Dancers are artists. They’re also athletes who must actively stay ahead of their schedules to support long-lasting energy. From what foods you eat to how you eat throughout the day, you can craft choices that either impact or impede your energy levels. This article will discuss five key strategies for dancers seeking a high-powered and energized performance.
5 Key Strategies for an Energizing Meal Plan:
#1: Carbs As Functional Fuel
For dancers, functional fuel encompasses your food choices, and how they directly support your metabolic and physical needs. The Healthy Dancer® Functional Fuel specifically encompasses 5 fundamentals for your training:
- Nutritional adequacy
- Macronutrient balance
- Mealtime consistency
- Food variety
- Food flexibility
Specifically, as it relates to energy, carbohydrates replenish muscle glycogen to fuel your movement. Carbohydrates come from many foods like bread, grains, fruit, veggies, and sweets. Choosing complex (starchy) carbs that are higher in fiber will offer you sustained energy for longer periods. To learn more about the different types of carbohydrates in your dancer meal plan, read this article.
Sugar is a carbohydrate and it’s a topic that can be confusing for many dancers. In some instances, foods rich in sugar boost energy. But your strategy is important. Insulin, a hormone that moves sugar from your blood and into your working muscles, is released in response to carbohydrate consumption. A concentrated source of sugar can lead to a surge in insulin, which is then followed by a sudden drop in blood sugar. If you’re feeling tired and sluggish midway into your class, it could be a sign to add more balance to your snacks. A source of protein and/or fat will help. To learn more about fiber, click here.
Protein provides the building blocks needed for muscle recovery; it also helps to keep you feeling full. Click here to learn more about the role of protein in your balanced meals. Feeling hungry while dancing will not benefit your energy levels. Fats promote satisfaction between meals. A balanced plate that pairs a source of protein and/or fat with your carbohydrates is the goal. Great sources of both proteins and fats include hard-boiled eggs, cheese, chickpeas, hummus, nut/seed butter, guacamole, and plant oils such as olive oil.
#2: Meal Timing
Regular meals and snacks will help to keep your energy up without causing you to feel sluggish while dancing. Create a plan to disperse your meals and snacks into about four, five, or six eating times throughout the day. Dancers can learn more about meal planning here.
Pre-performance nutrition is an important topic and I devote an entire blog post to it (click here). Generally, optimize your energy with easily digestible carbs within 30-60 minutes prior to class. Fruit is an example. Post-performance recovery will also benefit you, especially within 30-6- minutes after dancing. If your days are busy, then you’ll need to plan ahead. Toss a few snacks into your dance bag before leaving home.
Start your hydration goals early in the day and aim for consistency. After waking up, drink a glass of water. Choose a reusable bottle to actively hydrate throughout the day and remember: feelings of thirst might not be your best reminder to hydrate since thirst is a late sign of dehydration. Not a fan of water? Add lemon or orange slices to your water bottle for taste. Dancers can construct a solid hydration plan using the tips offered in this article.
While water from fluids contributes up to 80% of our daily fluid intake, certain foods can help to boost your water intake. Create a colorful salad for lunch; add fresh fruits and veggies such as cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes.
#4: Reevaluate: Caffeine
As for coffee, while small doses of caffeine have been found to improve overall performance, be aware that excessive amounts can impact sleep and leave you feeling jittery. Aim for no more than 2 cups of coffee daily. Since caffeine is present in other foods and drinks, be mindful of your intake of caffeinated teas, sodas, and even chocolate. Here’s a deep dive into caffeine for dancers.
#5: The Healthy Dancer Food Flexibility Algorithm
Food serves an incredibly functional purpose for dancers: energy, strength building, injury prevention, and injury recovery. But your relationship with food matters immensely. The Healthy Dancer® Food Flexibility Algorithm teaches dancers how to incorporate all aspects of nutrition, but without it turning obsessive. We assess the intent behind our food choices, honoring cravings, and being mindful of what is accessible at any given moment. From here, we utilize gentle nutrition to optimize choices in a way that supports the functionality of our dancers. If you’re wanting to learn more about this tool, The Healthy Dancer® Food Flexibility Challenge kicks off every April (registration opens in March).