Dancers’ nutrition requirements
This post is going to be pure nutrition science so get your nerdy brain working!
Food is fuel and how you fuel your body can have a significant impact on your development as a dancer.
Your long-term nutrition can affect your physical, psychological, and emotional health; all of which make up your artistic characteristic.
When it comes to nutrition, what you eat is only half the story; the other half is how you eat.
Since this is the first post on nutrition let’s start with the WHAT (although I love the HOW bit so much more!)
Nutrients can be divided into two main groups – macronutrients (the “core” nutrients) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Let’s start with the Macronutrients – Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat.
And I’m also adding to that, WATER (hydration).
Carbohydrate is the primary energy source for dancers and is essential in keeping your stamina up.
In food, carbohydrate exists as sugar and starch. Depending on the chemical structure of the carbohydrate (and other nutrients present in the same meal), the speed of which sugar (energy) is released varies from slow to rapid.
Generally speaking, you want to base your everyday eating around low GI (Glycaemic Index) foods, which are those carbohydrate foods that give you sustained energy.
- Wholegrains – brown rice; sourdough; pasta; wholemeal wraps; oats; barley; quinoa; wholegrain cereals.
- Starchy vegetables – potato (some types), sweet potato, corn, yam, cassava.
- Fruits (most)
- Milk and yoghurt.
When you need to refuel quickly, like during intense training or straight after a full length show, you want some quicker releasing carbohydrate.
- Refined grains – white rice, bread, wrap, crackers, cereals.
- Some fruits e.g. watermelon
- Fruit juices
- “Fun foods” such as lollies, cakes, biscuits, cookies, soft drinks and the like.
Protein is what makes up your cells, enzymes, and hormones and is essential for the body’s optimal functioning. Protein makes up your muscle tissues and is the core to metabolism. During training (especially strength-demanding ones) you will breakdown your muscle tissues, which need to be replenished by protein from the foods you eat afterwards. Since protein is the building blocks of your body, dancers under 18 years of age require more protein than adults to facilitate normal growth and development.
Protein rich foods include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish and seafood
- Meat, poultry and eggs
- Milk and yoghurt
Do you see how there’s plant and animal sources of protein? If you’re a vegetarian/vegan or just don’t eat much meat in general, don’t worry – you can still get enough protein from plant foods; you just need a little extra planning though.
We need some fat from food to get essential fatty acids (those fats that your body can’t make itself) and optimise the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
There are two types of fats – saturated and unsaturated – and dancers can benefit from unsaturated fats. Omega-3 fat is one of the most well-known unsaturated fats and is vital for brain and heart health.
Foods rich in unsaturated fats include:
- Nuts and seeds – almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds etc
- Oily fish – salmon, sardine, mackerel, king fish, tuna etc
- Avocado (my friend has a tree at home = free avo’s!)
- Oils e.g. olive oil; oils of the above foods
Drink to prevent dehydration.
I can’t stress enough of the importance of hydration for dancers.
Roughly speaking, your muscle is about 70% water and blood 90% water. Your body as a whole is in fact about 60% water.
Water is the medium for all metabolic processes.
Water helps transport essential nutrients all around the body.
Water helps eliminated waste products.
Hydration can help reduce and/or prevent cramps.
Try and sip small amounts throughout the day rather than gulping a large volume in one go. This will help you keep hydrated without making you feel bloated.