As a dance fitness instructor, your body is your livelihood. To cope with the physical and mental demands of high-level dance fitness performance, you need to ensure you provide your body with adequate quantities of nutritionally-balanced food.
This post explains what this means for the average, healthy dance instructor.
First of all, you have to eat enough; the energy demands of dance fitness (particularly street dance) are high, and as a guide an intake of 45-50 Kcal/kg for a woman, and 50-55 Kcal/kg for a man are typical.*
Your nutritional requirements can be divided into six types of nutrient: carbohydrate (55-65%), fat (20-30%), protein (12-15%), vitamins, minerals and water.
Glycogen: Your Muscles’ Energy Store
The reason you need so much carbohydrate (up to 65% for high-intensity work), is due to the way energy is utilised in the body. For energy production, our muscles make use of a substance called glycogen. Glycogen is built up from glucose (sugar) in the blood, and stored mainly in the liver and muscles. Clearly, there needs to be an adequate, steady supply of glucose in the blood for this process to take place.
Complex carbohydrates (which need to be broken down into sugars) are preferable to consuming sugar directly for two main reasons: complex carbohydrates also contain additional nutrients and they provide a steady supply of glucose, rather than the sudden surge that sugars do. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as cereal, rice, pasta and bread.
Carbohydrates should be consumed one to two hours before exercise but can be topped up during long performances by eating cereal bars or drinking sports drinks containing 6-8% carbohydrate content. Carbohydrates are best replenished within the two hours immediately following exercise, since this is when glycogen replacement happens fastest.
Fat: Keeping You Going
Despite its reputation, fat plays a crucial role in the body and you need about 1.2g/kg of body weight (although no more than 10% should be saturated fats). Adipose tissue (stored fat) is the primary reservoir of energy in the body and packs a whopping 9 calories* per gram. Once faster-burning glucose is exhausted, your muscles will turn to fat for fuel – this is good news if we carry a bit extra!
Fat also forms the structure of cell membranes, cushions the nerves and organs, and enables the fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K) to be absorbed.
Protein: Your Body’s Repair Mechanism
The process of exercising causes wear and tear to the muscle fibres, which require replacing. For this to happen, there must be adequate supplies of protein in the diet (1.4 to 1.6 g/kg of body weight). Chicken and turkey are great sources of lean protein, although vegetarians can obtain protein from other sources, including tofu, seitan, beans and rice.
Protein is also necessary for building enzymes, specific types of protein that carry out a variety of roles in chemical processes throughout the body.
Be cautious of commercial ‘protein powders’: many of these are no more effective than dry milk powder and considerably more expensive.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins can be either water soluble (the B vitamins and vitamin C), or fat-soluble (A,D,E and K). They provide a variety of functions that are vital to the functioning of a healthy body.
The B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and B6 are used in energy production, while folic acid and vitamin B12 are needed in red blood cell production (the blood cells that carry the oxygen to your musces).
Vitamins A, C and E are involved in body repair and recovery following a workout, while vitamin D is vital for healthy bones and vitamin K helps the blood to clot
Minerals are divided into macronutrients (needed in quantities in excess of 100mg a day) and micronutrients. Macronutrients include Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium. Calcium and Phosphorus are necessary for healthy bones, while Magnesium is important in a variety of processes from enzyme regulation to DNA building and muscle contraction.
Micronutrients include Iron and Zinc, which are both necessary for red blood cell production. Heme iron, from red meat, is easier to absorb, although non-heme iron, like that found in whole grains, can be absorbed more easily in the presence of vitamin C.
If you choose to supplement your diet with added vitamins and minerals, opt for those that do not exceed your daily recommended intake. An imbalance of vitamins and minerals can affect absorption and it is possible to overdose on some nutrients. Dietary control of vitamins and minerals is always better than taking tablets.
During a workout, you will be losing about two litres of water an hour via perspiration. Dehydration will impair your performance and slow your mind – not ideal when you have new choreography to learn! Aim to drink about 250ml water every fifteen minutes to keep fluid levels high. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty before taking in water: you will already be dehydrated by then.
Don’t substitute water for fizzy drinks: these actually leach water from the system, making you even more thirsty.
*Kcals and calories are used interchangeably in this article. Both are shortened forms of Kilocalories, the standard unit of stored energy.
Disclaimer: Although we have taken care to provide accurate information, the information above does not constitute professional dietary advice. Consult with your doctor or a dietician for more information.
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