by Terez Lowry
Food directly affects mood, health and performance. With tech, dress rehearsals, run throughs and two performances on the horizon, what should you be doing nutrition-wise to feel healthy, stable and energized this week? Here’s some info on dancer nutrition I've pulled together that might be helpful:
Week before the performance:
Don’t try to drastically change your diet, lose weight, etc. Try to eat well balanced meals with plenty of carbohydrates to fuel your muscles, protein to build and repair them, and vitamins to keep your body functioning at it’s best. Aim for 8 glasses of water a day to keep your muscles and mind healthy.  To help your muscles recover quickly after rehearsals and run throughs, grab a dose of carbohydrates and protein within 40 minutes, and try to get a good amount of sleep. Getting food into the body after a workout will help prevent soreness, improve the recovery of muscles and tendons and encourage the growth of lean muscle tissue. 
Night before the performance:
Avoid processed food which will contain too much sodium and cause bloating. Skipping alcohol is a good idea as well. Slower muscle recovery, depleted water and nutrients, and disrupted sleep are just a few down sides.  The dietitian for the Houston Ballet recommends a dinner along the lines of grilled salmon, brown rice, steamed broccoli and fruit salad, with lots of water to drink. 
Morning of the Performance:
Dance nutrition experts mostly agree that the best approach to performance day nutrition is eating small meals throughout the day, starting with a substantial breakfast to get your body and mind fueled and ready to go. Breakfast options should be low on sugar and high on nutrients, such as oatmeal with fruit, plain greek yogurt, whole grain toast with peanut butter, or a smoothie with banana, spinach, blueberries and oj. The head trainer for the Rockettes recommends a spinach omelette with wheat toast.  Watch your caffeine intake, too much can leave you shaky and can heighten your anxiety.
Pay attention to what makes you feel bloated and heavy. Everyone can have sensitivity to different foods. Try limiting the amount of beans, lentils, broccoli, asparagus, soda and milk you eat on performance day. You might find you need to cut back on sorbitol - found in peaches, prunes, apples and pears. Or starchy foods like bread, cereal and pasta - rice is a good alternative. Watch out for swallowing air (aerophagia) by avoiding chewing gum, drinking soda or eating too quickly. 
Throughout the Day:
Make sure you DRINK FLUIDS. Staying hydrated is key to performing your best and preventing injury. Your muscles are brittle without water, and when you’re hydrated, they’re more pliable. Not to mention you’ll remember that choreography more easily and recover faster later.  Liquid energy boosters like oatmeal, smoothies, apple sauce, soup and gatorade are great because they are easy to digest and will empty your stomach quickly.
For optimum strength, put something in your stomach a couple hours prior to dancing. Trail mix, a banana with peanut butter, or yogurt are all good choices. Watch the labels on energy bars, you want nothing containing sugar alcohols, which tend to cause gas, cramping, bloating and diarrhea. The physician for the San Francisco Ballet says “White bread, white rice, and other junk foods break down so quickly that it’s almost like eating plain sugar. You get an insulin rush, and 15 minutes you’re left with less energy and you’re hungry again.”  So try switching out the donut for edamame, hummus on crackers, or nuts.
After the performance:
Within 40 minutes of performing, eat again to help your muscles repair and hydrate. Combine protein and carbohydrates to maximize your recovery. And feel fabulous because you made it!
Liked this article? You may also enjoy: Second-Day Soreness by Jessi Haggerty, RD.
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