Nutrition Bulletin: Carbohydrates for Dancers
Following on from Chris Taggart's excellent run of articles and some amazing feedback, we are so pleased to welcome him back with some facts and figures on basic Carbohydrate for Dancers and intakes for performance. Carbs get a hard time but when used correctly they can aid performance and recovery enhancing the Dancer's ability to train and practise.
Following on from my nutrition primer and still on the topic of macronutrients, the next topic of interest is carbohydrates (CHO). Here’s a quick summary of what you may already know about CHO from the first article:
CHO are the main source of fuel for exercise and should aim to have at least 50% of your total energy intake from CHO.
They can be categorised into starches, sugars, and fibres.
CHO in the diet should be mainly whole grain and starchy; for example, pasta, brown rice, potatoes, couscous. These will fill you up and provide long lasting energy as it takes a while to absorb and metabolise.
Increased energy requires increased CHO. It cannot get simpler than this – the longer you are training for, the more stores of CHO you will need to meet the demands of the exercise.
Table 1. A Ready Reckoner for CHO Intake – Training intensity and the corresponding recommended CHO intake in grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
Now let’s put this into practice with an example:
Table 2 – Working example of how to use Table 1 to calculate daily CHO needs.
48 x 3 or 5 = Daily CHO (g)
4 (1kcal of CHO) x 168 or 250 = Total CHO (kcal/day)
This would look like:
-1 bowl of porridge,
-1 peanut butter and jam sandwich,
-1 jacket potato with 1 tin of baked beans & cheese,
So, with these recommended foods, not only is the goal CHO amount reached, but it also contains all the forms CHO can be broken down in. Consuming all types of carbs is not only important for performance, but also for gut health and body composition. The total amount of CHO in kcals per day is also close to 50% of total energy intake.
Forms of Carbohydrates
Table 3 – Carbohydrates split into their 3 respective categories. N.B. There are many more examples of starches not included in this table.
It’s important to try and include both forms of dietary fibre daily in your diet for a healthy gut and digestion, especially if you’re consuming high amounts of protein (which you should be…). For example...
- Soluble dietary fibre is found in plant cells - e.g. fruits, vegetables, oat bran, barley, seed husks, flaxseed, dried beans, lentils, peas, soymilk and soy products.
- Insoluble dietary fibre is found in plant cell walls - e.g. wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans and wholegrain food.
Glycaemic Index vs Glycaemic Load
This can get very technical and unnecessarily boring for what you need to know, but it’s important to understand when considering what foods are appropriate to eat at what times and how that will interact with classes and performance. So, I will keep this very brief…
Glycaemic index (GI) compares the rates of absorption of CHO foods. It ranks CHO based on their immediate blood glucose response i.e. the quality. However, it doesn’t account for portion size. This is where glycaemic load comes in.
Glycaemic load (GL) measures the degree of glycaemic response and insulin demand produced by a specific amount of a specific food. It reflects both the quality and the quantity of CHO. E.g;
GL = GI/100 x CHO (grams) per serving
Example: GL of an apple = 40/100 x 15g = 6g
But which is better for performance nutrition? GI or GL? High or low?
Table 4 – Classification of GI amounts and their respective appropriate foodstuffs.
For now, simply focus on these two points:
Use high GI for pre-explosive events and post-exercise for greater muscle glycogen recovery.
Use Low GI 1-3 hours prior to events over 1-hour duration, as absorption is delayed, leading to greater utilisation of fat stores.
If you are counting exactly how many grams of CHO you are taking in, GL becomes more prevalent. However, don’t stress yourself out with the maths. We are talking minute changes to your fuel efficiency here, so as long as you’re getting enough CHO in, you will likely be fine.
Event Day CHO Intake
Here’s a look at some example foods you might be aiming for during your training or performance event day:
Carbohydrate rich meal & snacks
At least 1hr before to avoid digestive discomfort
Avoid high fat/protein/fibre to avoid digestive discomfort
Practice with timing and food choices
Morning – Lunchtime 3-4 Hours Before
Porridge/cereal with low fat milk, fruit
Pancakes with Syrup
Low fat/muesli breakfast bar & banana
Afternoon – Evening 3-4 Hours Before
Pasta with tomato-based sauce, vegetables, lean meat
Toast with tinned spaghetti/beans
Sandwich/roll with meat & salad
Fruit salad & low-fat yogurt
1-2 hours Before
Cereal with milk
Low fat yogurt
<1hour Before and During
Glycogen re-synthesis is complete within 22-24 hours providing sufficient CHO are consumed in first 5-6 hours
However, work capacity is still reduced after replenishing glycogen – REST!
Experiment with GI and see which foodstuffs give you a boost of energy or help you recover faster.
Should be aiming for Carbohydrate rich meals to promote performance and recovery.
Remember, as your protein intake increases, so should your dietary fibre.
Protein and calorie intake should be prioritised over specific CHO intake. Check the previous article to determine your protein requirements.