What’s on your plate?

While we sit and admire a dancer move, there are so many things that cross our minds. Her stamina, flexibility, strength, agility and of course her beauty. As dancers we can peek below the surface and imagine how many strenuous hours of training has gone into executing a perfect performance. But is just practice enough to build a fit body? Can you burn out anything you eat? Does what, when and how much we eat makes a difference?

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Dancers need to eat, and eat substantially. We need to constantly replenish loss of water and salts and depletion of muscle fibre. Energy that we burn out, needs to be replaced. We cannot do without the presence of all the nutrients in our diet. Which is why, it is not advisable for active dancers to get into crash diets, where they completely cut out essential nutrients from their diet.

Thanks to dance I think I have quite a big appetite. So the idea of salad for lunch or dinner really doesn’t do it for me. I’m always the one who grabs the menu and orders the biggest and most fulfilling meal available. While quantity really isn’t something I think we should curb, its important to be mindful about what you eat. Our body is our instrument. We cannot abuse it either by starving or by overeating. We need to keep it finely tuned, well oiled, pain free and age proof. After all, it’s the one and only instrument we possess. We need it for a long time, and most of all we cannot replace it.

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What we eat & when we eat, makes a huge impact on our performance. Its common knowledge now that a healthy diet includes 3 main meals and 2 small meals. Keeping the digestive system going throught the day the best way to increase your metabolism. Skipping meals and snacks can lead to complications like acidity, lethargy, migraines and acid reflux. So build your meal plan according to your work, rest and rehearsal time.

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Tips from ballet dancers, odissi dances, articles and interviews has helped me write this post. My hope through this article is that it worked for them and might do wonders for us 🙂

Getting your 8 Glasses?

Water is the most important nutrient required by the human body. Ask anyone and they will impart this priceless piece of information but dancers often forget that they need more water than most other people. Wateacf003b7a830f7fb0e32a1d78ad238c6r is essential for all bodily functions including circulation, digestion, transportation of nutrients, lubrication of organs and also maintaining body temperature. Water constitutes up to 70-75% of our weight and during a dancing session we can lose up to 2% of our body weight. This lost water has to be replenished by water intake to restore the balance in the body.

There is no one prescribed method of keeping the body hydrated. It varies from one body to another and often depends on the weather conditions as well.  For example, dancers who sweat more or who have more fat content need to consume more water.  It is also important to drink more water in hotter climates where the body sweats extensively to keep the body cool. Lack of water could lead to dizziness, headaches, nausea or muscle cramps. It also leads to reduced stamina while dancing and tiredness. Continuous dancing or physical exertion without replenishment of water could also lead to sickness and dehydration.

Dancers need to drink plenty of water at least 30 minutes to one hour before dancing. An air conditioned room dries out your skin and muscles so keep your body well hydrated before, during and after practice.

It is also essential to have a glass of water every half hour or one hour during rehearsals or performance. After the dancing session it is crucial to drink large amounts of water to replenish the body.

Meal Plan

There are 2 basic rules to follow while building a meal plan for yourself:

  1. Get the right Mix

Breakfast – Complex Carbohydrates

Lunch – More carb less protein

Dinner – Mostly protein little carb

2. A little bit of everything:

Give yourself one cheat day every week. The easier your diet plan the longer you will follow it. So account for the cupcakes once a week 🙂

Breakfast – Complex Carbs

The 1st and the most important meal of the day must be power packed!! Sugary cereal gets you full quickly but leaves you hungry in a few hours.

For a healthy breakfast worthy of a top ballerina, Elaine Bauer suggests choosing the “dynamic duo” of protein and fiber. “Protein helps to wake up your brain cells and stoke your metabolism,” she explains. “The protein-fiber combo helps to maintain your energy level and keep you feeling satisfied until lunch.” A few of the breakfast options she recommends? Eggs with whole grain toast, a Greek yogurt parfait with berries and granola, and even leftover chicken-vegetable stir-fry from last night’s dinner.

Mid Day Snack

 There are so many things your could snack on between meals. I have put together a list of things recommended by teachers, parents, dancers and runners. (at the bottom of this post)

Lunch – More Carb less protein

Try the bowl trick. Whatever you plan to have for lunch must fit in 4 small bowls on your plate. It ill get you full, healthy and mindful about what and how much you eat :).

Pasta, wheat rotis, wraps, home cooked veggies, dal along with a bowl of brown rice are all perfect choices for lunch. I’v seen dancers feast on big salads loaded with potatoes and chicken for lunch. Make sure you keep away from too much spice or oils as this is what slows you down when you exercise.

Mid afternoon snack

A bowl of fruit! my favorite snack an hour before my rehearsal begins. (more options at the bottom)

Dinner – More protein less Carb

Because dancers try to eat light during the day to minimize bloating while at rehearsals, dinner tends to be more voluminous. Ideally, an evening meal should be balanced, with plenty of lean protein for muscle recovery (think chicken, fish, pork tenderloin, lentils, and tofu), antioxidant-rich vegetables to alleviate soreness (like broccoli, peppers, and carrots), and whole grains to replenish stored fuel for the following day (try quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta).

