers and adults can eat between 35 to 60 grams of total fat per day, but choose your sources of fat wisely, picking plants such as nuts, seeds, avocados and small amounts of unsaturated oils. Portions matter! All foods naturally contain some fat. Even green beans and other veggies have a little.  

What does 25% of total calories really mean?

It’s different for everyone, but for approximately 2,000 calories per day, 500 of those can be from fat. This amounts to up to 55 grams per day. A pat of butter, 1/3 hamburger patty or 2 tablespoons of avocado all contain about 5-8 grams of fat, but the different kinds of fats in these foods can have profoundly different effects on the body.  

The importance of fats

Fats provide critical biological functions in the body. Phospholipids are components of cell membranes, and glycolipids are components of brain tissue. Fat can also be an important fuel source during a long show. Fats are essential for the absorption of vitamins A, E, D and K. 

Different types of fat

You want to replace saturated fats with unsaturated sources. When you hear of saturated or unsaturated fats (both poly and monounsaturated), those terms are referring to the structure or the chemical bonds. The structure can influence how it is metabolized by the body and then how it is used by cells. Different types of fat can also have different effects on athletic performance. Coconut oil is popular now. While it is very saturated and should be eaten in moderation, it has the type of fat that can be absorbed rapidly and can be a quick fuel source before dancing.

Below are some examples of fat sources. These are all naturally a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, but this gives a general idea of which fat sources are healthier options.

Saturated Fat (usually solid at room temperature) includes:

  • Meats, cheeses, butter, chocolate, coconut oil, palm oil, shortening, hydrogenated oils/ trans fats. 
    Linked to heart disease, hardening of the arteries, higher cholesterol, cancer, liver disease and poorer athletic performance.

Poly and Monounsaturated fats (usually liquid at room temperature) includes: 

  • Oils from flax, safflower, canola, olive, sesame. All seeds such as chia, flax, hemp, and sunflower. All nuts such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts.
    Linked to decreased cholesterol, better heart health, lower risk for cancer.

Omega-3s/ fish oils (Unsaturated and considered “essential” because the body can’t make them):

  • Flax and chia seeds, walnuts, cold water fish, canola oil, soy, wheat germ.
    Linked to decreased inflammation, lower risk for depression, improved brain function and better heart health.

Making good choices when dancing

Because fat slows stomach emptying and digestion, choose a high carbohydrate meal that is moderate in protein and low in fat one hour or more before a show or rehearsal. Nerves can affect digestion as we all know. Options could be a low fat meal of pasta with light marinara sauce (easy on the oil) or rice, veggies and edamame or a veggie burger on bread with a side of carrots. During long class or rehearsal days, try trail mix with nuts and seeds with a carb like pretzels or crackers. Add flax or chia seeds to your oatmeal in the mornings.

Anyone who is watching their weight and wants better performance doesn’t need to fear fat, they just need to be smart about not eating too much and getting their fat sources from plants.

Emily Harrison
Emily 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, USA. 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 emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

Photo (top): © Alen Dobric | Dreamstime.com

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Five red foods that are good for your heart


By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
www.dancernutrition.com

Dance Informa is celebrating heart health this Valentine’s Day by highlighting five red foods that are good for the one muscle in your body that never gets a rest. These foods are also great for recovering from a tough rehearsal, for keeping a healthy body weight and for preventing cancer and heart disease – but most importantly, they taste good!

Heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women1. Being physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight, and eating more colourful fruits and veggies can reduce your risk.

Strawberries
At only 43 calories per cup, berries contain vitamin C, folate and potassium, in addition to cancer-fighting flavonoids, such as anthocyanins. Flavonoids are antioxidants that combat oxidative stress on the body and protect against free radicals that cause cell damage. This is good news for dancers who push their bodies to the extreme and is especially helpful in urban areas where city pollution can be a source of oxidative stress. The Nurse’s Health Study II reported that people who ate berries more frequently (more than once a month) were 32 percent less likely to have a heart attack than people who ate berries infrequently. Berries also protect the heart with their anti-inflammatory properties. Be sure to choose organic berries as often as possible. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists these on their “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables that are typically high in pesticides2.

