Dancing is a rigorous art form that requires plenty of nutritional support for the artist to attain success. Dancers who are in training, rehearsals or performances are fully aware of the energy and physical strength needed to perform. If you are serious about studying dance, you must learn to adopt a dancer’s diet.
While studying dance, dancers must take in the right proportions of fat, carbohydrates, protein, fluids and micronutrients to ensure good health and energy. First of all, dancers must consume enough calories to meet the grueling energy demands of hectic dance routines. The best way to ensure that you are ingesting enough calories is by consulting a dietician. He or she can help you determine the number of calories you require, as well as the amount and type of macro and micronutrients needed for optimum results.
This macronutrient is a vital source of energy for the muscles. When a dancer consumes a bowl of pasta, it is broken into simple sugars, also known as glucose by the digestive tract. It is then transported to the muscles and stored there as glycogen. It is the primary fuel source for producing energy. A dancer who does not consume sufficient carbs will not have enough energy to train and perform. Low glycogen levels in the muscles lead to easy fatigue and an inability to keep up with the dance routine.
While studying dance, a dancer’s carbohydrate intake must be around 55-60%. That means that carbohydrates must comprise a major portion of every meal. Dancers who are engaged in heavy rehearsals and training should increase their carbohydrate intake to 65%. Achieving a high carbohydrate diet is fairly straightforward; the dancer must choose complex carbohydrate options such as whole wheat or multi-grain bagels, whole wheat pasta, rice, English muffins, bran cereals, etc. Avoid ingesting simple sugars such as ice cream, chocolate, and white bread as these food choices are nutrient poor.
Ingesting carbohydrates prior, during and after a rehearsal, performance or class is crucial. An hour before a dance rehearsal or class, eat a carbohydrate snack such as an energy bar or toast. It will provide you with a boost of energy. During the rehearsal, replenish carbohydrate stores by ingesting sports drinks that are formulated with the right percentage of carbohydrates (6 to 8% glucose). After the class, it is necessary to replenish the muscles of their glycogen stores within two hours.
This macronutrient is essential for insulating nerves, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins and as a fuel source for muscles. A dancer’s diet should be composed of 20-30% fat during the hectic training and rehearsals. Fat is stored in adipose tissue and muscles. During a dance routine, this fat is broken into fatty acids, which are further broken down to create energy to aid muscle contraction. These fatty acids are an essential energy source for demanding dance routines. This does not mean dancers should consume large amounts of fat. In fact, dancers should consume less than 10% of their calories in the form of saturated fats, which is typically found in processed foods such as French fries, cheese, animal meats and desserts. Healthy fats can be found in all nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts, etc. Oils such as olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil are healthy when consumed in small amounts.
This macronutrient comprises of 12-15% of a dancer’s diet. Protein is essential in repairing broken muscle fiber and tissue. This nutrient is also an auxiliary fuel as it helps build enzymes required for metabolism. Non-vegetarian sources of protein include turkey, chicken, and low-fat cheeses. Vegetarian sources include beans, tofu, seitan and rice. Milk powder is an excellent protein choice as well. Dancers can also rely on protein powders that can easily be found at body shops and health stores.
You may have to do a little research to know which foods are rich in a particular micronutrient. The following are some of the most important ones:
- B vitamins (such as riboflavin, B6, niacin and thiamin): These help with energy production. A deficiency of these impairs your dance performance.
- Vitamins A, E, and C: Antioxidants required to repair stressed muscles and muscle recovery.
- Vitamin D: Aids bone formation.
- Macrominerals (such as magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium): Vital in bone mass production, bone growth and thus reducing stress fractures. Excellent sources include low-fat cottage cheese, cheese, milk, and yogurt.
- Iron (sourced from lean red meat and whole grains): Iron is necessary to produce energy, because it makes red blood cells healthy.
Dancers should eat a large variety of vegetables and fresh fruits each day (5 servings per day), dairy products, lean red meats and whole grains to obtain all nutrients. If you wish to take a multivitamin, do so under the care of a nutritionist. Vitamins vary greatly in quality, and you will want to make sure you are getting the maximum benefit from taking one.
Dancing causes muscles to produce heat. Sweat then evaporates from the body to cool it down. A dancer engaged in a vigorous routine may lose up to 2 liters of fluid per hour. This loss of fluid can lead to impaired performance and mental functioning, not to mention dehydration. Dancers should consume 250 ml of fluid once every fifteen minutes. At every break, the dancer should gulp up some water. Do not wait for the body’s thirst mechanism to kick in before you consume anything. Always carry a sports drink or a large water bottle to every rehearsal or dance class, and top up at every chance. After the class, continue to increase fluid intake. Avoid carbonated drinks and fruit juices as they contain high amounts of sugar. Dancers can monitor their hydration levels by checking the color of their urine. A clear or light yellow indicates hydration. Yellow or dark yellow can indicate dehydration. A caveat to this is if a dancer is consuming B supplements, then he or she can expect their urine to be yellow.
Consuming all the required macro and micronutrients in their appropriate proportions will help dancers meet their energy and nutrition requirements. That energy will enable them to excel when performing their dance number. If you love dance, optimize your diet. Not only will you be able to perform on the dance floor; your increased energy will enable you to face life on your terms as well!