• Nutrition for Dancer Recovery

    Nutrition always plays an important role in a dancer’s overall health. During an injury though, it is even more crucial to receive proper nutrition for dancer recovery. Successful injury recovery focuses on a dancer’s physical, mental and emotional health so that they can return to the studio with a strong mind and body. 

    Why community is important in recovery

    When it comes to an injury, every dancer’s path to recovery is going to look different. This also includes their nutrition. For dancers, injuries can be devastating, which is why it is  important for you to have a supportive community during your recovery. Physical therapists, nutritionists, counselors, families, and friend groups can all aid in healing. For me personally, I started What Fuels a Dancer to be a resource to dancers and provide nutrition advice to help dancers improve their relationship with food and with their body while pursuing adequate nutrition.

     I know not every dancer might have access to a nutrition professional who has personal experience dancing professionally, which is why I am so passionate about helping other dancers. Today, we are going to talk about three guidelines and specific recommendations for nutrition for dancer recovery.

    Focus on fueling your body, not depriving it

    When dancers are injured, many crave to have structure and control during the recovery process. Often, this turns into dieting, restricting calories or becoming obsessive over food. Many dancers are praised for coming back “skinnier”, but this can lead to unhealthy food behaviors that can be detrimental to injury recovery and your future health. 

    Instead, focus on tuning into your hunger cues and food cravings, no limiting foods, food groups or cutting calories. During the recovery process, you want to work with your body to gain your strength back. This means that you need to be fueling your body with the appropriate macronutrient and micronutrient intake so that you can come back to the studio physically and mentally ready to train.

    Try new things when it comes to food

    When we are dancing, it is easy to get into the habit of settling into certain meals and foods that we know work for our body. Instead this is a great time to experiment with different foods, and trying new meals and snacks to see what your body loves.

    For me, I have always loved oatmeal as my breakfast before dance. I can change it up every day to be warm or cold and have different toppings to satisfy my taste buds. Recently, I have been trying out more savory breakfasts with veggies, potatoes, tempeh, tofu, avocado and toast. As it turns out, sometimes my body really loves having a savory meal in the morning, and it keeps me fueled and energized all morning.

    Work on your relationship with food and your body

    If you are experiencing an injury or unexpected time off, it is normal to become critical about the physical appearance of your body. Instead, shift your focus to change your views on what you think your body should look like as a dancer and focus more on how your body feels and functions. 

    We all know that ballet has some unrealistic and unhealthy body standards. Many dancers feel the need to undergo drastic measures to mold our bodies to this aesthetic. We can be so caught up in what we see in the mirror, that we forget to truly enjoy dancing. Having time away from the studio is a great opportunity to focus on repairing your relationship with food and with your body. We have a break from being in a leotard and tights in front of a mirror for eight hours each day, which gives us the space to change our thought patterns and behaviors surrounding our body. 

    This is not easy by any means, so having friends, family, and professionals who support you and provide encouragement and healthy feedback can help you during this change. It can even be helpful to change who you follow on social media. Follow dancers of all shapes and sizes as well as accounts that promote a positive body image and a non restrictive way of eating.

    Nutrition basics

    So, let’s talk about specific nutrition for dancer recovery.

    Make sure you are balancing all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. I have more in depth posts about each one of them here. So if you want to learn more, be sure to check those out. I also have a download that I created to make nutrition easier for dancer recovery! You can find that resource here! 

    Nutrition for Dancer Injuries

    Specifically when it comes to injury recovery, protein helps to combat muscle deterioration, also called muscle atrophy. You will lose some muscle when you are injured, but we want our nutrition to support and keep building those muscles as much as possible. Protein can also help repair injured muscles and prepare them for growth for when you are able to go back to normal activity.

    Carbohydrates, especially complex carbohydrates, are important for muscle energy as well as it helps your body process protein. Carbohydrates all help with muscle recovery. 

    Fat, especially unsaturated and omega 3 fatty acids, lubricate our joints and muscles. They are also great to reduce inflammation and swelling and improve circulation and scaring. 

    Lastly, water is always important for hydration. During an injury, it especially helps with circulation and waste removal to aid in injury recovery. 

    Micronutrients for recovery 

    Once you have macronutrients down, there are some vitamins and minerals that are especially important during the recovery process. Vitamin C helps keep your skin, bones, and soft tissue in good condition. We can find this in foods like cherries, yellow peppers, parsley, spinach, kale, kiwi, broccoli, oranges and strawberries.

    Calcium helps to repair bones, like in a fracture, and makes sure that your bones stay strong. Calcium is in foods like yogurt, milk, chia seeds, beans and lentils, almonds, greens and tofu. 

    Vitamin D helps to support and absorb calcium. It also supports your immune system and helps to reduce inflammation levels. We can get vitamin D from the sun, always making sure to follow safe sun practices, but we can also find it in foods like fortified milk, salmon, tuna, eggs, mushrooms, oats, and other fortified foods.

    Iron helps your body produce red blood cells and collagen, which aids in bone regeneration. Iron is in foods like spinach, beans and legumes, red meat, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, broccoli, tofu and fish. 

