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Fitness & Nutrition Tips for Young Dancers | Beyond the Barre

Fitness & Nutrition - What Young Dancers should know

Do you eat, breathe and live dance as a dancer?

No matter what dance forms you passionately follow, fitness and nutrition play a crucial role. From ballroom to disco, ballet to jazz, today dancing is not only about self-expression and recreation, but also a serious competitive activity like athletics and sports.

Dancing is as physically vigorous and challenging as sports and demands a great deal of focus and stamina.

As physically and mentally demanding dance is most of the young dancers have their schedules full with little or no time to focus on fitness and nutrition. Constant rehearsals, back-to-back performances might take a toll on muscles, joints, and bones.

Every dancer wants an injury and fatigue-free dance experience. A balance of nutrients will provide energy to dance long hours, boost concentration and improve focus. Adequate nutrition also helps in bouncing back from injury and faster recovery from fatigue.

Young dancers today are spending an average of 3-4 hours each day dancing. They are also often involved in school dance programs and dance teams. Most dancers go to a dance studio after school rush to finish their homework. Later, they either go to practice or hit the bed for the next morning’s class- often skipping proper meals with their families.

Refueling your body is as important as exercising and rest. Resting without adequate nutrition to nourish and repair tired muscles and joints would mean a higher risk of injury and fatigue. Having a dancers’ routine focusing on exercise as well as rest and nutrition helps create a balance between all the aspects of taking care of your body, mind, and soul.

Nutrition for Dancers Simplified - How Many Calories Your Young Dancer Needs?

Amount of calories young dancers need

The biggest challenge for a young dancer is not providing sufficient quantities of food to meet the high energy demand of dancing. Too fewer calories and your energy levels are compromised, while high calories will make them sleepy and lazy.

A typical rule of thumb is :

  • Caloric needs during heavy training for a female are 45-50 calories/kg of the body weight.
  • While for a male dancer, it is 50-55 calories /kg of body weight.

** For a more accurate and customized assessment, dancers should consult a dietitian.

Dance parents must check the caloric needs with their doctors, and even dance studio instructors, who can give expert tips on how to keep yourself fuelled on the go.

Remember, apart from learning to dance, young dancers, are also growing! Their calorie demands are much different than adults.

Essential Nutrients That Keep Young Dancers Performing Their Best

Essential nutrients that keep young dancers performing their best

Carbohydrates

Dancers need a diet rich in whole grains and complex carbohydrates. About 55-60 % of their food should be carbohydrates as carbs are the primary source of energy. Carbohydrates break down into glucose and fuel your muscles. Without adequate glucose, muscle strength is compromised, and muscle fatigue takes over, affecting a dancer's performance.

Some familiar sources: Whole grain pasta, rice, beans, whole grain bread, fresh fruits.

Fats

Dancer's Food with Fat

Fats form the insulating layer around nerves and are also the base of many of our hormones. Healthy fats help absorb fat soluble vitamins and fuel our muscles for energy. During exercise, a fat called triglyceride stored in muscles, and fat tissue gets broken down into fatty acids to produce energy for muscles to contract. High endurance activity like dancing needs these fatty acids. Approximately 1.2 gms of fat/kg of body weight is required.

Some common sources: Nuts, olive oil, coconut oil and avocado.

Protein

The building blocks of life, proteins are essential for young dancers whether their goal is to build muscle or not. Protein is needed for building and repairing worn muscle tissue. Sometimes, it is also used by the body as an auxiliary fuel when you don't have enough glycogen inside. You need at least to 1.4 to 1.6 grams of protein/kg of your body weight.

Some familiar sources: Chicken, fish, turkey, lean pork or beef, beans, quinoa, rice, tofu.

Micronutrients

Vitamins and minerals are used in the body to make energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that we ingest. Vitamins also aid in making red blood cells. B Vitamins are a part of the energy production process, Vitamins A, C, E play a role in cleaning up damaged muscles that are overstressed or overused.

Minerals like calcium, help in bone growth and strengthening, while iron helps carry oxygen to the blood. Magnesium aids sleep. All the vitamins and minerals can be adequately found in the food that dancers eat as balanced meals.

Some common sources: Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as leafy green vegetables such as broccoli. Iron-rich foods include lean meat, chicken, tuna, salmon, eggs, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified whole grains.

