Summer is the best season for fresh food, especially fruit. All fruits have compounds that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Don’t worry about the sugar content; they also have fiber and are important contributors to an overall healthy diet, reduced muscle soreness and even cancer prevention. Recommendations for dancers are to get at least 2-5 servings of fruit per day.
It just isn’t summer without watermelon. It’s delicious, hydrating and contains only 50 calories per cup. Don’t limit yourself to just one cup because it is an excellent source of vitamin C, and we know that it’s better to get vitamin C from food instead of pills or powders. However, watermelon’s superfood status comes more from the high amounts of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. This form of vitamin A is good for skin, immune function and reduces risk for cancer. As a rich source of lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, watermelon can reduce the risk of age-related blindness and macular degeneration. These antioxidant vitamins and phytonutrients reduce oxidative stress and may lower inflammation.
July is National Blueberry Month. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Native Americans have a long history of using wild blueberries (which actually have higher antioxidant levels than their cultivated sweeter cousins), fresh, dried and in recipes such as cornbread4. The dark blue color of these antioxidant-rich berries have anthocyanins and polyphenols that have been shown to improve memory, cognitive function and even can help heal the brain after traumatic injury5.
Cherries and tart cherry juice
While the term “superfood” is overused these days, cherries have a lot of reasons to deserve the label. Like the other foods mentioned in this article, cherries also reduce inflammation and combat oxidative stress to cells. There are different kinds of cherries containing different bioactive compounds, but most studies focus on tart cherries consumed mostly through juice or powders and sweet cherries consumed fresh. In a recent review article, eight out of nine studies on athletes showed that cherry consumption decreased pain, soreness and muscle damage2,3. Drinking tart cherry juice either from fresh or concentrate can promote faster recovery after a hard day of exercise2,3. Most studies that showed a measurable effect had participants drink at least 8-12 ounces of cherry juice (or 1 ounce if from concentrate). This popular product is available at most health food stores. Dancers might consider adding cherries or juice to their post-dance recovery smoothies or even adding a couple of tablespoons of the concentrate directly to their water bottle. It could be delicious and performance-enhancing to combat the tart flavor of the cherry juice with a squeeze of watermelon juice in the water bottle, encouraging hydration in the process.
Blueberries and cherries get all the press in the sports nutrition world, but while blackcurrants are less popular, they certainly aren’t short on nutrients or performance-enhancing potential. Blackcurrant extract has been shown to reduce muscle damage and soreness after exercise6. They are high in the same anthocyanins that blueberries have, and their consumption also mitigates inflammation and oxidative damage6. They might be a little harder to buy since their popularity hasn’t taken off yet, but they can be found frozen, dried and in powder form online.
Don’t forget about summer peaches and mango (both high in vitamin A and C), strawberries (extremely high in vitamin C, manganese and beta-carotene) and apricots (dried can be a source of iron).
By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD of Nutrition for Great Performances.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Mateljan G. The World’s Healthiest Foods. 2007
2. Kelley DS, et al. A review of the health benefits of cherries. Nutrients. 2018 Mar; 10(3): 368
3. Vitale KC et al. Tart cherry juice in athletes: a literature review and commentary. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2017 Jul/Aug;16(4):230-239.
4. Rupp R. From wild to tame, the blueberry business is booming. National Geographic 2016.
5. Travica N, et al. The effect of blueberry interventions on cognitive performance and mood: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Brain Behav Immun. 2019 Apr 15.
6. Harty PS, et al. Nutritional and supplementation strategies to prevent and attenuate exercise induced muscle damage: a brief review. Sports Med Open. 2019 Dec. 5:1