It’s easy to overlook how important food choices are when fueling your body for a long day of dance. Here are 5 foods that every dancer should make part of their daily diet to make sure they’re getting the nutrition their body needs to convert into energy, promote strong bones and increase muscle endurance.
Fruit is the perfectly portable pre-rehearsal snack. Having trouble remembering that ballet combo you learned last week? Flavonoid-rich foods like blueberries have been shown to enhance spatial memory and speed rates of learning. The dark red skins of apples and grapes contain polyphenols, which have a protective effect against oxidative stress. Pineapple has been shown to reduce inflammation. The body absorbs Vitamin C much better from an actual piece of fruit than some mega-dose powdered mix. Fruits have been given a bad rap for their sugar, but it is naturally occurring fructose not the processed sugar you find in bars or beverages. The quick burst of energy they give you can be a good thing when eaten during a short break or intermission. Avoid fruit juice and stick to the whole fruit.
All veggies contain bioactive compounds such as polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids and lycopene. Sure they fight cancer and all, but they can also help you on stage today. Naturally occurring nitrates in foods like beets, arugula, spinach and rhubarb have been shown to significantly improve performance with better power output and speed. Dancers might see benefits by eating more of these veggies and/or drinking beetroot juice. Nitrates help the body deliver more oxygen to working muscles and increase muscle endurance. Nitrates from pills have not shown the same benefits as eating the actual veggie containing them. Regularly eating beets, kale and other veggies will help you get through those tough pieces of choreography.
Quinoa is a grain with a long history, but it is becoming very popular today. It is one of the only grains that is a complete protein. It also cooks faster than rice, absorbs flavors nicely, is cheap and a great source of energy promoting carbs. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for all athletic activity so dancers should be trying to get a broad range of carbs from whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, wheat, barley, rye and oats. Cook quinoa in water on the stove just like you cook rice – one cup of quinoa to two cups water or vegetable broth.
Dancers are at higher than average risk for stress fractures. It’s time for dancers to think outside of the (milk) box for getting more of their crucial calcium and Vitamin D. One cup of a leading brand vanilla almond milk contains 45 percent daily value of calcium and 25 percent daily value of Vitamin D. Plus, it is a beautiful source of Vitamin E, which is often lacking in dancers’ diets. It also has zinc and Vitamin A, which are both important for a strong immune system. Keep in mind that bone health is more than just calcium and Vitamin D. Did you know that Vitamin K is important for strong bones, prevention of stress fractures and osteoporosis? Good sources are leafy greens like kale, spinach, chard and even broccoli – yet another reason to love greens!
Getting more of your protein from plant-based sources and eating less meat is quickly becoming considered the single most important thing you can do for prevention of disease, right up there with not smoking. Beans are a very inexpensive and easy way to consume protein, iron, zinc, fiber and disease-fighting phytonutrients.
Fuel your body properly and your dancing will reap the rewards!