Nutrition is often a tricky subject to broach. Every body has different needs, likes and taste palettes. A balanced diet that supplies your body with varied macronutrients, vitamins and minerals should provide you with sufficient energy to fulfill the requirements of a living body and provide you with the energy to fulfill the physical demands of dance. Active dancers must educate themselves on their body needs and take action to achieve these needs.
For your body to function, it needs macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, fats and micronutrients: vitamins and minerals. A carbohydrate, which includes breads, pastas, or grains, is your body’s first choice of energy. When a carbohydrate is digested it becomes a sugar known as glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles. This turns into your body’s fuel; however, if it is not all used in a timely manner, it becomes fat.
Proteins are your body’s second preferred choice of energy, which includes foods such as animal products (egg, cheese, milk, meat), beans, corn, nuts, seeds, and tofu. It’s primary role is to help repair muscle damage, support the process of gaining muscle strength, and has various other key roles.
Fats are important for your body to absorb vitamins. They can be broken down into unsaturated and saturated fats-meaning healthy fats and fats that should be consumed in moderation. Unsaturated fats can reduce inflammation and joint stiffness, help with delivering oxygen to muscles, improve endurance, and aid in recovery. Foods like oily fish, avocados, peanut butter, nuts and vegetable oil are considered unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are the highly processed or fried foods and should be avoided or only consumed in moderation for peak performance.
We also need vitamins and minerals. When eating a well-rounded diet, fortunately, vitamins and minerals are easily consumed. If you are wanting more energy, improving bone and heart health, or have any other dietary concerns it is best to speak with a healthcare professional before taking additional vitamin and mineral supplements. Now that you have a general understanding of the macro- and micro-nutrients needed for your body to function, it is ideal to understand how to meet these needs.
First, not every food or nutrition fad is for you. Social media often highlights the newest and trendiest fads as to what to eat and what to avoid. Ask yourself if this is right for you. Know the difference between an allergy, intolerance and personal choice. If you are restricting yourself from a food or food group do some research to see if 1) it is beneficial, and 2) what food do you need to replace the restricted food? Your body’s composition, energy expenditure and nutritional needs will vary from your friend’s and family, so be wise when you are scrolling through social media and make choices best for your body!
Eating a variety of foods that satisfy nutritional elements is key to successfully and efficiently fueling your body. One of the biggest excuses for not eating healthy or a well-rounded diet is time . Dancers have busy schedules between class, rehearsal, teaching, performance and outside-of-dance responsibilities. Find one day a week where you can spend 45 minutes to an hour prepping all of your food. This allows you to ensure your meals are healthy, varied and tasty! Cut up your fruits and vegetables and have them pre-packaged so you can grab and go. Make a schedule for your food so on those busy days it can be pre-planned for what you are eating and when. Here are some healthy snack tips that allow you to save time and satisfy your needs.
- Salad in a jar: lettuce, veggies, fruits, nuts, all ready to go. All you need to do is add the dressing.
- Apples and peanut or almond butter. Protein with a carb.
- Toast with avocado. Carb and a healthy fat to help restore the body after a class.
- Nut mix and yogurt. You can buy the nuts in bulk: almonds, walnuts, cashews, brazil nuts, pecans, and pistachios. Have them mixed up and bagged so you can grab and go. Take a yogurt, a bag of nuts and mix them between classes.
- Hummus with some veggies and a carb like crackers.
- Popcorn! Pop it ahead of time and can have it as a light snack. This is good for when you feel like you want something to eat but nothing too filling.
- Smoothies! You can purchase fresh or frozen (just check the sugar content) fruits and vegetables (yes, vegetables in a smoothie like broccoli, mushrooms, or tomatoes). Baggie all the veggies and fruit you want in the smoothie and place in the freezer. When you wake up in the morning pull them out so it can begin to thaw while you finish your morning routine. Then add yogurt, your frozen baggie, ginger, cinnamon and milk, blend, and yum, a smoothie.
Water! Water! Water! Your body is more than half water; therefore, it is vital to having a high-functioning body. The recommended amount of water varies pending on length of time awake, length and intensity of workout, and body weight. Drink water consistently throughout the day. When you wake-up in the morning, drink a glass of water to rehydrate and restore cells that were lacking water throughout the night. During class, rehearsal and performance be sure to drink water. Ideally, in a one and a half hour class, you should drink at least 8-16oz of water. Adding cucumber or lemon to your water makes it have a bit of a refreshing taste. Another option is flavored sparkling water. Also, consider your drinking container. Will you drink more water out of a straw, open pour, or squeeze bottle? How do you know you are drinking enough water? You won’t feel thirsty, you will be more energized, and the color of your urine should be a light shade of yellow, not clear and not too dark.
With a busy schedule, it is sometimes hard to break routine. To help add variety to your food add variety to your shopping list. Always walk in with a list of foods you need for the week. Stick to your list and look at your cart. Does it have a variety of colors and items from all sections of the store? These are good indicators of a well-balanced list. To ensure variety, if you purchased one fruit last week, consider buying something different this week. You body needs a variety of nutrients so mixing and matching foods brings in different vitamins and minerals. Plus, it adds more excitement to your meal.
Food is the fuel you give our body to function. To be a successful dancer, you must be conscious of what is going in your body. Take a few minutes to read ingredients and nutritional contents on the back of packaged food. Healthy and tasty eating in a busy schedule and on a tight budget is doable. Remember it is your body so feed it according to yours needs by giving it a healthy amount of food, plenty of water, and a variety of options!
Reference: Quin, E., Rafferty, S., & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe dance practice: an applied dance science perspective. Human Kinetics.
Sutton Anker, MSc is originally from Littleton, Colorado. Sutton’s love of dance took root at a young age when she began dancing at a local studio. This passion carried into college where Sutton earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Dance concentration of Science from the University of Wyoming and recently completed her Masters of Science in Dance Science from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, UK. Sutton has performed in various productions throughout her college and professional career including From the Ashes: A Cinderella Ballet, Duet and Power/Full (a Bill T Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company production), The Nutcracker, Boxed Set, The Little Mermaid and Six Songs from Ellis. Her technical background includes training in ballet, release technique, Horton, modern, tap, jazz, vertical dance, hip-hop, and pointe. Alongside Sutton’s passion of performing and teaching, Sutton has concentrated her studies and interest in the field of Dance Science. Sutton has presented at several Dance Science international conferences including the 2010 Performing Arts Medical Association conference with her research Specific Stretching for Individual Needs, and the 2013 International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) Conference presenting her research Effect of Mirrors on Dancers’ Ability to Learn Movement. Sutton is excited to announce that her M.Sc. thesis, An Investigation of the Pedagogical Rationales for Current Mirror Use in a Ballet Technique Class was accepted to the 2016 IADMS Conference in Hong Kong.
Sutton is teaching in the Denver Metro area and pursuing a career in dance and wellness education. She is driven to share her passion of dance to all levels and ages of dancers and non-dancers. Sutton loves everything Colorado has to offer and plans to dance her way around the world.