This weeks question comes from a professional dancer on the verge of being promoted to a principal dancer.
Question: What foods can I eat to give me energy throughout the dancing day that will fill me up without making me feel lethargic?
Answer: Nutrition for dancers is a touchy subject on the online message boards and forums, but I am not afraid to tackle this one head on. If you are a professional dancer dancing sometimes up to 8 hours a day, you want to make sure that you are eating to stay fueled up for rehearsals. I always drank an electrolyte beverage such as Gatorade during class and rehearsals to replace all of the carbohydrates lost while sweating. In case you haven’t noticed already, water alone will not satisfy your need for hydration during class and rehearsals. If you are a pre-professional dancer, hydration is just as important so these tips go for you as well.
As far as fueling your body with foods, you want to make sure that you are eating a healthy, carbohydrate rich snack every 2 hours during the dancing day. This is the nutrition schedule that I give to my ballet strength nutrition clients. Finding time to include the snacks in your day can sometimes be a struggle, but is imperative to your dancing when it comes to making improvements and progress in your technique. Not only will your body suffer if it is lacking essential nutrients, but your mind will also have a hard time remembering choreography.
So what should you eat? Here is a list of some great healthy snacks that you can add into your day to stay energized and eager to dance;
- Granola Bars (not protein bars!)
- Trail Mix
- Whole Wheat Crackers
These snacks will replenish the stored carbohydrates that you lost during class, rehearsal, or both. Remember, don’t go hungry, eat for energy and your dancing will improve tremendously!
Committed to Your Dancing,
As Summer approaches, many Dancers will embrace a much needed three or four month layoff. Some will vacation, some will continue to obsessively take class day after day. The smart Dancer Cross Trains. To continue Dancing with the intensity you had during the season is like beating a dead horse. Our bodies need time off in order to make important gains and improvements. Yes, you can actually improve by taking some time off!
Here is the Cross Training Plan that I recommend;
Right after the Performance Season is over, take at least 2 weeks off! Upon returning to class, this will give you a clear signal as to what “pains” are actual injuries and which were just symptoms of overuse. During that first class back (typically after a 2 to 6 week break) take note of certain areas and muscle groups in the body that feel weak. If you feel that you have a serious injury this is a great time to see a Doctor, get an MRI, and get it fixed in time for the season to start.
After taking note of those weak areas, consult a Ballet Strength Expert such as myself for Dance Specific exercises that you can do in the gym. On Ballet Dancers, for example, the “turn-in” or legs in a parallel stance is usually weak. I would then recommend some basic strength training techniques involving one-leg squats and exercises on the Bosu. Dancers also tend to favor one side of the body. This is a great time to strengthen your weak side!
As far as taking class goes, I recommend no more than 3 days per week during your time off. The other 2 days should be dedicated to your Cross Training program!
Feeling out of breath during that variation? Don’t forget about cardio. What better time than Summer to go for a run, hike, or bike ride in your favorite park. You may be surprised at how much better you feel and how much more you are able to do pain free!
How do I Cross Train? To ensure that my trouble areas stay injury free, I take class only twice per week during the off season and weight train three times per week. I also focus on keeping my core strong with lots of unique abdominal exercises. For Cardio, I do chasse’s on the treadmill, front and side!
Still confused? I have taken all of the guess work out of it with my new book, Beginning Ballet Strength©. You can get your own copy at www.balletstrength.com!
Nikol Klein, Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Personal Trainer/ Author/ Certified Nutritionist
Ballet injuries are common career ending catastrophes for dancers of all ages. What may seem like a small ache or pain could turn into a serious injury if you are not making the proper adjustments to your technique. There are a lot of solutions offered that just mask the pain. If you do not get to the bottom of the issue that is causing the injury, it could be a life long struggle.
The following are a list of steps you can take to ensure you are doing the right things to prevent career ending injuries.
1.) See a Doctor- I know this may seem like a no brainer, but going to a doctor is one of the most important things you can do if you are experiencing abnormal pain. If you are attending a good ballet school, they should be affiliated with a Sports Medicine department or physical therapist in your city.
2.) Rest- You’ve heard this one before too. If you are experiencing abnormal pain, you need to stop dancing until you have the issue identified by a physical therapist. I know, you’re afraid that you will lose your part to your understudy, but how would if feel if you kept dancing and tore or broke something? Do your career a favor and take a much needed rest.
3.) Therapy- Once you have seen a physical therapist and they have diagnosed the problem, you need to follow through with your treatments. Your physical therapist may have you doing some strange exercises, but if you don’t follow through with them the injury will come back.
4.) Investigate- After you are finished with physical therapy and your injury seems to have healed, start investigating your ballet technique. Are you rolling in on your ankles? Are you gripping your hips? You might even want to see a Ballet Strength & Conditioning Coach like myself to help you work on technical weaknesses based on your anatomy and body mechanics. (Keep in mind that these are things that most ballet teachers are not qualified to recommend)
Sometimes your Ballet instructors, though they have your best interest in mind, will continue to tell you to force your turnout, etc. so that your body looks aesthetically correct for ballet. While this may look good, it may be doing disastrous things for your body and your career.
Take these simple precautions to prevent long lasting injuries and never be afraid to ask questions. You can try out one of my Ballet Strength programs HERE.
Nikol Klein, Certified Personal Trainer/ Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Nutritionist