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  • Karin Hosenfeld MS, RD, CSSD, LD

3 Nutrition Mistakes Dancers Make

Today I've got Karin Hosenfeld writing for me - a nutritionist who's worked with the Olympic gymnastics team, professional hockey players, and oh yes, lots of dancers! Karin's great at approaching dancers as athletes and helping you fuel yourself efficiently. Here's what she's got to say -

Long hours in the studio, workshops, rehearsals, and performance days can all lead to random eating patterns and long hours without eating or drinking. In my practice, I’ve worked one on one with dozens upon dozens of dancers who exhibit the same patterns. Most of this is driven by two things: a lack of planning (and understanding of just what to have on hand) and most importantly a desire to feel light on the feet, not weighed down by some heavy meal or fluids sloshing around while trying to perform.

There are two things I’m looking to prevent or fix with this kind of varied eating. First is loss of muscle tone. Second is nutrient deficiencies coupled with low energy levels that can lead to repetitive stress injuries and even bone fractures. Unfortunately, it is usually after an injury that a dancer is referred to a dietitian. So, let me help you correct some of these issues now before they happen.

1) Not getting enough protein

When people think protein, images of weight lifters and body builders come to mind. For dancers, focusing on protein at each meal and snack becomes vital for maintaining one of your most important assets: your muscle tone. Muscle wasting in dancers is most commonly caused by not taking in enough daily calories. This can lead to slow general weakening -especially of the legs and arms. There’s not a dancer I know who wants to be sidelined for weeks on end to recover from an injury. This can be avoided by focusing on what your muscles need to avoid breakdown and to stay strong. What’s a dancer to do?

  • Start your day with at least 20 grams of protein

  • Drink a protein smoothie. Mix unsweetened protein powder with unsweetened almond milk and 1 tablespoon of your favorite natural nut butter. Blend and enjoy.

  • Make a “to go” egg muffin: in a small, flat bowl crack two eggs. Pierce the yolks with a fork several times (to prevent yolks from exploding), add 1 tsp of water, cover with a paper towel and microwave 45-50 seconds. If longer is needed, add 10 seconds at a time until done. Add salt and pepper to taste and a slice of cheese if desired. Place cooked eggs and cheese on whole wheat english muffin.

  • If you love oatmeal for breakfast, make it high protein. Prepare as usual but add a little extra water or milk before microwaving. After microwaving, sprinkle in half a scoop of protein powder along with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter. Stir. Add more liquid if needed. Enjoy these 20 grams of protein to start your day!

  • Choose protein at every snack

Some suggestions: beef, chicken or turkey jerky. Hard boiled egg, small vacuum- packed tuna pouch, 1 scoop of protein powder in water, protein bar, nut butter pouch. All are good choices to keep around and to travel with. Tip: keep snack and sandwich baggies handy at home to pack food ahead of time.

  • End your day with protein Recent studies show that consuming protein at night before bedtime helps prevent muscle breakdown while you sleep. A simple half sandwich with 3 slices of turkey on wheat bread has almost 20 grams of protein, an excuse to sneak more protein in your day and something that could be highly beneficial for your muscles.

2) Improper food pairing

If I had a dime for every time someone tells me they have a piece of fruit for a snack… Most people believe fruit is healthy, but it can raise your blood sugar fast. You feel good for maybe 30 minutes, but what goes up must come down and suddenly your blood sugar and therefore energy level is crashing during a long rehearsal full of grande jetés. Not good.

  • Pair your fruit (preferably berries which are lower in sugar) with a protein. See examples for protein options above.

  • Choose foods higher in fiber and pair these with proteins. Fiber helps keep blood sugar stable, which means you will have better energy longer. Confused about fiber? Look at the Nutrition Facts Label on a food and if it has 10% or more dietary fiber, it’s a good choice.

  • For snacks, stick with around 15-20 grams of protein and pair it with the healthy carbs (low sugar, high fiber) mentioned above. A great way to find out if your food meets this criteria is to download the free app “CalorieKing”. I’ve used this for years with hundreds of clients. It’s quick to look up almost any kind of food item and there are many restaurant foods for when you are traveling. Plan ahead!

  • Always pair your snacks with at least a few ounces of water (1 ounce = 1 gulp). Every break even without food should include at least a couple sips of water.

3) Going long hours without fueling

What dancers don’t know is that they are not alone in not wanting to rehearse or perform on a full, heavy stomach and they are not alone in going long periods of time inadequately fueling. These aren’t unique problems to dancers. Many athletes are in the same position.

For the last 6 years, in my practice, I’ve been recommending an all natural food product that can provide steady energy for hours on end with no spike in blood sugar and no crash. It was originally created for infants with a rare low blood sugar disease even just so they could sleep through the night without their blood sugar crashing. This specially formulated slow release carbohydrate can help the rest of us too. It stabilizes blood sugars and energy levels for approximately 90-120 minutes of moderate activity.

I found out about this food product myself from another sports dietitian before it was available to the public. I was interested in it because I suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and I have very little tolerance to food when exercising (double whammy!). Generation UCAN as it is called, helps immensely with both these issues. Full disclosure: after putting my name behind this product for years to almost every single person I’ve counseled, I called the company and asked to work for them. In my position, I now get to change even more people’s lives with this remarkable product. It’s all natural, less processed than oatmeal, and is a real game changer for anyone looking for steady energy.

Jennifer adds: Karin has counseled me over the years and recommended UCAN to me for my hypoglycemia and performance energy needs. I'm a big fan of whole foods whenever possible, but agreed to try this line and used it while hiking all over the Southwest. It made a believer out of me and now I have it on hand for long teaching days (in addition to a variety of snacks such as she mentions above), and have recommended it to some of my dancers. WHICH IS WHY I ASKED KARIN TO DO A GIVEAWAY HERE! Read on -

Jennifer has asked me to do a special product give away for you to try it for yourself. Because you may spend extended hours per day in the studio, weeks at a time, and months on end without breaks, you owe it to yourself to try something that will provide you with the steady energy your body needs. One lucky dancer will get a Fitness Box and shaker bottle to try out! Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. You can enter at this link here: Rafflecopter UCAN giveaway. The giveaway ends 11/27 at 12 am.

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