Dancers train vigorously and encounter intense competition when trying to achieve peak potential. In an attempt to excel, it is tempting to experiment with dietary supplements. Although these supplements claim to improve strength, weight management, and agility, most do not live up to their claims.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements, the process is different than the regulation of drugs and conventional foods. Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their products are reasonably safe and not misleading, but are not required to show evidence of supplement effectiveness prior to marketing or sale. Organizations such as the US Pharmacopeia or NSF International test supplements for purity Looking for their label on a supplement indicates at least some standards have been met. Nontheless, evidence is usually lacking or conflicting, supplements are expensive, and side effects are common. As an alternative, a balanced diet can provide the nutrients you need for overall health and peak performance. Foods can provide many of the substances found in popular supplements, for example:
Creatine - produced naturally in our muscles for energy production and also found in fish and meat. Creatine supplements are taken to increase exercise intensity and improve strength and muscle gains. Results tend to vary greatly depending on the study and particular athletic event.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) - leucine, isoleucine, and valine are amino acids found in protein-rich foods. BCAAs are often taken to delay fatigue and boost muscle growth, but studies are inconclusive regarding the effectiveness of taking BCAA supplements for performance. Fish, chicken, eggs, tofu and dairy are great sources of BCAAs.
Chromium Picolinate - a supplement used for weight loss or muscle building and a naturally occurring mineral found in fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Supplement doses may cause oxidative damage and can potentially interfere with iron functions in the body. Include sources of the mineral in the diet, but supplementation is not recommended.
Collagen and Bone Broth - collagen is a protein needed for rebuilding bone, skin, and connective tissue. It is present in many high-protein foods that are also rich in minerals and contribute flavor and satisfaction to meals. Collagen and bone broth may be useful when solid foods are being avoided due to surgery or illness, but are not necessarily more nutritious than high protein whole foods. It is also important to note that bone broth and collagen water can be high in sodium, so if using for a soup or stew, opt for a low-sodium broth or stock. You will still obtain the protein and nutrients without consuming excessive sodium, which can contribute to dehydration and high blood pressure.
While supplement companies may provide interesting information about their products, it's best to take a balanced approach and review unbiased sources as well. You can find reliable information about dietary supplements from trusted online resources, such as the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. For more information, consult a registered dietitian to assess your individual needs.
The autumn season is upon us, bringing cooler temperatures, holiday traditions, and countless hours of Nutcracker rehearsal. For dancers, this time of year can be busier than ever, contributing to fatigue and susceptibility to illness. Good nutrition is especially important in the months ahead to keep you healthy through the season. We hope an easy and nourishing recipe idea will help - this complete meal can be prepared ahead, is portable, and delicious.
During pregnancy, a woman’s body will change more in nine months than it’s likely to change during any other life stage. Because of these changes, pregnant women are generally encouraged to rest and enjoy “eating for two”. For dancers, taking it easy is not always ideal or even possible. Pre-professional and professional dancers often continue to train until their due date and will return back to the studio soon after delivery. What does training while pregnant involve? Will dancing while pregnant harm an unborn child?
Research indicates that a vegetarian diet does not negatively impact athletic performance. On the contrary, an energy restrictive and nutrient poor diet leads to a variety of deficiencies that diminish health and impede dance training. Is a vegan diet guaranteed to make you healthier and give you more energy? Not necessarily. A plate of fries may be free of animal products, but offers zero nutrients and contains hydrogenated oils. The effect of a vegan diet is also influenced by your training, lifestyle habits, and body weight.
Benefits of a vegan diet include:
Concerns about a vegan diet include:
To prevent long-term deficiencies, vegan dancers should be especially diligent when preparing and managing food intake and should consider working alongside registered dietitian to ensure their needs are being met.
Melina, V., Craig, W., & Levin, S. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: vegetarian diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(12), 1970-1980
Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1998.
Brown, D. D. (2018). Nutritional Considerations for the Vegetarian and Vegan Dancer. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 22(1).
Traveling to a summer intensive or performing on tour can be exciting and educational, however being away from home presents several challenges related to good nutrition. Many factors may be out of your control, so it is important to be prepared and resourceful as you try to maintain some semblance of your usual routine. Below is some practical advice for nutrition during travel.
Have a safe, successful and healthy trip!
The Female Athlete Triad is a condition that includes three components:
– Low bone density (risk for stress fractures and osteoporosis)
– Disordered eating
– Amenorrhea (no menstrual cycle for three months or more)
(Matzkin et al., 2015).
