For a handful of dancers, weight gain is a necessary step toward a stronger and injury-free performance.
What Does It Mean to Be “Underweight”
For a dancer, being underweight is commonly mistaken as “fitting in” with the ill-advised standards of the dance community. Some dancers argue that when underweight, aspects of performance such as casting, partnering, and overall technical ability might be improved. The consequences of maintaining a body weight that is too low for one’s height, however, outweigh these perceived benefits. Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport or RED-S refers to the spectrum of interconnected health ailments experienced alongside the pursuit of low body weight.
Though most health professionals turn to BMI (Body Mass Index) for assessing one’s weight status, this measurement is highly unreliable for those physically active (AKA dancers!). This is because BMI does not factor variations in body composition. While this tool can be used for screening dancers as underweight, it should not be used as a diagnostic tool nor as an indicator of health status. If you’re unsure about where your weight stands, it’s recommended that you reach out to a licensed medical professional such as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to better assess your weight and health status. Until then, let’s discuss tips for gaining weight in a healthy way.
#1: Plan Ahead
Planning ahead is especially important for dancers wanting to gain an adequate amount of muscle mass. When you plan ahead, you’re more likely to pack balanced options that incorporate complex carbohydrates, quality proteins, and unsaturated fats. This nutrient mix provides your body with the components needed for anabolic growth.
#2: Eat Frequently
Every 2-3 hours is ideal, depending on your schedule. If you’re struggling to get food in between classes, read this blog post to learn more about constructing convenient snacks for busy schedules. Additionally, plan to eat a snack before bedtime that incorporates slow-digesting complex carbohydrates and a source of protein. This will prevent midnight blood sugar spikes, which can otherwise leave you feeling sick in the morning. Whole milk yogurt topped with bananas and milk chocolate chips is a personal favorite!
#3: Optimize Your Ingredients
- Add oats and almond butter to smoothies.
- Add seeds (sunflower, flax, chia, hemp) to oatmeal, yogurt, and cereal.
- Swap bread with bagels (they’re denser and more filling!)
- Choose nuts and nut/seed butter for a calorically-dense topping that is easy to pair with toast or fruit.
- Add 2 cups (about 2 servings) of a dense breakfast cereal (or 1 cup of granola) to whole-milk yogurt.
- Add plant oils to meals and during the cooking process: olive oil for salads, canola or avocado oil for high-heat cooking, and avocado or coconut oil for baking.
- Add sliced avocado (aim for a half standard avocado) to sandwiches, eggs, and smoothies.
- Skip the diet foods. These are often labeled as “low fat,” “fat-free,” and/or “sugar-free.” Examples include powdered peanut butter and fat-free dairy products.