The Importance of Good Nutrition for Dancers by Julie Philips

Dance is a dynamic form of exercise which engages multiple muscle groups so it is important to choose an appropriate diet to meet the body’s needs. Think of the body like a car. It may look great from the outside but without a tank full of gas and engine topped up with oil and water, it won’t get very far and the performance will be disappointing. For dance, food and liquid are the fuels for peak performance and an aesthetically pleasing body.


A Balancing Act: Carbohydrates often receive a bad press when it comes to nutrition; however they are the primary, essential fuel for endurance exercise so reducing the daily recommended amount can cause issues with diet. Carbs are used by the brain and every muscle in the body for energy and after converting to glucose, it is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen then converted back to glucose to be used as an energy source as required. The body can’t store high volumes of glycogen so a regular intake is more beneficial than one huge meal. The recommended amount of carbohydrates is 55-60% of your daily intake on rest days rising to 65-70% when performing dance.

Good sources of carbohydrates are whole grains, cereals, pasta, brown rice, fruit and vegetables. Aim to eat 2 carbohydrate rich foods at every meal and at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day to sustain enough energy for dance. The International Association for Dance and Medical Science suggests planning your meals to contain 45-50 calories per kilogram of bodyweight for females and 50-55 calories per kilogram of body weight for males. Muscle strength, repair and recovery are important considerations when planning dance nutrition and protein is the key here.

Essential for muscle growth and bone health, protein intake should be 12-15% of the daily intake and can be obtained from eggs, lean meat, soy, beans and low fat dairy.

Dancers typically reduce their intake of fat in an attempt to stay lean, however this can have a detrimental effect on the body as fat is needed to maintain and protect organs, nerves, the brain and reproductive functions. Healthy skin, nails and hair are all attributed to a balanced intake of healthy fats which can be found in nuts, seeds, oils, avocados and eggs.

A healthy amount of fat is 20%-30% of your total food intake per day and the great thing is that it fills you up keeping you more satisfied and less likely to snack unnecessarily. Without a balanced diet, optimum performance will not be achieved and dancers commonly suffer eating disorders as a result of trying to maintain a slender physique.

Perfect Your Timing

It’s not just about what you eat for performance but when you eat. Long periods without food can result in low energy, irritability, lack of concentration and potential injury. It can be counterproductive to eat large meals prior to dancing so choosing to eat small regular meals throughout the day will ensure that the body has a steady supply of fuel and the digestive system is not overloaded. Eating a small snack after exercise will help muscles and energy recover so a banana or granola bar can be a good choice.

Eat for the Beat As a general rule of thumb, listen to the speed of the music. The higher the beats per minute (BPM), the more calories burned. A slow tempo dance such as the waltz, foxtrot or rumba is performed at a lower intensity than faster routines such as the cha-cha, samba or salsa and therefore fewer calories will be burned.

For example, a person weighing 200lbs may typically burn 280 calories while dancing slowly for one hour whereas the same person may burn up to 500 calories performing a fast dance over the same duration. Consider your total energy expenditure when choosing your nutrition and fluid intake.

A Fluid Performance Nutrition for peak performance should also include an adequate intake of fluids. Water is essential to avoid dehydration, aid concentration and carry vital nutrients to the body’s cells and organs. Aim to sip water throughout the day drinking between 1.5 and 3 liters depending on the intensity of your exercise. Dance is a wonderful way of keeping fit and healthy providing adequate nutrition is met. Fuel your desire to perform and top up your engine for beauty both inside and out. ( Note: It is illegal to reproduce this article without the expressed written consent from Julie Philips and Team )

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