How To Fuel Your Body To Get the Most Out of a Dance Intensive

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You may be thinking of applying to a school or company to attend a spring or summer dance intensive. You’re probably excited about learning new techniques, choreography, and just challenging yourself as an artist and dancer. But do you worry about having enough strength and energy to make it through the long dance days? If yes, then this article is for you! 

With a little knowledge and planning, you can power your brain and working muscles to maximize your enjoyment of all dance activities and help you prevent injuries to boot. 

Dance Nutrition Basics
It’s no secret that your secret power as a dancer is your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates help you make blood sugar or glucose, the natural gasoline that goes into the dancer’s engine (including the brain, every organ, and working muscles). Carbohydrates are plant-based foods that include grains, all foods made from grains like whole-grain bread, cereal, pasta, potatoes, fruits, and to a lesser extent veggies. You get mostly fiber from vegetables and yes, they’re important. However, a bowl of broccoli gives you less than two-thirds the amount of carbohydrate “gasoline” than a small cup of brown rice!

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends six grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight each day for something like an intensive (take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2 to get kilograms). There is nothing like fueling yourself with a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and good quality fats every day in the weeks and months before your intensive to make sure you go into your dance time with a full tank of gas. Without these foods, you’ll break down muscle, the absolute last thing a dancer or anyone needs. Let’s go into specifics. 

What To Eat Before Exercise and Dance
The rule of thumb for your intensive is planning. Make sure you’re sleeping well and get up early before your first class so that you have at least an hour or so to digest your food. The easiest foods to digest before movement are foods like oatmeal or other delicious whole-grain cereal, banana bread, French toast, regular toast, a bagel, fresh fruit, or a fruit smoothie made with fruit and yogurt. These foods should be easily digested and give you energy to get through most of your morning. If you add a little protein to your carbohydrate breakfast your energy will last longer. Don’t load yourself up with fat-filled choices that will weigh your stomach and energy down, like a cheddar cheese omelet and French fries! Choose something that will give you 7–10 grams of protein per serving, like two egg whites, a cup of Greek yogurt, or a tablespoon of almond butter. A breakfast choice using the above suggestions might be oatmeal and a cup of Greek yogurt topped with a banana.

Can you have a coffee before you dance? You always want to make sure that you’re properly hydrated. Take your weight in pounds and divide by two. That number could represent the number of ounces of fluids you need every day! If you sweat a lot you could add another 2–3 cups of fluids to the above number. Many athletes use caffeine to power themselves. If you keep your caffeine intake to 200–300mg of caffeine before your day, you should benefit from an energy boost without making yourself jittery. That amount of caffeine comes from one strong eight-ounce cup of coffee. Drink plenty of water in the days before the intensive and on a daily basis as well as before your day gets started.

What To Eat During Your Day
There will be lunch and snack times during your day. The same rule applies to lunch: carbohydrates, 3–4 ounces of protein, veggies and/or fruit. An example would be 3–4 oz. sliced turkey on a whole-grain roll, sliced avocado, and tomato, a handful of grapes. Plus water!

Snacks could include banana bread, a blueberry muffin, hummus wrap, dried fruit, and nuts plus water. You could safely include a sports replacement drink like Gatorade which will also replace electrolytes that you lose in sweat. See what feels good to you. Experiment with foods you like that settle well and don’t cause digestive issues. Think simple and wholesome. Planning is key!

What To Eat After Your Day
Many athletes feel that the more protein the better after a workout or extensive event. Proteins are used in the body to make red and white blood cells, hormones, skin, hair, nails, and are super important for your immune function! Amino acids from proteins help repair muscle breakdown which can happen with excessive training, or in the absence of carbohydrates in the diet. So by all means include some lean red meat, chicken or turkey, fish, beans, eggs, soy or nuts for dinner with your sweet potato, grains, pasta, or bread! Half your plate should be veggies topped with a drizzle of olive oil, and you have a heart-healthy dinner for the dance athlete. 

Remember, there are no magic foods or pills or potions to give you energy. Find balance in all things including your diet. Do not strive for perfection! Remember to include all-natural foods in balance every day. Hydrate well. Sleep, recover, and enjoy your new challenges.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Marie Scioscia
Marie Scioscia, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian and certified fitness professional working in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. She’s the author of “Eat Right Dance Right,” the definitive nutritional guide for dancers. Her expertise in the dance world comes from being a former dancer, working with the Ailey School, New York City Ballet, the Martha Graham school, and other venues to promote wellness for dancers and all performing arts members.
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