Capsicum
Sweet or hot, raw or cooked, there is no doubt that these are super healthy foods. Sweet red capsicums contain vitamins C and A, but they are also a good source of vitamin B6, which aids in protein metabolism. Because red capsicums have been left on the plant to mature longer than green ones, they are better sources of antioxidants. They are great sliced and dipped in hummus or on top of a pizza. These are also on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list so it’s worth the money to buy organic.

Tomatoes
These are a great source of vitamins C and K. They also contain vitamin A and the carotenoids lutein, and lycopene. These are antioxidants, powerful cancer fighters and are very heart protective. Research has shown that cooked tomatoes, like in sauces and stews, can have additional benefits. So enjoy them raw and cooked. Eat the skins as well, as the skins contain many health-promoting phytonutrients. This is another food on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, so once again we recommend that you buy organic.

Red Beans
A fantastic source of plant based protein and fibre, red or ‘kidney’ beans also contain folate, iron, manganese, copper, potassium and several other minerals. Current recommendations from a variety of health organisations tell us to get protein from more plant-based sources in general. Beans are a cheap source of organic protein, which with the fibre will help you feel fuller longer and can keep blood sugar more stable. I would strongly recommend avoiding canned beans because canned products are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA, which is a known neuroendocrine disruptor. It’s so easy to throw some beans in a slow cooker in the morning and they are ready when you get home. During cooking, don’t add salt or something acidic like tomatoes. Wait until the beans are softened to add these. If you soak beans overnight and then give them a good rinse before cooking or eating you can reduce the substance that gives them their reputation for being gas-producing.

Beetroot
These bright red root veggies are hot in the sports nutrition field right now because they are a great source of naturally occurring nitrates. Naturally occurring nitrates in foods like beets, rocket, spinach and rhubarb have been shown to significantly improve athletic performance with better power output, more endurance and speed. Dancers might see benefits by eating more of these veggies or drinking beetroot juice. Nitrate supplementation from pills has not shown the same benefits as consuming the actual vegetable. It’s important to note that cured or processed meats contain nitrates too, but interestingly these have a completely different effect on the body and cause cell damage instead. Cook beets in water until soft and then add them to salads.

There are plenty of other great red foods out there so don’t forget to also include these in your daily food choices – cherries, watermelon, red cabbage, raspberries, cranberries, ruby red grapefruit, pomegranate, apples and many others. Enjoy!

Emily Harrison
Emily 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, USA. 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 emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

Sources:
1. Centers for Disease Control USA: www.CDC.gov

2. Environmental Working Group: www.ewg.org

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Energy Balance?


We always hear about the importance of what you eat, but could when you eat be just as important?

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.

What’s the secret for dancing stronger, improving body composition, building muscle, having more endurance, and improving performance? Energy Balance.  Backed by sound science, the concept of energy balance is all about timing healthy meals and snacks to work for you.  Managing your energy balance can even play an important role in injury prevention.

What is Energy Balance?

Energy Balance is eating exactly the right amount of fuel for the activity you are about to do.   It is meeting and adjusting your body’s energy (calorie) needs as they change throughout the day depending on how hard you are working.   Let’s say you are going on a road trip….
Which option would you choose?

  1. Ok car, I’m not going to give you any fuel now, but when we get there I’ll give you all the fuel you need?
  2. Ok, car, I’m going to give you all the fuel you need for the trip now, but you have to figure out where to store it?
  3. Or…Ok car, I’ll fuel you up now for the next 2-3 hours and then I’ll stop and fuel you up again when you need it?

