What To Eat Before and After Class or Rehearsal

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”
 – François de La Rochefoucald

Dance students attend classes and rehearsals after already completing a long day at school.  It is at the time when most people begin to experience the “afternoon slump” that dancers are expected to begin the next part of their day.  Classes are starting and are often followed by rehearsals and require enormous amounts of energy.  Eating intelligently will help dancers perform at their best and feel good while doing it.

            It is imperative that dancers, who are expected to perform at their peak during the late afternoon and evening hours, make healthy eating choices throughout the day.  Eating food every few hours helps maintain a constant metabolism (the rate at which the body converts food into energy) and keeps energy levels even.  Eating a breakfast consisting of proteins and complex carbohydrates sets a healthy metabolic rate for the rest of the day.  Dancers need to be mindful about what they eat for lunch since this meal will need to help sustain them through classes and/or rehearsals until they get a dinner break.

            Healthy lunches containing complex carbohydrates could include:

sandwiches made with whole grain bread
whole grain pastas
fruit and yogurt smoothies with granola

            While having a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch will stock the body’s energy stores, it is also important for dancers to have a snack between lunch and class to keep energy levels constant.

            Snacks should be easy to digest but able to provide energy that will last throughout classes.  Unfortunately, sometimes the easiest snacks to grab may not be the healthiest choices.  Candy bars or fruit juices are high in sugar.  Sugar is metabolized quickly by the body and used rapidly.  High sugar snacks cause a spike in energy followed by a sudden drop in energy.  Simple carbohydrates like white bread or crackers made from enriched flours are treated the same way as sugar.  Fruit, although naturally high in sugar, is a healthier choice than fruit juice because the fiber in fruit is digested slowly and helps slow down the metabolic process.

It is also important for dancers to know that snacks that are high in fat content are not the healthiest choices.  Snacks like doughnuts, potato chips, pepperoni and french fries are difficult to digest and could cause cramping.  Because they are so difficult to digest, it will take a while before the body is able to turn them into energy.

Some healthy snack choices are:

whole grain crackers
trail mix containing whole grain cereals, nuts & dried fruits
apple with almond butter

            After class and rehearsals are done, overworked muscles need protein to help repair muscle fibers and to help reduce soreness.  Some healthy choices after intense workouts include:

peanut butter, graham crackers & bananas
meat or fish

            Knowing how to fuel their bodies before, during and after class will help dancers keep their energy levels constant and even which allows the body to operate efficiently and optimally.  Fueling the body efficiently is not difficult and will produce positive results.  Making healthy choices is every dancer’s responsibility –ensuring that their instrument performs well and lasts a lifetime.

**Don't forget to leave us a comment and subscribe to The Healthy Dancer to be entered to win an autographed copy of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook in our contest!**

Featured on Access Dance for Life's Blog

The Healthy Dancer has been featured as today's guest blogger on the Access Dance for Life Blog.  Be sure to click on this link and check out the post on why a warm-up is necessary!

Don't forget to be part of The Healthy Dancer's contest to win a free copy of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

Dancer Health: Fueling the Body Efficiently

“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” – Adelle Davis

            When people prepare for a long road trip, they fill their cars with gasoline and make certain that they choose the type of fuel that will keep their cars running efficiently.  Food is the body’s fuel, and if the body is going to run efficiently, we need to be mindful of the food we use for energy.

            There is constant talk about “good” foods like fruits and vegetables and “bad” foods like ice cream sundaes and desserts.  Foods are not truly good or bad, but there are definitely foods that are healthier than others.  There are times in our lives for all different kinds of foods, and we should never feel guilty about eating certain foods.  It is important, however, to know enough about nutrition to understand when to eat which foods.  Dancers need to know that a doughnut or an ice cream sundae are not healthy food choices before a class or rehearsal because these foods will not supply the necessary energy for those activities.  With some knowledge, dancers can make healthy choices that will keep their bodies functioning at optimal levels.