    Magnesium helps preserve a healthy nerve and muscle function as well as it helps in bone production. There are several foods we can find magnesium in like avocado, dark chocolate, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds and whole grains. 

    Omega 3 fatty acids help with inflammation levels to reduce swelling, improve circulation, and help prevent scar tissue build up. Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in foods like salmon and other seafood, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans. 

    Potassium regulates muscle contractions and helps with proper nerve function. We can find it in foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, spinach, orange juice, bananas, avocado, salmon and  coconut water. 

    Lastly, antioxidants help our bodies speed up the healing process, help prevent cellular damage, and may also help with inflammation levels. We can find antioxidants in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. Just like with any macronutrient, it is important to diversify our intake of food so that we can make sure we are getting all of the nutrition that we need.

    Make sure to download the nutrition for injuries page to keep handy and help guide meals and snacks during your recovery process. There is not a magic food or meal plan that will make your body heal quickly and with total ease. Your recovery will also look different from other dancers. All of these are okay! Your injury recovery should be about strengthening your body, mind, and spirit so that you are ready to enter back into the studio healthy and refreshed. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me here!

     

  • Feeling Bloated During Dance

    Bloating. We all experience it. It’s not necessarily fun, but feeling bloated during dance occasionally is something that is normal and natural for us to go through!  It does not mean that we are “bad” or “unhealthy”, and sometimes it happens due to factors that are completely out of our control. We are going to explore what bloating is, why bloating can happen, ways to deal with bloating, and how we can still eat intuitively. 

    As a dancer, I am no stranger to feeling uncomfortable in a leotard and tights with the tight, uncomfortable feeling of a bloated stomach. It’s hard to think about jumping and holding your core, when your stomach hurts and you feel gassy. While it’s not possible to eliminate bloating, intuitive eating has helped me to identify what foods or combination of foods cause my stomach to be uncomfortable. And it has also taught me that it’s okay to not have a flat stomach! (I can definitely talk more about that later!)

    So, what is bloating?

    Bloating is when your gastrointestinal tract is filled with air or gas. Your stomach might feel full, swollen, hard, or painful. A small amount of bloating is totally normal as our body is digesting what we are eating, but there are many different factors that can contribute to uncomfortable bloating. The three main common triggers are digestive issues, what foods we eat, and hormonal changes. I am not going to dive into digestive disorders, because there are so many other people who are way more knowledgeable than I am, but some of these include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), food sensitivities and allergies, and other gastrointestinal issues.

    While everyone experiences temporary bloating from time to time, if you are someone who feels bloated all the time, I would highly encourage you to talk to your doctor and a nutrition professional about what you are experiencing. They will help you find if there are any underlying issues, chronic symptoms, allergies, or intolerances that are affecting your digestive system. This is especially important if you are not able to eat enough and if bloating is masking your hunger cues.

    Bloating also happens for us women during our menstrual cycle because of hormone changes and fluctuations. Stress can also affect our digestive system because it can upset our hormone balance and it can also make it harder for our bodies to digest foods that we normally have no issues with. While we can somewhat control our stress levels, we cannot control the fact that our hormones fluctuate for our menstrual cycle to function. 

    Bloating can also occur based on what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat.

    Overly salty or fatty food, and eating too much sugar can cause some bloating. Does this mean that we need to avoid these foods altogether? Absolutely not! But, we can think about it intuitively – more on that a little later. There are also specific foods that might cause some people to have more bloating if your body is not used to digesting them – beans, cruciferous vegetables, dairy, or large quantities of whole grains are some of those foods. Caffeine, which can over excite the digestive tract, and carbonated beverages, which are filled with carbon gas to create bubbles, can also cause bloating.

    Bloating can also happen with disordered eating. If we have not been eating enough, or if we have been restricting certain types of foods or whole food groups, it is likely that we will experience digesting distress when we go back to a more normal way of eating. We can also experience bloating when we eat large quantities of food at one time, eat too little, eat too quickly, fail to chew our food fully before swallowing, etc. There are so many factors that can contribute to bloating, and each individual is different!

     Again, I am going to say that it is normal to experience bloating after eating, so you might feel bloated during dance occasionally. Our digestive system produces gas when breaking down food, and it is normal to swallow some amount of air when eating or drinking. Personally, I experience more uncomfortable bloating when eating right before bed, during my menstrual cycle, eating rich foods or a big meal, if I have caffeine on an empty stomach, if I wait too long to eat, if I am not consistently drinking enough water, not sleeping well, and stress. You might experience bloating with completely different factors, and that’s okay! Intuitive eating helps us investigate the food causes behind uncomfortable bloating. 

    When you are bloated, start taking notice of the scenario.

    Is it at a specific time of day? Is it before or after a meal? What foods did you eat? Did you eat too quickly? Have you been getting enough to eat? How is your stress? Have you been sleeping well? Take mental or written notes! This can help us to discover patterns between foods or food behaviors and bloating. This does not mean that we can never eat certain foods again, or that we have to figure out how to eat perfectly, but paying attention to how food makes us feel can help us find balance and reduce uncomfortable bloating.