Obviously, we should choose option 3, but all too often dancers choose option 1 or 2.  Providing enough calories from healthy foods at carefully planned intervals when dancing gives the body the fuel it needs to perform its best.  When athletes have enough fuel, preferably from carbohydrates, they have been shown to have higher jumps and more endurance. Also, when dancers eat regular healthy snacks they tend to not overeat later.   If a dancer gets extremely hungry because he or she hasn’t eaten in a while, he or she tends to overeat more than needed within a certain time frame and those extra calories get stored.  Some is stored as a much needed type of fuel called glycogen which is easy to access when dancing the next day, but some is converted to body fat.  This is why eating smaller more frequent meals not only leads to better performance but also to more muscle and less fat.   We all know that working in an aesthetic art form means that we have to be judicious about what we eat, but planning meals and snacks wisely throughout the day can actually lead to better, stronger muscles and lower body fat percentage.

Whether someone dances two hours a day or ten, in order to perform their best they have to provide exactly the right amount of fuel to their system at the right time.  Going for too long without eating can backfire by forcing the body to come up with fuel from somewhere. When running on empty, the body breaks down muscle tissue and converts it into a type of fuel that the muscles and brain can use.

There are several problems with the all too common dancer strategy of not eating before and during classes/rehearsals/shows and waiting until later to eat: The body lowers your metabolic rate to adjust, the body burns muscle for fuel and thus makes you weaker and more prone to injury.  The brain has a harder time concentrating with no fuel, so choreography is harder to pick up and ultimately you end up with a higher body fat percentage and less muscle. Eating a small snack would have been a much more efficient source of fuel.

Here are my top 10 energy balance tips.

  1. Eat breakfast!
  2. Have a 100-250 calorie morning snack especially if you have rehearsals
  3. Provide some calories every 2-3 hours during your day
  4. Eat smaller more frequent meals
  5. Plan a 100-250 calorie afternoon snack around 3:00-4:00pm to stave off hunger
  6. Eat a reasonable dinner with carbohydrate, protein, and some healthy fats
  7. Do eat after dancing, but don’t overdo nighttime snacking
  8. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate all day
  9. Sip on a sports drink if dancing for a long time and eating isn’t possible
  10. Focus on fruits, veggies, and whole grains when meal/ snack planning – these carbs are good!

Pack a snack in your dance bag like a museli bar, banana, dried fruit, nuts, and whole grain crackers or make a wrap with hummus, veggies and rice. Make some pasta salad with whole grain pasta, black beans, tomatoes, corn, and red peppers – yum!  Planning is the key to making healthy food convenient.

Want to know more?
Here is some additional info:

Working muscles require calories in order to provide enough readily available energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and creatine phosphate (CP) particularly for the short, high intensity bursts of activity that we dancers do in class and in performance.  Longer bouts of exercise (Swan Lake for example) require the use of stored glycogen and fats. The body adjusts what it uses for energy based on the intensity of work and level of training. Providing calories before exercising preferably from carbohydrates, results in better performance and helps preserve muscle mass.  For longer shows, sipping on a sports drink or having a granola bar during intermission will help dancers finish strongly.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “Inadequate energy intakes can result in loss of muscle mass, menstrual dysfunction, loss or failure to gain bone density, an increased rate of fatigue, injury, and illness”.  Injuries or illness can greatly affect a dancer’s training.  Dancers can have fewer injuries and illnesses by managing their energy.

Emily Harrison
Emily 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, USA. 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 emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

Top photo: © Ivan Mikhaylov | Dreamstime.com

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Bone Health for Dancers


Nutrition recommendations for preventing and recovering from bone breaks, stress reactions, or stress fractures.

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD

With our highly active and high impact lifestyles, dancers can be prone to bone stress. What can you do ensure your bones are ready for the demands of dance?

Bone is living tissue, and good bone health requires good nutrition.  One way to avoid stress fractures/ reactions is to get adequate calories from protein, carbs, and fat. Calorie needs for dancers can vary depending on your size, age, gender, and activity level.  (See Dancernutrition.com for information on estimating calorie needs).  Going for long periods of time without eating or extreme dieting will compromise bone mineral density and jeopardize your bone strength. Cutting your calories too heavily will not help you become a stronger dancer.

Hormones also play a big role in bone health.   Decreased or absent menstruation in females is a warning sign. Please see a health care professional if dietary intake or menstruation is a problem.