            In order to keep the body running efficiently, carbohydrates should compose about 60% of the human diet since they are the body’s main source of energy.  Carbohydrates also help maintain even blood sugar levels and supply the body with fiber and vitamin B.  It is important to understand the difference between simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.  The body treats simple carbohydrates the same way it treats sugar.  Simple carbohydrates are broken down into energy by the body immediately and burned through very quickly.  Eating a lot of simple carbohydrates causes short bursts of energy followed by drops in energy and creates a high sugar environment within the body.  Research has shown that sugar suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to disease.  Complex carbohydrates are excellent sources of energy because they break down easily and slower than simple carbohydrates so the energy is released at a more even rate, avoiding the spike in sugar levels.  Whole grain breads, rice, and pastas as well as beans and snacks like pretzels and popcorn are great sources of complex carbohydrates.

            Fats should comprise about 25% of the human diet because they also supply necessary energy.  The body uses carbohydrates first, but after about twenty minutes of exercise, the body begins to rely upon stored fats for fuel.  Mono-saturated fats are healthier choices than trans fats.  Trans fats are very difficult for the body to break down, accumulate in arteries and can cause blockages that lead to heart attacks and strokes.  Mono-saturated fats, however, aid the immune system and supply building blocks for hormones.  Some healthy food choices that contain mono-saturated fats are olive oil, canola oil, nut butters, nuts, olives and avocados.

            Protein should make up about 15% of the human diet.  The body uses protein to build and repair muscle tissue, making high protein foods a perfect exercise recovery choice.  Proteins help supply necessary enzymes and minerals like iron and zinc.  While protein is essential, too much protein can put extra stress on the liver, kidneys and digestive system.  Protein can be found in meats, soy, dairy products and eggs.

            Knowing the roles that carbohydrates, fats and proteins play in the body is the key to understanding the best way to fuel the body.  Armed with this knowledge, dancers can begin to make healthy choices to keep their bodies running at optimal levels.  Next week’s post will offer some suggestions for healthy eating before, after and during classes and rehearsals.

The Healthy Dancer announces its First Contest!!

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week in February, The Healthy Dancer will be holding a contest/giveaway.  Nancy Clark, internationally known sports nutritionist, weight coach and nutrition author, has graciously donated a copy of her book, Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, for our contest.

Here are all the rules you'll need to know:

  1.          To enter, add a comment on any of The Healthy Dancer’s blog posts posted between January 23, 2012 and February 29, 2012
  2.     Each time you comment, you will be entered to win.  However, only one comment per 24 hour period will qualify as a valid entry.
  3.     The contest begins at 12:01 AM, EST on January 24, 2012 and ends on February 29, 2012 at 11:59 PM, EST.  Comments posted before or after that time span will not be considered eligible entries.
  4.     You must subscribe to our email list, as winners will be announced through this blog via email. 
  5.     The winner will receive a copy of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.
  6.             Due to shipping restrictions, winners can only be selected from those with a valid shipping address in the Continental United States and Canada.
  7.     The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced through an email via The Healthy Dancer and on the blog.
  8.            The winner will have 48 hours to respond to the email to claim the prize and submit a shipping address.  If the winner fails to respond within the 48 hours, another winner will be randomly chosen.
  9.     By entering this contest, you agree to the above terms and confirm that you have a valid shipping address in the Continental United States or Canada.

Why Dancers May Be At Risk for Stress Fractures and Osteoporosis

"Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself." – Moshe Feldenkrais

            Dancers exercise daily. They are constantly on their feet.  They jump, they turn and they constantly apply additional stress to their bones.  The skeleton knows how to respond to this stress, it grows, or models, more bone to support it.  However, studies of ballet dancers have found that they are at risk for stress fractures and that their bone mass measurements, or bone mineral density scores, are equal to or below that of their inactive peers.  How can this be true?  Why isn’t the body doing its job?

