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  • Jane S. Chung, M.D

Energy Needs of the Female Dancer

Hi everyone! Today's guest blog is by Dr. Jane S. Chung, an associate of mine who just happens to be a fantastic pediatric sports medicine physician at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. I've worked with several of her patients and asked her to lend her expertise to all my dancers today! Read on - and know questions are always welcome! - Jen

Few physicians have the ability to relate to the mind of a dancer. Through my years of training and exposure to various forms of dance, particularly ballet, tap and modern, I can relate to and understand the unique challenges for a growing female dancer.

Let’s face it: how many of us dancers actually consume three full well-balanced meals a day?

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, running from one dance class or performance to another, barely taking a moment for a snack. Now that Nutcracker season has come to an end and the New Year has begun, it’s a good time for reflection and healthy resolutions.

Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Are you providing your body enough fuel to keep up with your activity?

  • Does your food give you enough nutrients to build strong muscles and bones to help avoid injuries?

  • Do you choose foods that help you meet the physical demands you place on your body?

We all know that energy is what fuels the body and gives power, strength and endurance to train and perform. Energy is created from the food we eat: we call this energy intake. When energy intake fails to provide and replace the energy needed for exercise (i.e. dancing), then the body falls into a state of energy deficit. This leaves the body to make decisions about which functions are more important than others. Unfortunately, with continued demands, this causes a decline in performance and injuries.

Every dancer should learn to manage her energy availability, or the amount of dietary energy left to support and keep our bodies functioning at top notch. Here’s the simple equation:

(Energy intake) – (Energy for exercise) = (Energy available for general health)

Dancers are at an increased risk for having low energy availability due to the amount of energy we expend. Most importantly, having low energy availability can have negative effects on the health of our bones, reproductive system and heart. The combination of these conditions is known as the female athlete triad and though the components are treatable, they are also preventable. A well-balanced diet and regular visits with your primary doctor are essential steps for injury prevention for all athletes.

Dancers should pay special attention to their bodies regarding:

  • Response to increased training frequency and duration

  • Injury patterns and full recovery

  • Regularity of menstrual cycle

So, in this New Year, make an extra effort to be good to your body and not fall into a state of energy deficit. If you have a history of recurrent stress fractures or stress injuries, menstrual irregularities, prolonged fatigue, unintentional weight loss or you’re worried that you may have a component of the female athlete triad, make sure you discuss these concerns with your physician or a sports medicine expert.

Dr. Jane S. Chung

After her pediatrics residency, she completed a fellowship in Pediatric Sports Medicine at the Case Medical Center, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. She is board-certified in Pediatric Medicine and Sports Medicine. Among other professional groups, she is a member of the Female Athlete Triad Coalition, a national organization collaborating to establish best practices in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the condition. At Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children Sports Medicine[BS4] , Dr. Chung provides comprehensive care for young and growing athletes including concussion management, care for musculoskeletal injuries and she has a particular interest in helping with problems affecting female athletes.

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