Vitamins and Minerals for bone health, ages 13 and up
Calcium: 1300-1500 mg
Vitamin D:  10-15 micrograms (600-800 IU) avoid large doses and get 15 min of sun/day
Vitamin C:   100 mg (avoid large doses)
Vitamin K:  75-90 micrograms
Phosphorus: 1250 mg/day

Did you know that you can get all these from food sources?

Protein: Did you know that too much can actually compromise bone health over time?
Protein needs vary throughout our lifespan. For more information about recommended protein intake read Protein Needs for Dancers from the November Edition. More than enough protein is not necessarily better. Dancers who are adolescents and still growing, as well as engaging in athletic activity several times per week, can estimate protein on the higher end of the range, but shouldn’t over do it.  High protein diets can lead to more calcium being lost from the bones – a big problem for dancers who are at higher than average risk for stress fractures.  Protein overload = weaker bones.  Get your protein from food sources like beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and if necessary, get small amounts from meat or dairy.  Protein supplements or powders are not necessary and can even be dangerous.  

Dietary sources of bone building nutrients:

  • Everyone knows that dairy is a great source of calcium, but there are other plant-based sources of calcium too, like almonds. If your dairy intake is restricted, choose calcium fortified soy milk, almond milk, or orange juice w/ calcium.
  • Greens: spinach, kale, collards, chard
  • All fruits (great sources of vitamin C and phytonutrients)
  • Tuna, eggs, beans
  • Sunflower seeds, almonds
  • Enriched cereals, oatmeal with almond milk

Emily 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, USA. 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 emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

 

Top photo: © Linda Bucklin | Dreamstime.com

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D for Dancers


By Chris Bamford

Vitamin D is an extremely important vitamin for our bodies. Known as the sun vitamin, we mainly get vitamin D from exposure to UVB rays, but it is also available in a small number of foods.

Vitamin D deficiency is rapidly rising as a cause for concern in both dancers and non-dancers. At the 2010 IADMS (International Association of Dance Medicine and Science) conference there was a presentation highlighting the increasing levels of vitamin D deficiency in dancers.

It was also reported in a study in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, dated September 2010, that there is a need for a focus on vitamin D levels, especially for dancers. In this study research was done with 98 athletes of indoor sports from the ages of 10 – 30, including dancers, who live in sunny countries.  Out of all athletes tested 73% came back vitamin D deficient and 93% of the dancers tested were vitamin D deficient.  It was concluded that the levels of vitamin D deficiency were high due to the large number of hours spent training indoors.  Anti-skin cancer campaigns such as ‘Slip Slop Slap’ have also played a role, even though the Cancer Council website states that if you are sensible with your sun protection you can spend a little time in the sun and get a healthy vitamin D dosage, without putting yourself at high risk of skin cancer. (For detailed information visit www.cancer.org.au/cancersmartlifestyle/SunSmart/VitaminD.htm)

But why is Vitamin D so important?

Reduced levels of Vitamin D can lead to reduced levels of calcium, as our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium. This can lead to weaker bones, bone stress or stress fracture injury. Dancers who injure frequently or who are very slow to heal may actually be vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause the wasting of Type 2 muscle fibres (fast twitch fibres). This means that the power able to be generated in our muscles is reduced, affecting elevation and speed.

It is important to get your vitamin D levels checked by your GP if you believe you may be vitamin D deficient.  It’s just a simple blood test. You can boost your vitamin D intake by supplements, eating vitamin D rich foods such as tuna, salmon and egg yolk, and spending some time in the sun. Be careful though, as too much sun exposure, particularly in Australia, can be dangerous and leave you at risk of skin cancer. Speak to your doctor about a recommended vitamin D dosage for your body, as overdosing can have other health risks.

For further information on Vitamin D visit these resources/references:
www.cancer.org.au/cancersmartlifestyle/SunSmart/VitaminD.htm
www.iadms.org/associations/2991/files/info/bone_health_female_dancers.pdf
www.stayfitcentral.com/?p=622

This is merely an advice column. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or activities. Dance Informa Pty Ltd is not liable for any action taken as a result of reading this article.

Photo: © Boomfeed | Dreamstime.com

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