    For example, knowing that having a rich meal can make me feel bloated, I will probably not opt for a burger or a curry before dancing, but afterwards, these are delicious options to replenish my body! For dancers, it is helpful to pack easily digestible foods like eggs, sweet potatoes, avocado, crackers, rice, bananas, and yogurt to eat during a day filled with classes and rehearsals. Also, remember to pack enough food and eat at regular intervals to avoid intense hunger. 

    What are some ways to deal with uncomfortable bloating?

    Like intuitive eating, the methods that help to soothe your stomach might be different from your peers. Here are a few suggestions if you need a place to start exploring. 

    • De-stress – this could mean some light stretching, breathing practices, or whatever helps to put you into a relaxed state
    • Drink water
    • Go on a light walk
    • Try some yoga poses like supported bridge, hugging your knees to your chest, happy baby, spinal twist while lying on your back, and cat/cow poses
    • Give yourself an abdominal massage
    • Take a warm bath or use a heating pad
    • Drink peppermint tea or lemon ginger tea to soothe an upset stomach

    Bloating can be frustrating and sometimes difficult to pinpoint and to deal with, especially if you are having to dance in class and rehearsal with a painful, swollen stomach. But, this is totally normal to experience feeling bloated during dance from time to time, and I hope that you learned some tools of how to use intuitive eating to help! If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment or reach out to me here! Make sure to also watch my YouTube video down below

  • Should Dancers Follow Clean Eating?

    “Clean eating is good, right?”.

    This is a question I have been asked over and over again by dancers who want to find the best fuel for their bodies. I respond with “well, sort of, sometimes…… not completely”. If there is one thing that I have learned about nutrition, strict rules that we place what foods we eat and what behaviors we have surrounding food can often lead to disordered eating patterns. Clean eating is not an exception. So let’s discuss, should dancers follow clean eating? 

    So, what is clean eating?

    Clean eating is a way of eating that maintains the proponents that eating whole foods and eliminating processed foods has certain health benefits. There are also different variations of clean eating that eliminate foods like oils, gluten, dairy, or even cooked foods altogether based on nutrition claims. You might hear people refer to certain foods or ingredients as “clean”, and many brands use the phrase “clean eating” in their advertising to appeal to health conscious consumers. These words and phrases are sometimes accompanied by other nutrition buzzwords like natural, detox, superfoods, etc. 

    Let’s talk about the good. Clean eating focuses on simple ingredients to prepare meals. These are foods that you can find easily in a store and prepare for yourself. There is also a focus on whole foods including whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and plant oils. As we have talked about in other posts, whole foods fuel our bodies with macro and micronutrients that help our bodies in their many functions and they also give us energy for a long day of dance. Clean eating might also encourage you to try new foods and new recipes at home, whether it be in trying a new ingredient or a new way to prepare a food. This might introduce you to new cuisines and flavors, and it might just lead you to find new favorites! 

    The negatives of Clean Eating

    Clean eating can also lead to some negative thoughts and behaviors, especially for dancers. With all of this focus on finding the “perfect” foods to ingest, it can lead to obsessive food behavior, which means that we are going to the extreme to control what goes in our body. This could involve a number of behaviors including restricting certain foods like oil, gluten, or dairy or even amount of calories based on health claims. Clean eating can also look like forcing yourself to eat the healthiest option available, even if that is not what your body wants and needs. This inflexibility when it comes to meals can bring social isolation because of fear of making food decisions at a friend’s house or at a restaurant. No one wants to go to a restaurant and eat a sad plate of raw veggies with no dressing while everyone else is enjoying delicious food that you wish you could enjoy as well. 

    Clean eating also assigns morality to food, categorizing foods into “good foods” or “bad foods”, leading us to reflect on our character and willpower based on our food decisions. This can bring guilt from food choices, fear and anxiety surrounding food decisions, and secret binge behaviors. All of these can turn into disordered eating and diagnosable eating disorders, and can create a sense of distrust in your body because you are not honoring what it really needs. Our bodies need balance and flexibility when it comes to nutrition, and clean eating ignores both of these. Finally, clean eating is time consuming, from food preparation to grocery shopping when there is such an obsession with food labels. It also takes the fun out of eating, especially if the foods you deem as “clean” are not ones that you necessarily enjoy. 

    Nutrition for Dancers

    Of course I encourage whole foods because of their nutrient content, but I also strongly believe that dancers should have play foods, which are simply foods that serve the purpose for you to simply enjoy! As dancers, it is natural to want to control every aspect of our lifestyle to support our dancing. Nutrition is often one of those areas that is focused on and obsessed over in order for dancers to experience control over their training. This is why I do not encourage dancers to follow the rules of clean eating. I want dancers to be able to learn about nutrition in a healthy, wholesome way, that leads them to strength and energy on and off the stage. If you are a dancer that struggles with clean eating and finding balance in nutrition, I encourage you to talk to a dietician or nutritionist, or you can always reach me here! Remember, food doesn’t just fuel your body, but also your mind and spirit as well! Make sure to watch my video about clean eating down below