Guest Article: Nutrition and Balanced Eating

January 7, 2020

Welcome back to Science in Dance Blogs for 2020. We are kicking off with a guest article from Stefanie of Aus Dancers Oversears. Enjoy and please leave your feedback and comments as always!

 

New Year’s Resolutions

 

There’s no way of escaping advertisements, magazine articles, and social media posts about what we should do better next year. What will eventually bring us the ultimate body (what’s that anyway?), and why we need to cut out more, or other foods in the new year. The one-size-fits-all training programs and diets... and who’s immune to this kind of input? Well, the informed dancer can be.

There’s a couple of basic processes in the athletic body that are very specific, and have been for hundreds and thousands of years. They usually function quite differently to the way media, and especially some media celebrities who feel entitled to, present it. Communicating science isn’t labelled ’cool’, whereas non- existent, easy-to-fix solutions are. The first one would work in your body, short- and long-term, the latter wouldn’t. Furthermore, the latter will make you feel a failure in the overwhelming majority of cases, over and over again. Whereas actual knowledge of your body and its functions will make you feel empowered. How to get there, you ask? Let’s start here:

Nutrition-wise, fad diets that are destined to make you fail have been designed in abundance, especially at this time of the year, as they support a whole industry making you believe they have ’the solution’, and earning a fortune from it. However, the only solution ever, is to get to know your body.

 

 So, here we go, with the first 2 macronutrients, and the ones that normally come with the biggest heap of misinformation for dancers:

1) Carbohydrates (CHO): The primary source of fuel for the active body. From the muscles to the brain, simple carbohydrates, i.e. glucose, are the nutrient that make everything work most efficiently, that is allowing you to dance at high intensity and master huge training loads, while feeling good at the same time. CHO have a notoriously bad reputation – just not in biomedical and exercise science, physiology, biology, or nutrition. This reputation stems from guidelines and recommendations that have been put together to address the general population. These days, the majority of the general population is overweight and battles a lot concomitant illnesses like diabetes type 2, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, due to – wait for it – inactivity. They actually eat too many carbohydrates. But let’s just put this into context: the general population couldn’t be further from a dancer. Which is exactly why you should not apply to your body the same as what’s recommended for someone with a 9 to 5 office job, and 30 mins of exercise twice a week. Make sense? We do hope so! So, what is the matter now with CHO for dancers? It is, again, the context that can make them more, or less preferable in certain situations, but they are not inherently ’good’ or ’bad’, and once again, they are the body’s preferred source in order to sustain dancing. As a dancer, your body works at its best when being fuelled sufficiently with CHO throughout the day. Preferably a mixture of more complex as well as simpler carbohydrates...simple ones if you need a quick boost towards, or after the end of a class/rehearsal, or during a performance; and more complex if you have time to allow for digestion, for some this can be a one-hour lunch-break, for example. The body has a fantastic storage of CHO in our muscles, plus a tiny bit in our liver, it’s called glycogen. Glycogen, when used for movement, is broken down to glucose. However, the storage is limited, and this limit is reached a lot earlier than most dancers assume; your storage is likely to be depleted by the end of your morning class. Time to refill. And depending on the length of your break: If it’s only 3 mins plus a change of shoes and studio, grab some simple CHO like dried fruits, even jelly beans are good, or have a fruit juice squash to keep you going in CHO-burning mode. Your body will thank you as it won’t feel stressed while you continue dancing. Same in the afternoon, around 90mins after your lunch at the latest, the stores will be depleted again. If you have more time, let’s say 15 mins, you can add a small protein pulse and might want to reach for some fresh fruits dipped in nut butter. With the protein provided in the nut butter, your body will thank you for a small protein pulse and immediately start repairing your muscles. And if you have time for a real lunch, whole grains, veggies and legumes are your best friend.

2) Protein (PRO): While CHO delivers energy for fuelling your movement and many metabolic processes, protein actually has a more structural role. It is part of a constant muscle degradation (catabolism) and muscle repair/ adaptation (anabolism). Many people tend to think that protein intake translates into ’bulkiness’, however, this could not be further from the truth: young and adolescent dancers can require intakes equal to that of a bodybuilder (g PRO per kg bodyweight), which is exclusively used to lengthen the muscles according to general growth, as well as adapt to increases in training load and volume. Adult dancers still require a lot more protein than the average population, or the amateur dancer, but the exact amount is dependent on their schedule, goals, and body composition. Body composition we hear you ask? Yes. A lot of dancers put unnecessary stress onto their bodies by trying to keep the lowest weight possible, whatever the method to achieve it. Typically, this is done by restricted food intake or cutting out food groups. Overlooked, more often than not, is the fact that restriction of food intake is frequently accompanied by our muscles becoming resistant to protein intake. This in turn means that the more restricted the food intake, the more protein would be needed to actually overcome this resistance, and allow your muscles to adapt to training again. But we don’t really read about that on social media or in magazines – rather we are told to simply buy the newest, protein-enriched foods and all will be fine. This doesn’t make you an informed dancer, this doesn’t make you aware of your body’s true needs. Your body might be happy about a bit

more PRO, however, a lot of such products have never been tested, we do not know about their actual absorption qualities like we do with real foods, but what we do know is that most of them are mixed with a lot of additives, and often also saturated fats. Most of these added components are not really necessary, hence making these foods more energy-dense than nutrient-dense. Not exactly smart.

And then there’s Veganuary and the Game Chang