The consequences of the Female Athlete Triad can be long-term and irreversible, and include stunting of growth, reproductive dysfunction, and osteoporosis. Any female athlete is at risk for this syndrome, but women who participate in dance are more susceptible because of the desired lean aesthetic and rigorous training schedule (Barrack et al., 2014). Peak bone density is achieved between ages 18 to 25 years. Poor nutrition (i.e., insufficient calories, calcium and vitamin D), stress, and intense training lead to hormonal disruption during the peak-forming period. Reduced estrogen production leads to bone resorption, and this can occur despite the fact that load-bearing physical activity such as dance usually improves bone-mineral density. Some female athletes have bone density similar to older postmenopausal women, which is dangerously low. One study reported that 80% of female dancers diagnosed with stress fractures of the second metatarsal started their menstrual period late (O’Malley, 1996). This type of bony injury requires at least 6-8 weeks to heal and even longer to rehab.
The remedy for Female Athlete Triad requires that energy needs be met consistently, either by modifying diet or reducing exercise. If body fat is inadequate, restoring body weight to a healthy level is the best strategy for normalizing menstrual periods and improving bone health.
Looking and performing your best for auditions should not involve suffering or engaging in crash diets. Obtaining ideal body composition may require you to be more aware of the quality and quantity of your food choices as well as the intensity of your training regimen.
Some simple suggestions for staying lean include:
Remember, don’t be intimidated by other dancers or their bodies - focus on doing your best and shining in areas you excel at! Allow nutrition to help fuel you during the audition season - you need adequate food fuel to provide energy, build strength, and maintain a healthy immune system.
Homemade chicken noodle soup made in the crock pot for a set-it-and-forget-it easy dinner. You can evan prep all the ingredients ahead of time and store them in the freezer to pull out on a day where you forgot to plan dinner. Just make sure you thaw the ingredients before adding it to the slow cooker to prevent it from staying at an unsafe temperature for too long.
8 ounces whole-wheat egg noodles or other whole-wheat noodles
3 pounds bone-in chicken breast, skin removed
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
2 sprigs thyme
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups frozen peas
¼ cup chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons lemon juice
The immune system provides protection from seasonal illness such as the common cold as well as other health problems including arthritis, allergies, abnormal cell development and cancers. Dancers are exposed to physical stress from training, which increases susceptibility to illness. Additionally, working in close proximity with other dancers increases exposure to infection. Nutrition plays an important role in maintaining immune function to protect against infection. Learn how to boost your immunity by including these nutrients in your eating plan.
Proteins form many immune cells and transporters. Try to consume a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.
Vitamin A helps regulate immune function and protects from infections by maintaining healthy tissues in skin, mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system. Vitamin A is found in foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs or foods labeled "vitamin A fortified," such as cereal or dairy foods.
Vitamin E works as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals. Include vitamin E in your diet with fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts and peanut butter.
Vitamin C protects stimulates the formation of antibodies, which are necessary to fight infection. Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, and tomato juice are good sources of vitamin C.
Zinc is critical for wound healing and aids the immune system. This mineral can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.
Other nutrients, including vitamin B6, folate, selenium, iron, as well as prebiotics and probiotics, may also influence immune response.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2017). Protect Your Health with Immune-Boosting Nutrition. Retrieved at eatright.org.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that exist in our gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotics feed the beneficial bacterial colonies and work synergistically with probiotics. In other words, prebiotics nourish and maintain probiotics, which restores and improves gut health. Probiotic sources include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and cultured non-dairy yogurts. Some good sources of prebiotics are bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole-wheat foods. Products that combine both are called synbiotics. For best results, try combining pre- and probiotics in your usual diet by enjoying bananas with yogurt or stir-frying asparagus with tempeh.
Are probiotic supplements necessary for everyone? Probably not. In fact, there are risks associated with use of probiotic supplements. These include: systemic infections, metabolic disruption, excessive immune stimulation in compromised individuals, gene transfer, and gastrointestinal side effects (Doron & Syndman, 2015). By consuming regular food sources of probiotics, you can safely maintain the integrity of your gut and avoid disrupting your body's natural microbiome. At a minimum, prebiotics and probiotics are keys for optimal gut health. Research indicates that the gut bacterial environment has implications beyond digestive health. The microbiome may impact weight management and risk of central nervous system diseases (Shreiner et al., 2015). Incorporating health-promoting functional foods, such as foods containing prebiotics and probiotics contributes to a healthier you!
Our registered dietitian, Nasira, can provide more advice on obtaining pre- and probiotics for your specific health needs, especially if you have gut issues or a weakened immune system, Contact her today:
(425) 445-3914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doron, S., & Snydman, D. R. (2015). Risk and safety of probiotics. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 60(suppl_2), S129-S134.
Shreiner, A. B., Kao, J. Y., & Young, V. B. (2015). The gut microbiome in health and in disease. Current opinion in gastroenterology, 31(1), 69.