Water makes up approximately 60% of our body composition. It’s also an essential medium for metabolic homeostasis, aiding in the digestion, transport, and absorption of nutrients throughout the body along with the removal of waste products. For dancers specifically, hydration even plays a role in maintaining flexibility.
Hydration concerns among dancers
Improper rehydration and dehydration, especially during the summer intensive season, can induce a wide range of negative impacts on performance, include:
- Difficulty with concentration
- Impaired ability to focus
- Increased risk for overheating
- Muscle cramps
- Early onset of muscle fatigue
Since every dancer’s body is different, specific recommendations are nearly nonexistent, and published guidelines often depend on those set forth for general athletes. This literature offers a solid framework for practice, but a dancer’s propensity to disordered eating makes it difficult to integrate such weight-centric guidelines. The same holds true for a dancer’s nutrition plan. I’ve previously discussed the need for a non-obsessive approach to a dancer’s fuel plan. Similarly, this article will provide dancers with a non-obsessive understanding of their hydration needs.
What can impact a dancer’s hydration status?
Thirst is an unreliable indicator of our need to rehydrate. In fact, our thirst mechanism isn’t stimulated until our body is already in need of fluids. Distractions during intense dance schedules also make it easy to ignore thirst cues and limited accessibility to fluids during classes makes it tough to rehydrate.
Excessive intake of protein also increases a dancer’s fluid needs to aid in the removal of ammonia. a byproduct of protein metabolism, which is converted to urea and excreted from the body through urine. It has been previously hypothesized that high-protein diets may increase the risk of dehydration by increasing urine output and although the evidence to date does not support an increased risk of dehydration in otherwise healthy individuals who maintain a normal fluid intake (at least 3 liters for those 14 and older), dancers need to consider their unique circumstances. High-protein diets are not recommended for dancers. In fact, dancers should steer clear of any strict and obsessive dieting rules. To learn more about protein for dancers, read this article.
Hydration Assessment: what color is your pee?
Here’s a quick self-assessment to check your hydration status: check the volume and color of your urine. The darker your urine and the smaller in volume, the more you’ll want to hydrate.
Word of caution: use this test sparingly. It’s subjective and can be confounded by medications and supplements that might impact the color of your urine. For example, most B12 supplements will turn the color of urine into a brighter yellow since excess of the vitamin is excreted via the urine.
Hydration Guidelines for Dancers: The American College of Sports Medicine
For athletes, the general recommendation is to proactively rehydrate before, during, and after exercise. While drinking in response to thirst might be sufficient for the general population, active dancers who dance more than 90 minutes per day often benefit from a planned approach. The same holds true for dancers with higher sweat rates and if dancing in hot and humid climates (cue: summer intensives).
While recommendations vary among dancers, most pre-professional and professional level dancers should aim for a planned approach to staying hydrated throughout their day. Let’s breakdown the guidelines:
Hydrate Before Dance
In the 2- 4 hours prior to your dancing, drink to thirst. Over-hydrating in “preparation” for an activity is not recommended and will only lead you to the bathroom several times. Instead, aim for your urine to be a pale-yellow color. This will likely range between 1-2.5 cups of fluid (the higher-end is more suited during the hot summer months when higher sweat rates are likely).
Hydrate During Dance
To stay hydrated during activity, the general recommendation for athletes is to drink about 12-26 ounces of fluid. For dancers, consider small sips throughout your classes, rehearsals, and performances every 10-30 minutes. If dancing for longer than 60 minutes, then we’ll want to add sources of simple carbohydrates and sodium to your hydration plan.
Sodium is the leading electrolyte lost in sweat. Sodium plays a vital role in both fluid absorption and fluid balance. Adding a source of quick-acting carbohydrates not only helps to boost energy, but also helps with cellular absorption of fluid and sodium. In other words, a source of carbo-HYDRATE will aid in your body’s ability to HYDRATE (see what I there!). A quick tip: cramping is a sign that your body needs electrolyte and carbohydrate replenishment!
While some levels of electrolytes and carbohydrates enhance your body’s ability to hydrate, adding too much can actually hinder it. There’s a delicate balance between not enough and too much. Here’s where sports drinks come in handy! Gatorade and propel are two examples of options that contain a specific concentration of sugar (specifically, 6-8% carbohydrate) and a specific variety of sugars (glucose and fructose). Along with electrolytes like sodium, this unique combination enhances hydration. Coconut water is high in another key electrolyte: potassium. However, as a rehydration fluid, coconut water is limited. To optimize this choice, pair your coconut water with salted pretzels for a boost in both sodium and quick-acting carbohydrate.
Hydrate After Dance
Plain water is refreshing, but optimizing your window of recovery is encouraged within the hour after dancing. This is especially true for dancers with higher rates of sweating. Replace lost fluids by drinking about 1.25–1.5 liters of fluid. Enhance rehydration with a source of sodium and carbohydrate. Adding a source of protein to your recovery meal is also encouraged for muscle recovery.
Milk is an effective and economical drink for a dancer’s recovery. Not only does milk contribute to your hydration plan, but it also contains carbohydrates, protein, and a variety of bone-building micronutrients. Chocolate milk is another effective recovery drink for dancers.
In general, aim for about 3-3.5 liters of water daily. This equates to about 12- 15 cups, but your fluid intake doesn’t have to come from only your drinks. Produce, like fruits and veggies, also contribute to your water intake. The same goes for juices, smoothies, tea, coffee, and sports drinks. In regards to coffee, excessive intake can increase urinary fluid losses so make sure your coffee habit isn’t replacing opportunities for fueling.
10 Tips to Keep Dancers Hydrated
- Invest in a reusable water bottle that measures at least 24 fluid ounces. Aim to refill your bottle about 3-3.5 times per day (though, this will depend on your personal schedule and sweat rate!)
- Aim to begin your activity in a hydrated state. Drinking excessive amounts of fluids prior to dancing is not recommended and can cause discomfort and frequent urination.
- Drink periodically during dancing, as well as afterward. Spread your fluid intake throughout the day. Sips are better-tolerated in comparison to large gulps.
- Fruits and vegetables have high water content. When accessible, add fresh fruits and veggies such as cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes to meals and snacks.
- Sports drinks containing electrolytes are a great option for longer classes, rehearsals, and performances.
- Coconut water is helpful for rehydration but should be paired with a salty snack.
- Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, and malititol, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame are commonly found in “diet” or “sugar-free” drinks. These can cause stomach upset and headaches.
- Notice the color of your urine. Dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration.
- Noncarbonated drinks are better suited for rehydration when compared to carbonated drinks.
- Drink when thirsty and have a planned approach for more intense dancing days.
- Try rehydration therapies for prolonged periods of intense dancing like during intensives and performances. Read this article to learn more about the best rehydration therapies for dancers.
- Experiment with a homemade sports drink: juice your favorite citrus fruit (like 2-3 oranges) and mix with fresh lemon juice (about half a cup). Add 1 cup of coconut water, a pinch of sea salt, and 2 teaspoons of sugar (or honey). Proportions will vary depending on your taste preferences.