So what do dancers need to eat to stay healthy, strong and energised to meet the physically gruelling schedule of classes, rehearsals and performances?
Carbohydrates fuel your muscles with the energy needed to support the significant requirements for dance. Aim for complex carbohydrates to be the main source: e.g. breads, pastas, cereals, potatoes, legumes, brown rice. Try to eat whole wheat / whole grain varieties. As a general rule, the more processed a food is, the quicker your body will convert the carbohydrate into sugar. What you want is the opposite: a slow and constant release of energy without all the tiredness that follows spikes of high blood sugar – what you get when you live on simple carbs like chocolate bars.
Protein builds and repairs body tissues including muscles and ligaments. And dancers’ bodies are always in need of repair! Without protein, you’re asking for injury trouble.
Dancers often make wrong choices in their diet when it comes to protein. On the one hand, there are those who avoid meat and dairy like the plague. On the other hand, there are the high protein dieters.
For a dancer, or any athlete, a high protein diet at the expense of carbohydrates is simply a bad idea, since without those carbs, you will seriously compromise your stamina due to low muscle glycogen.
The most healthy option is to have a little protein from a variety of sources at each meal. A glass of milk here, a slice of chicken or turkey there – you get the idea.
Fat is vital to a dancer’s diet. It promotes a healthy brain, nerve and reproductive function. It also provides you with the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E,K: no fat equals none of these vitamins in your diet.
Fatty acids provide energy to the muscles during lengthy periods of exercise. A diet too low in fat will, again, impair performance and, much more than that, have serious health consequences – think depression, mood disorders and increased risk of illness…
However, pay attention to the kind of fat you’re consuming. Avocados, oily fish (for your Omega 3 and 6), olive oil – these are the good guys. Dairy fats (lots of butter) and hydrogenated fat – found in processed foods such as biscuits – should be limited.
One last reason to indulge: fat satisfies your body. You’ll avoid the constant cravings your low-fat-obsessed pals have to battle all day. They often eat more, and more of the wrong stuff, precisely by trying not to eat what their body really wants.