The beautiful and effortless appearance of ballet dancing requires extreme athleticism and great physical demands on the human body. For the ballet dancer, achieving optimal performance requires not only years of training, but also balanced nutrition. Understanding nutritional needs is crucial for a ballet dancer's success as well as prevention of injury.
According to The Centre of Dance Nutrition, a professional dancer can burn up to 3,000 calories a day during heavy training. Consuming the correct ratio of calories addresses the two common dilemmas of enhancing energy levels while maintaining a lean physique. Calories should consist of 55 to 65 percent carbohydrate, 12 to 15 percent protein and 20 to 30 percent fat, according to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science.
Carbohydrates are the main provider of fuel for aerobic activity. A dancer should consume complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads, cereals, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, as they contain more essential vitamins and minerals needed for overall health. They also provide more sustained energy than simple sugars such as desserts, candies and other refined grains. Quick muscle fatigue and lethargy are good signs a dancer may be lacking adequate carbohydrate intake.
In addition to being another source of energy, protein is required in building muscle for the developing dancer. For the developed dancer, protein is required in muscle repair from strenuous activity. Good sources include lean meats such as poultry and fish or vegetarian sources such as beans, quinoa, nuts and tofu. Protein powders are not necessary if consuming a balanced diet. The International Association of Dance Medicine and Science recommends consuming 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.
Consuming healthy sources of fats such as nuts, olive oil, fish and avocados contributes fat-soluble vitamins and provides insulation around nerves in the body. They also are stored in the muscle in the form of triglycerides, a source of sustained energy for long rehearsals and performances. The International Association of Dance Medicine and Science recommends 1.2 grams of fat per kilogram of body weight daily.
Hydration is essential due to high sweat losses during activity. Dancers should be encouraged to drink often during this time, as the sensation of thirst does not always reflect hydration needs. Eight ounces of water or a non-caffeinated sports drink every 15 minutes during vigorous training is recommended by the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science. Symptoms of dehydration can include confusion, such as sudden difficulty following choreography.
According to an article published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," an adequate diet to maintain a healthy body weight has been found to prevent stress fractures, a common injury in ballet. Ballet dancers should also be monitored and provided with support for eating disorders to help prevent such injuries or illness. If desired, consulting a registered dietitian can provide a more detailed and individualized diet plan.
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