First and foremost, there is no doubt that dance is a physically demanding sport that requires dancers to hone their muscular strength, mobility, and flexibility. For instance, research led by Dr. Nick Smeeton and Dr. Gary Brickly found that contemporary, street, and swing dancers burn more calories in a 30-minute class compared to the cycling, swimming, and running participant groups.
Moreover, the study also showed that dancing can burn up to 600 calories per hour! Not only does this study demonstrate dancing as an effective form of exercise, but it also stresses the importance of maintaining an adequate diet when committing to a vigorous form of physical training.
A consistent issue in the dance industry is the prejudicial notion that a dancer’s ability is correlated to having a slim body type, perpetuating unhealthy body images and unsustainable diets, which may include:
Eating less calories
Hyper-fixating on ingredients
Skipping sources of fat
Substituting eating with supplement pills
To the contrary, when you don't consume enough calories, your body may start to break down muscle tissue for energy, which can be detrimental to a dancer's strength and agility. Additionally, low-calorie diets can lead to feelings of fatigue, which can make it difficult to perform at your best during rehearsals and performances.
As a dancer, taking care of your health is incredibly important, and one of the most essential aspects of this is proper nutrition. In order to perform at your best, you need to fuel your body with the right types of foods in the right amounts. Determining the best diet can be overwhelming due to the vast amount of information online, which is not always credible.
Accordingly, this article will take you through current medical and scientific findings on food and eating recommendations for dancers, which can help you take your dance performance to another level.
The recommendations below are basic guidelines published by the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science on food and dietary recommendations for dancers to help diminish the risk of energy imbalance and associated disorders.
30 kcal /2.2 lb fat-free mass/day + the training energy expenditure
3 to 5 g carbohydrates/ 2.2 lb
1.2 to 1.7 g protein/ 2.2 lb
20-35% of energy intake from fat
“MYTH: DANCERS MUST MAINTAIN A LOW CALORIE DIET”
It's important to remember that not all calories are created equal. Calories are not inherently bad for you. They are simply a unit of measurement used to quantify the amount of energy that food provides. So, it's not about demonizing calories themselves but rather about making informed choices about the types of foods we consume and the number of calories we need to maintain a healthy weight and support our bodily needs.
“MYTH: CARBS ARE BAD FOR YOU”
Contrary to popular belief, carbs aren't bad for you! There seems to be a common misconception that all carbs are unhealthy and should be avoided. However, this is an overgeneralization that doesn't accurately reflect the complexity of carbohydrates and their role in a healthy diet.
For instance, glucose, which is broken down from carbohydrates, acts as fuel for the brain; in fact, many healthy foods are rich in carbs, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It's important to understand that not all carbs are created equal and that some types of carbs, like refined sugars and processed foods, should be limited.
By focusing on whole, nutrient-dense sources of carbs and balancing them with protein and healthy fats, you can enjoy a healthy and satisfying diet that includes carbs in moderation.
Refined sugars, like those found in desserts and sweets, are not entirely bad for dancers and can be beneficial if consumed in small moderation, as they can provide a quick source of energy that dancers may need before a performance or during a long rehearsal.
"MYTH: AVOID FATS IN YOUR DIET"
Another popular misconception is that fats are bad for you, but our bodies need healthy fats for a variety of functions, including brain development, hormone production, and the absorption of certain vitamins. Healthy fats can be found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty fish like salmon. It's important to focus on consuming these types of healthy fats in moderation while limiting unhealthy saturated and trans fats found in fried and processed foods.
"MYTH: FOCUS ON PROTEIN INTAKE"
As a dancer, protein is an essential nutrient that can help support your body's needs. Protein is important for building and repairing tissues, which can be especially beneficial for dancers who are constantly putting stress on their muscles and joints. Additionally, protein is necessary for producing enzymes and hormones that can help regulate bodily functions and support recovery after intense physical activity. Good sources of protein for dancers include lean meats, fish, beans, lentils, and tofu.
While protein is important for muscle repair and growth, it shouldn't be the sole focus of your diet. To illustrate, a 2022 reviewed study published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle found that there was no significant relationship between excess protein consumption and athletic performance. Furthermore, too much protein can actually be harmful to the body and can lead to dehydration and strain on the kidneys.
While eating is also a crucial component for maintaining health and physical abilities, we shouldn’t overlook the role sleep plays in our physical performance. Getting enough sleep is crucial for dancers to maintain their physical and mental health. Sleep is the time when the body repairs and regenerates tissues, including muscle tissue that has been stressed during dance practice or performance. Lack of sleep can lead to decreased muscle recovery and increased risk of injury.
Additionally, sleep plays a critical role in cognitive function, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation, all of which are important for dancers to perform at their best. Adequate sleep can also help reduce stress and anxiety, which can affect a dancer's overall well-being and performance. It's important for dancers to prioritize getting enough quality sleep each night to support their dance goals and overall health.
As athletes, dancers need to stay hydrated to maintain their physical and mental health. Water is essential for regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients and oxygen to muscles, and lubricating joints. Dehydration can lead to decreased performance, fatigue, and even muscle cramps or injury. Additionally, staying hydrated can help improve cognitive function and prevent headaches or dizziness.
A general guideline for athletes is to consume at least half of their body weight in ounces of water per day. For instance, an individual weighing 160 pounds should aim to consume at least 80 ounces of water daily to stay hydrated throughout the day.
MEAL IDEAS FOR DANCERS
It's important for dancers to prioritize their nutrition and consume whole, nutrient-dense foods as the foundation of their diet. However, this doesn't mean that you can't indulge in treats occasionally and have fun with what you eat. It's all about finding balance and not being too strict all the time. Remember to listen to your body and give it what it needs while also allowing yourself the occasional reward for your hard work and dedication. With a healthy mindset and balanced approach to nutrition, dancers can fuel their bodies and minds for success on and off the stage.