We’ve received countless inquiries on how to become a better dancer. This month, we are providing answers to all of your nutrition questions, with the help of Nutritionist Rachel Fine!
A common theme I see among clients who can’t quite kick the less healthy eating habits is stress.
When stressed, we reach for sugary, salty, and fatty “comfort” snacks that quickly improve our mood because they trigger a quick release of neurotransmitters (serotonin), causing a surge in blood sugar and a short-lived feeling of happiness. This surge however, is followed by a hormone-related crash, leaving us irritable, sluggish and with even stronger cravings than before!
To tackle these common sources of stress, focus your attention on other ways to release stress: Try yoga, Pilates, or even a DIY crafts project! If you need that extra snack, go for one small serving of dark chocolate or check out more of my recipes here (especially the AB&B)!
These options provide a satiating dose of sweetness without leading to the intense blood sugar surge seen with other simple-carbohydrate options like candy.
A balanced diet of “carb-protein-fat ratio,” or what I like to call the “nutrient mix” is critical to a dancer’s menu. Its good to think “small and frequent,” as we must maintain intense training schedules (classes, rehearsals, & performances).
Complex Carbohydrates are the best source of lasting energy and found in whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur, whole grain barley, and freekah). “Whole grains” mean the actual grain—not a processed bread product that may be labeled as a “whole grain,” or “contains whole grains.” Try boiling these grains in low sodium chicken stock, and storing them in your refrigerator / freezer for pre-portioned “grab-and-go” snacks to eat in between classes and rehearsals.
If time is of the essence, look for packaged items with the least number of ingredients. Granola bars can be a wise choice, but it’s easy to select one that nutritionally compares more to a candy bar than to a healthy snack. My favorite bars are usually made with nuts as their base; KIND’s Almond, Walnut, Macadamia bar. Remember to read ingredient labels; if you can’t pronounce it, then it’s likely your body can’t properly digest it!
For protein, I encourage my clients to choose those with a “high biological value,” usually from animal sources, as they contain all essential “ingredients” that active muscles utilize for recovery and repair. Great options are fish, chicken, eggs, low fat cheese, low fat milk, and Greek yogurt and some grains like quinoa. While this may be difficult for vegetarians, a diet that includes a variety of whole grains (as mentioned above), nuts, seeds, and legumes can provide adequate protein.
Fat is the last part of the equation, but it is certainly not the least! With such high levels of physical activity, a dancer’s body undergoes a great deal of “wear and tear.” Aside from the protein needed to repair muscles, healthy fats are essential to lessening natural inflammation that arises from such activity. Unsaturated fats found in oils (olive and canola), fatty fish (salmon, tuna), avocados, nuts and nut butters (my favorite!) are key. My favorite recipes include apples with nut butter, roasted sweet potatoes with low fat cottage cheese, and a homemade “quinoa salad” (quinoa mixed with Greek yogurt, nuts, and dried figs).
Drink throughout the day, and remember to get at least 8 ounces every 45-60 minutes of exercise. You may need more in hot summer! Another crucial point that we cannot forget is to drink when thirsty, and always choose water! If you need some taste, try squeezing fresh lemon into your water, or try a decaffeinated unsweetened iced tea.