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Detox for the Dancer

With all the literature floating around on the internet, you might be forgiven for thinking that detox is a modern invention. In fact, detox has been practiced for centuries by many different cultures, and the ayurvedic and Chinese medicine systems all place great value on detoxifying the body. But what are toxins and where do they come from?

Toxins Harm the Body

Toxins are natural or artificial chemicals that have been found to have a harmful effect on the interior or exterior of the body. They come from:

  • The food we eat
  • The fluids we drink
  • The air we breathe
  • Physical contact with the skin
  • Micro-organisms
  • Stress

Many people now believe that certain additives in food (e.g. colourings, MSG and aspartame) are harmful to the body, although there is plenty of debate about exactly what is harmful and how bad it is for us. Pesticides, insecticides, heavy metals (e.g. mercury) and other toxic chemicals can also leech into food, while micro-organisms on food that hasn’t been stored safely can reproduce in enough numbers to cause food poisoning. It’s not just about the food we ingest: a low fibre diet increases the risk of constipation, allowing harmful micro-organisms to multiply within the intestines, while certain foods can break down into toxic substances like the infamous free radicals that damage cells.

In terms of fluid, water can be contaminated with all sorts of toxins, from ammonia and chlorine to Prozac! Alcohol is another toxin; its bi-products concentrate in cell membranes and affect the functioning of the body.

Air pollution includes carbon monoxide, a deadly gas created when fuel is burned without adequate oxygen, and methane. Our air is polluted in many ways: factories, cars and even smokers release toxins into the air.

Some toxins have an effect simply by being in contact with the skin, while stress itself can cause excessive amounts of certain hormones to be released into the blood. Not only are these toxic in themselves, they also slow down the action of detoxification enzymes in the liver.

The Symptoms of Toxic Accumulation

Apart from the severe symptoms associated with food poisoning and other acute instances of exposure to toxins (yes – including a hangover!), the need for a detox may be signified by chronic lack of energy, regular colds, aches and pains, mood swings and poor digestion.

How Your Body Cleans Itself

Although the liver is one of the main organs involved in detoxification (removing toxins from the blood), the body works as a unit to cleanse itself. The lungs, skin, white blood cells and intestines all work together to break down and expel harmful substances from the body. Unfortunately, there is only a certain amount of toxins that can be removed by the body itself and those that remain cause untold harm to the body. With humans having added over 120,000 chemicals to the environment and fresh natural food giving way to processed convenience varieties, there is simply too much for the body to handle.

How to Detox

Fasting, or changing to a liquid diet, can take the burden off an overworked digestive system, helping it to cleanse itself, but this should not be done to extreme and it is wise to consult your GP if you plan to significantly alter your diet. Abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes, refined sugars, saturated fats and other stimulating substances (e.g. caffeine) will benefit your system as you cut down on the amount of toxins entering your body. Keeping water levels high will also help to cleanse the system. Household cleaning and personal care products may also be toxic so consider switching to natural alternatives.

There are also lots of specialist detox diets on the internet and in health publications. Some recommend high amounts of fibre to scrape the intestines clear, while others include foods thought to have purifying properties. Some diets focus on particular organs, for example the liver, while others provide a more general detox. While some diets are backed by the latest research, others are more theory-based, so use your own judgement when choosing one to follow. Bear in mind the advice in previous posts about a dancer’s energy requirements. If you plan to fast, you should do this at a time when you are not training or teaching (e.g. during a week off).

The skin can also be detoxed: Saunas and ‘hot yoga’ are designed to increase the rate of perspiration, while skin-brushing removes toxins from the surface of the skin. Try out yoga, meditation and qigong if you have problems with relaxation.

Street Fit®, along with any other high-paced exercise workout, is itself a fun, effective way to detox – one of the best methods to follow! With your lungs and circulation working faster, toxins are removed more quickly from the body, while perspiration helps to cleanse the skin.

If you have some spare cash you might opt for one of the more luxury detox aids out there, for example colonic irrigation, a body wrap, massage or a facial. Some spars and retreats even offer specialised dietary and exercise advice.

Moving on:  staying clear of toxins

Whilst a certain amount of toxins are inevitable (and can easily be dealt with by a healthy adult’s body), consider implementing the following lifestyle changes:

1.       Increase fibre content

Buy organic fruit and veg (which will also have less exposure to pesticides) and substitute white for brown rice and bread.

2.       Care for your liver

A healthy liver is key to keeping clear of toxins. Protect it with herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion root and burdock. Try drinking green tea occasionally.

3.       Think C for cleansing

Vitamin C is involved in the production of glutathione in the liver, a compound which promotes detoxification. It is best to get your vitamin C from your diet rather than as a supplement.

4.       Breathe deeply

Deep breathing not only promotes relaxation, it aids in the flow of oxygen around the body.

5.       Exercise!

Fortunately for those in the street dance fitness industry, exercise is one of the best ways to detox, one more reason to kick out the couch and take up the Hip Hop Workout® habit!

Fuelling the Dancer’s Body

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.

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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.

Water

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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