Stay Hydrated!

How dancers can stay hydrated.

Young dancers need to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can affect strength, energy, stamina, coordination and even lead to heat-related illnesses. As little as 3% of dehydration could deplete the muscle strength byupto 10%.

We are about 65% water, and thirst is not a reliable sign of dehydration. Dancers should drink water or other fluids before and every 15-20 minutes of their active time. It is also vital to drink afterward and restore fluid lost through sweat.

Sports and energy drinks that only cause a temporary spike in blood sugar but do not hydrate their bodies should be discouraged. Instead, water and diluted juices should be offered.

A Dancer’s Diet Routine

Dancer’s Diet Routine

To ensure optimal nutrition, and a balanced diet, dancers, should be able to consume the right amount of food, the right type of calories at the right time. Dancers, be it ballerinas or any other dance form, need to eat well to maintain energy, feel good and avoid injury. What keeps good dancers lean and robust is their diet and fitness regimen.

 

Typically, a dancer can include the following as part of a healthy diet routine:

Breakfast: An essential meal of the day, a healthy combination of protein and fiber is recommended. Options: Eggs and whole grain toast, Yogurt parfait with berries and granola, or veggies with chicken

Lunch: Dancers may have classes before and after lunch time prefer light meals like salads with a protein like grilled chicken or fish, hard-boiled eggs, tofu or black beans. Even hearty soups, peanut butter, and bananas, apples or berries with whole grain bread are recommended.

Snacks: Ballet dancers often feel a midday slump. Snacks that provide energy but don’t spike blood sugar are preferred. Fruits, homemade trail mix, nuts, and raisins are recommended.

Dinner: Most dancers tend to let go at dinner time. A balanced evening meal may contain lean protein like chicken, fish, pork tenderloin, lentils and tofu for muscle recovery. Anti-oxidant rich vegetables that assist in muscle recoveries like broccoli, peppers, carrots - and whole grains like quinoa, brown rice or whole wheat pasta.

Fitness Routine for Dancers

 Fitness Routine for Dancers

A typical day for a dancer begins with warm-ups, stretches, dancing and followed by stretches and cool down. Off the dance- floor, the dancer is expected to maintain health and fitness through an exercise regimen that can help in improving their fitness levels, flexibility, and performance.

Most dancers follow a mix of cardio, strength training and mix in some form of sports to keep it interesting. Here are some tips on how you can include strength training in your fitness routine.

Most dancers who wish to work on their flexibility prefer Yoga and Pilates.

Like diet routine, balance is the key when it comes to fitness regimen as well. All dancers should focus on overall body workouts instead of just focussing on problem areas.

Dancer’s Dilemma - How Thin is TOO Thin?

Every dancer deals with one or the other kind of body image issues at some point in their dancing careers. They have to understand that no two bodies are alike.

Young dancers face unique pressures involving nutrition and body weight. It is common for kids to feel they need to drastically increase or reduce their weight to look and feel better and perform well. Kids who wish to gain weight fast end up gaining a lot of fat instead of muscle and their physical fitness is affected.

Most dances, like ballet, and sports like gymnastics, emphasize weight or appearances, adding pressure on young kids to lose weight. Young dancers need extra fuel to keep them going. It's not a good idea for them to diet or resort to unhealthy eating habits like crash dieting. Poor eating habits can lead to depletion of strength and endurance and affect their concentration.

As a dance parent, you must speak to your doctor when a coach, dance teacher or teammate tells your child to lose or gain weight. Lean and thin physique doesn’t always mean a better dancer, nor a thin body guarantees better performance.

You need to work on your attitude, eat healthily and stay fit to be the best dancer you can be!

John

Danielle Hernandez

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About the Author

Danielle Hernandez has been in the dance industry for over 30 years. She landed her first professional dance job at the age of 11.

Danielle received her acting and musical theater training at the prestigious Musical Theater Works Conservatory, and she graduated from Rutgers University with a major in dance and minor in music.

In addition to training and competing with a dance company in NJ, Danielle also trained at Steps on Broadway, as well as Broadway Dance Center. At the young age of 15, Danielle fell in love with teaching dance and coaching competitive cheer squads and dance teams, bringing them to success with state, regional, and national championship titles

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