The physical demands placed on the bodies of dancers and other performing athletes, such as figure skaters and gymnasts is great. Consequently, injuries can result from overuse or trauma to a body part, i.e. foot, ankle, low back or hip.
Getting and keeping performing athletes free of injury is key to helping them enjoy their passion, while reducing missed practices or performances. An important part of an athlete’s overall wellness is to understand the important role nutrition has in the healing process and keeping the body healthy.
Dancers rehearse for long hours and often perform year round compared to other sports where there is a cycling or shifting of training intensity. In a 2011 study looking at nutrition and bone health for adolescent ballet dancers, subjects danced on average 22 hours per week. At one point in my daughter’s dance career, she was dancing nearly 30 hours per week (in addition to attending school). Unfortunately, these extensive hours and additional rehearsals, along with improper fueling, places even more demands on the athlete’s body.
Studies show that student and professional ballet dancers consume less than 70 to 80% of the recommended daily allowance of energy intake (calories). When the body’s nutritional needs are not met, the dancer is at an increased risk for injury due to lack of nutrients available to muscles and bone. Low energy availability can also affect mental focus and compromise technique. Together, this places the dancer at increased risk for injury and can also delay healing of chronic injuries and fractures.
Following are 5 tips to optimize injury recovery with food and nutrition to help the dancer and performing athlete stay health all year round.
- Promote healing by giving yourself permission to eat enough food throughout your most active time of the day, most notably nutrient-dense foods that include lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products. Daily energy needs are unique for each person and based on age, height, weight along with frequency and intensity of activity. The key is to spread your food intake evenly throughout the day. Restricting before rehearsals or practice and “saving up” to eat later in the day is not helpful and often backfires by overeating less healthy foods.
- Include protein at each meal and especially as part of a recovery snack after a workout, performance or competition. Protein needs vary individually, but in general, aim for about 20 grams of protein per meal or snack (20 grams of protein is the equivalent of a palm-sized serving of meat, pork or poultry; one cup of tofu; or 6 oz Greek yogurt with a couple tablespoons of almonds).
- Increase your daily intake of colorful fruits and vegetables! These foods are rich in antioxidants and important vitamins and minerals for managing inflammation. More specifically, focus on those that are rich sources of Vitamin C and Vitamin A (examples provided below).
- Drink water throughout the day and during training, aiming for 96 ounces daily or until urine is pale. Staying well-hydrated is essential for optimal healing for tissues.
- Increase intake of nutrients that are important for healing, reducing inflammation, tissue repair and immune function:
- Protein (Greek or regular low-fat yogurt, beans, fish, poultry, and lean meats)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (fish such as salmon, tuna and herring, as well as walnuts, soy foods, and ground flax seeds)
- Vitamin C (oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, kiwi)
- Vitamin A (sweet potatoes, carrots, bell peppers)
- Zinc (almonds, seeds, beef, and seafood)
- Calcium and Vitamin D (both vitamins are found in dairy products and also available in lesser amounts in leafy greens, and eggs)