Developing a good combination of portion
sizes, meal timing, and nutritional value is important for all professional dancers and dance students. Dancers are athletes, so they must eat for energy, strength and stamina.
Small, Periodic Meal Times
Rather than being overly concerned about weight, dancers should eat smaller meals throughout the day. This will help to keep carbohydrates in a dancer's system, to act as fuel for the multiple
classes and performances they have each day. In general, dancers should eat six small meals per day. A small meal can consist of a protein milkshake, nuts, or a turkey sandwich.
Things like protein shakes, a toasted bagel, or an electrolyte-rich drink like Gatorade will provide good fats and proteins for energy before a performance. A banana will also make a good snack or
small meal before or during a show, since bananas are rich in potassium, which helps to prevent cramping.
White bread, white rice, and sugary junk foods break down very quickly. Eating these items is almost like eating plain sugar, with the immediate sugar rush and later crash. In fifteen minutes, the
dancer will be hungry yet again. Better souces of carbohydrates are brown rice or whole grain bread, which will stay in the system for a few hours, continuously feeding energy to the dancer's body. A
good breakfast includes whole grain toast, peanut butter, and honey.
Hydration for Dancers
Staying hydrated is most important. Without water, a dancer's muscles become brittle. When hydrated, muscles are more pliable and more easily moved. Dancers on a full performance schedule should
drink up to two liters of fluids a day, water or sports drinks, to help replace electrolytes. In between each of the six small meals per day, dancers should make sure they have some form of liquid.
This makes food more digestable. Chicken noodle soup is a perfect solution, since it is a liquid but also has carbohydrates to keep the dancer's energy full.
Dancers should, of course, keep in mind their ability to get to a restroom during a show or competition. Staying hydrated is important; however, it is important to empty the stomach before the
performance or class begins. Applesauce, hot cereals, and soup are very much liquids, and shouldn't be eaten less than an hour or so before the performance.
Timing for Nutrition
Dancers should plan to eat the bulk of their calories early in the day, with a larger meal again in the evening. The other four small meals will fit in between. Low-fat shakes or smoothies, water,
juice, protein and carbohydrates should be worked into the menu six times per day.
If a dancer eats when he or she is hungry, and finds food that satisfy, there will not be any worry about gaining weight. The worry happens when a dancer goes all day without eating or drinking a
sufficient amount, and then pigs out on the wrong foods when he or she is starving at night, or does not have enough energy to make it through his or her daily schedule.
Other Good Foods for Dancers
Omega-3 fatty oils from fish, as well as olive oil, are good for dancers because they break down slowly in the body. They also protect the heart. Healthy fats, combined with non-processed foods and
enough protein will replace muscle tissue that is being broken down. Another protector of the heart is the almond. A handful of almonds as a snack is a good choice.
Skim milk is a good source of calcium for women. High fiber snacks throughout the day, like broccoli or carrots, will keep hunger supressed. Good carbohydrates can be found in fruits like apples,
bananas or pears, as well as whole grains.
In general, a carbohydrate-rich snack that dancers can pack themselves - yogurt with nuts, fruit, etc. - will be a more consistent energy boost and appetite supressor than a 100-calorie snack bag
from the grocery store. Pre-packaged snacks are processed and contain more air, so they will not contribute to a "full" feeling. In fact, they may contain hydrogenated oils, trans fats or added
sugar, and they will make a dancer want to eat more.
Eating more often, and making a conscious effort to choose better foods, will enable dancers to have more energy with less hunger, and make it through a busy performance and class schedule.
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