Eggs are a great source of proteins and vitamins. I absolutely love breakfast style eggs for dinner! 🙂

Superfoods!

Here are a few superfoods that are packed with all the necessary nutrients for a dancer’s diet. Try to add one or more of these to your to meal plan everyday. 

1. Salmon
Tinned, fresh, frozen, smoked, salmon is a source of protein, zinc and vitamin D. It provides omega 3 fatty acids, which may help with aches and pains thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects.
2. Yogurt
Live yogurt is good for protein, B vitamins and billions of lacto-acidophillus and bifido bacteria to help with the immune system and help bone health too.
3. Milk
Depending on energy requirements, skimmed, semi or full fat milk is a great source of protein (casein and whey), calcium, B vitamins, natural sodium, potassium and fluid. In lattes, on cereal and great when made into a milkshake or smoothie for after show or class recovery boost.
4. Porridge oats
Porridge is a slow releasing wholegrain carbohydrate, but is good for protein, B Vitamins, zinc, Vitamin E, iron, potassium, magnesium and beta-glucans which may help with the immune system too. Ideal for breakfast or before bed.
5. Nuts
Nuts are great as a snack. They’re good for protein, essential fatty acids, zinc, Vitamin E for hormone function, skin and hair. Make a trail mix of your favorite nuts and carry it along with you to snack on through the day
6. Berries

Berries, cherries, kiwis and oranges added to porridge, yoghurt or smoothies are great for Vitamin C and potassium.

 7. Greens
Eat broccoli, kale, spinach. Add to stir fries, frittatas or whizz into smoothies.
8. Wholegrains
Buy wholegrain or multigrain pasta or bread to get the necessary carbohydrate in your diet. Brown rice and quinoa are also nutritious carb sounces.
9. Red meat

Occasional red meat cooked with herbs is a source of protein, but importantly provides iron to boost good red cell production.

An iron rich meal is vital for female performers.

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Snack Smart!

Dancers are busy people. Flitting around between school, dance classes, rehearsals and performances…It can be difficult to find the time to fuel yourself properly to best perform your craft.

Smart snacking starts from planning ahead and keeping yourself prepared for those untimely hunger pangs.

When searching for a healthy snack, a good rule of thumb is to find one that will give you a healthy protein, a healthy fat and a healthy complex carbohydrate. With this in mind, here are my top 10 favorite healthy snacks for busy dancers on the go!

1. Avocado toast

Toast 1 piece of good-quality gluten free or whole wheat bread, smear with half an avocado, sprinkle with salt and pepper and enjoy!

2. Hard boiled eggs

Cover desired number of eggs with an inch of water in a pot with a lid. Bring to a boil on the stovetop on HIGH. Turn burner down to low and simmer for 7 minutes. Rinse in cold water. Peel, add a little salt and pepper and enjoy!

3. Hummus and carrots

Scrub carrots clean, dip in your favorite hummus and enjoy!

4. Banana/apples/celery with nut butter

Prepare your banana, apple slices or celery sticks, smear with 1-2 Tbsp. of your favorite nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower, soy) and enjoy!

5. Avocado with salsa

Slice an avocado in half. Keep the pit in half of the avocado and store in a plastic bag/container in the refrigerator for later. Take the other avocado half and fill the “cup” with your favorite salsa. Eat with a spoon and enjoy!

6. Edamame

Boil edamame in a large pot of boiling water on the stovetop according to the directions on the package. Drain, rinse with cold water, sprinkle with a little salt, and enjoy!

7. Nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate chips

Mix together raw or roasted almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, with dried cranberries, cherries, apricots, mango, pineapple…add a few dark chocolate chips and Voila! Your very own trail mix to enjoy!

8. Boiled pulses with salt and lemon

Good old home comfort food. My mom would steam a mix of different pulses and pack a container of this in my bag if i went straight for rehearsal from school. Its a great, filling source of vitamins and proteins to get your prepped for rehearsals.

9. Protein/veggie “rolls”

Take thin sliced oven-roasted chicken/turkey breast and lay flat. Put 1 piece of good quality cheese in the center, along with a slice of avocado and a slice of cucumber…roll it up and enjoy!

10. Pomegranate and paneer (cottage cheese)

Guru’s recommendation, this is a perfect mix of protein and vitamins. Try homemade paneer to reduce processed food consumption. I feasted on this energy boosting snack for months before my 1st solo show.

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Healthy and Happy

We dancer are a happy bunch and should remain that way. Eating disorders and body image issues are the cancer of our society. Today I see young girls starve through the day and struggle through a half an hour dance rehearsal. We must learn to treasure our bodies and treat them with love and respect. Dance makes us feel beautiful from within. Embrace a better diet to keep your body and mind cleansed and stress free. Remember to treat your body well and it will serve you very well when you need it most 🙂

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