            The answer is that the body can only do its job or respond properly if it’s given the right tools and cues.

            Dancers tend to be thin and even underweight.  Less weight means there is less stress put on the bones on a daily basis.  Therefore, even though classes and rehearsals include weight-bearing exercises, the stress on the skeleton is still less than it would be for someone who falls into the ideal or average weight bracket.

            Dancers are known to restrict the amount of food they eat.  There is a constant pressure in the dance community to eat less and look thinner.  Additionally, dancers spend an enormous amount of time doing physical activity.  Large amounts of physical activity burn large amounts of calories.  When that factor is combined with a low or restricted caloric intake, the body is burning more fuel than it is receiving and an energy deficit is created.  Research has linked energy deficits to lower bone mineral density values.

            Restricting food can also lead to diets that are low in nutritional value and high in caffeine.  Diets lacking in nutritional value tend to be low in calcium, which is necessary for bone growth and development.  When you add that caffeine interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, a recipe for a calcium deficit is created.

            Moreover, studies have shown that poor diets can lead to disruptions in the reproductive system.  Research has shown that female dancers go through adolescence and get their first period, or menarche, later than their peers.  This delay in adolescence means there are lower levels of estrogen in the body, and estrogen plays a big role in making sure that the body can absorb the calcium that is eaten.

            Since it is important for the body to create and “stock up” on as much bone as possible during the teen years to avoid fragile bones, it is easy to see why dancers might be at risk for developing osteoporosis.  The good news is that dancers, when armed with some knowledge, can change that.

            Additional weight-bearing exercises can be added to a dancer’s life - weight training and walking can easily be added into a training schedule.  Knowing how to properly fuel the body is important for everyone, but it is especially important for dancers and athletes.  Our next post will help you figure out how to do just that!

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Dancers & Bone Health

“The harder the demand placed upon the structure, the stronger the foundation must be.”

Our bones – they protect our organs, they manufacture red blood cells, they store calcium, they provide a place for muscles to connect, they permit movement and they provide the framework for our bodies.  Without our skeletal system, we could not exist, yet we rarely think about how our bones develop or bone health.

Although our bones appear sedentary, bone tissue is very active and each week 5-7% of our bone mass is recycled, or remodeled.  The outer surface of our bones is compact bone, which is composed of a web of proteins that hardens into a tough structure.  The inside of our skeletons is made of spongy bones with spaces in between the bone cells.

Our bones grow from the outside in.  Specialized cells called osteoblasts build bone by travelling to the surface of the bones and depositing collagen molecules between the structural cells to form a matrix and that hardens into layers of compact bone.

Meanwhile, other cells called osteoclasts resorb, or breakdown, the mineralized matrix from the inside.  The bottom most layer is dissolved and calcium is released into the bloodstream.

This process serves to renew our bones and occurs in a balanced manner most of the time.  During growth spurts, and especially during adolescence, the creation, or modeling, of new bone occurs in addition to the remodeling process, resulting in a surplus of new bone.

It is also important to know that osteoblasts (the builders) respond to increased loads that are placed upon the bones such as weight training or weight bearing activities like walking, running and jumping.  When the body recognizes an increased load, or stress, on the skeleton, the osteoblasts are called in for overtime and begin to model more new bone to protect the body against the increased strain.

Bone cells grow old like any other cells, and, unfortunately, osteoblasts (the builders) age quicker than the osteoclasts (the dissolvers).  Between the ages of 30 and 40, the osteoblasts begin to slow down while the osteoclasts continue to resorb bone tissue.  A deficit of bone mass is naturally created which can lead to osteoporosis.  People with osteoporosis have brittle, fragile bones which can fracture easily.

The best defense against osteoporosis is encouraging the body to create as much bone mass as possible during the formative years and to stimulate the osteoblasts with weight bearing physical activity.

Since dance is a weight bearing activity, it would seem that dancers have nothing to worry about, right?  Next week’s post will explain why dancers have to be concerned.