Fuel for High Performance
In an effort to manage body weight, many dancers make the mistake of eating too little of the right things. However, the key to optimal performance is sufficient FUEL, which the body receives in the form of calories. When and from where dancers get their fuel makes all the difference between high performance and a tired dancer.
Too few calories will reduce energy and result in nutrient deficiencies.
Rather than starving the body, dancers need to ingest a proper balance of carbohydrates, fats, protein, fluid, vitamins and minerals.
Carbs are not the enemy.
Actually, just the opposite is true, especially for dancers, since carbohydrates are the primary source from which muscles derive fuel. Carbs break down into glycogen, which serves as an energy storage in muscles, preventing muscles from becoming fatigued during intense training and rehearsals.
Carbohydrates should compose 55 to 65 percent of a dancer’s diet. Dancers should choose complex carbs (whole grain bagels, cereals, pasta), which are rich in nutrients, rather than simple sugars that lead to poor nutrition.
Equally important is WHEN dancers ingest carbs. The ideal time for consuming carbohydrates is either an hour and a half before dancing in order to energize the muscles, by means of fluid (sports drinks) during dance rehearsal and class breaks, or right after dancing to replenish glycogen.
Fats are also important and should compose 20 to 30 percent of a dancer’s diet.
Healthy fats are needed to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, to fuel muscles, and to insulate nerves. Fat is stored in fat tissues and muscles as triglycerides, which break down to produce energy for muscle contraction.
A word of caution: saturated fats should be limited to less than 10 percent of a dancer’s diet.
Protein, needed to build and repair muscle, should compose 12 to 15 percent of a dancer’s diet.
Protein fuels the body and also promotes healthy metabolism. Dancers should stick with lean protein, such as skinless chicken or turkey. For vegetarians, tofu, as well as beans and rice can also be a good source of protein. For dancers who desire a protein supplement, milk powder is a good way to get both protein and calcium for healthy bone growth.
Vitamins and minerals also play a major role in a dancer’s health.
Essential water-soluble vitamins include B vitamins for energy and Vitamin C for muscle repair. Essential fat-soluble vitamins include Vitamin K, Vitamins A (Beta Carotene) and E for muscle repair, and Vitamin D for bone formation. Essential minerals include calcium for bone formation, iron to carry oxygen, and zinc.
Dancers who choose to take vitamin and mineral supplements should do so with caution, since nutrients taken without proper balance can do more harm than good, sometimes canceling one another out.
The best way to ensure getting the proper nutrients is to increase the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables to five servings per day, and include dairy products and lean red meat (whole grains for vegetarians) as a regular part of the diet.
Dietary supplements for enhanced performance or weight loss is not recommended.
Dancers need to replenish fluid loss, which results in dehydration caused by heat produced in the body while dancing. If dancers do not cool the body by rehydrating, performance and mental focus may be impaired, making it difficult to quickly grasp new choreography or properly execute complicated combinations.
Dancers should not wait until they feel thirsty to drink, as thirst is an indication that the body is already dehydrated. Rather, class and rehearsal breaks provide an opportunity to consume fluid, and dancers should increase fluid consumption for a few hours after training and performance, avoiding carbonated drinks and large quantities of fruit juice.
Source: International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS)