It started with a weekly tradition among friends. "We have Mondays off, so we would do P+P—paella and poker," says San Francisco Ballet corps member Diego Cruz. After nearly ten years honing home-country recipes, Cruz and his co-founder, former SFB principal dancer Rubén Martín Cintas, decided to take their cooking skills commercial in July 2017. Today, Paellas & Cos can barely keep up with their client demand on two coasts: San Francisco's Bay Area and Washington DC, where Cintas recently relocated to serve as Ballet Master for The Washington Ballet.
They say injury can be a great teacher: When Texas Ballet Theater dancer Carolyn Judson was sidelined with a back injury in 2007, her interest in health piqued. “I wondered how I could heal myself, so I began to research and read,” she says. “I was amazed at what I found. I turned to food that reduced pain and inflammation.” She credits the dietary changes she made, in addition to getting introduced to Gyrotonic, with helping her recover more quickly.
As time went on, Judson decided to expand her education. She enrolled in an online health coach training program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, graduating in 2013. “I would come home from rehearsal and go right to class. The program also covered how to start up a business.” Judson has since built her own website, which features many of her popular recipes. See below for her healthy veggie tacos!
Serves 3 to 5.
3 zucchini squash, ends trimmed, cut lengthwise
3 carrots, peeled
1 sweet potato, peeled, cut lengthwise
1 onion, peeled, cut into quarters
1 15-ounce can black beans
crumbled feta cheese
juice from 1 lime
1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil
salsa or hot sauce (optional)
- Grate the vegetables in a food processor, keeping each one separate after grating.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium pan and add the onion, carrots and sweet potato. Add a pinch or two of salt. Once they begin to soften, add the zucchini. Meanwhile, heat your canned black beans in a small sauce pan.
- Place the cooked vegetables on top of your tortillas. Top with beans, sliced avocado, crumbled feta cheese, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Serve with salsa or hot sauce. Enjoy!
Here are a few to get you started:
Apples: Aside from the fun of going on an apple-picking trip, the fruit is a good source of fiber and the antioxidant quercetin, which improves endurance. There are thousands of varieties to choose from, each with their own unique benefits.
Pumpkins: Basically the poster-child for the fall season, pumpkins also have tons of health benefits. One cup contains 11 percent of the fiber you need daily, and plenty of potassium, which helps keep your muscles strong and prevents cramping. Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium—important for energy production and bone development.
Like many dancers, New York City Ballet soloist Antonio Carmena is constantly looking for ways to help his body run more efficiently. After watching a documentary about juice cleansing this March, Carmena decided to try his own three-day version during the last week of the company’s season. “I wasn’t trying to lose weight,” he says. “I just wanted to restart my body.”
Attempting to be as healthy as possible, Carmena created his own juices from spinach, kale, cucumbers and squash, occasionally throwing in berries, ginger or grapefruit. On the first day, he felt hungry but also more hydrated. By day two, though, he’d become stressed-out, and noticed that he had far less energy in rehearsal. “I felt weak, and couldn’t push as hard,” he says. “I realized a juice cleanse isn’t good while you’re dancing.”
Juice cleansing or fasting—where people drink only fruit and vegetable juice while avoiding solid foods—has been used in religious and cultural rituals since the Old Testament days. Dieters have co-opted the practice because it offers a quick way to drop pounds on a short-term basis, and some alternative-medicine practitioners believe that giving the body a break from solid foods allows it to focus on healing. Today, the fresh juice business, including premade juice cleanses, has become a $5 billion industry.
Dancing on the Diet
Juicing has gained traction among dancers. Some view it as an opportunity to get in top aesthetic form before an audition or performance. Others, like Carmena, see it as a chance to detox, although few scientific studies have tested that idea. The deluge of fluids, vitamins and minerals is also appealing to health-conscious perfectionists: All of those berries, citrus fruits and leafy greens can load the body up on antioxidants.
But an all-juice diet has serious consequences. Juices lack protein, digestion-enhancing fiber and healthy fat, and don’t include the combinations of elements that help your body take advantage of the health benefits of fruits and veggies. “Nutrients need to be in certain forms to be digested and enter the bloodstream,” explains Rebecca Dietzel, a biochemist in private practice in nutritional counseling. “Calcium from kale, for example, can’t get into its ionized form when it’s put through the juicer.”
What’s more, juice cleanses rarely offer substantial calories, causing a host of problems. Within 48 hours of starting a juice cleanse, your body is forced to burn muscle mass for energy, says Joy Dubost, PhD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You’re losing essential nutrients and electrolytes,” she says, “which over time can affect the rhythm of your heart and cause muscle cramps.” Thinking it’s experiencing a famine, your body goes into a state of panic, and inflammation increases, making chronic injuries like tendonitis worse. “Your brain also says, ‘Let’s turn down any nonessential processes so we can conserve fuel,’ ” says Dietzel. “That includes hormone production and healing processes, both essential to dancers.”
Then why do so many dancers say that juicing makes them feel great? “It’s often because dancers are usually dehydrated, and during a juice cleanse they finally get the fluids their bodies crave,” says Dietzel, who adds that you can get the same effect by drinking adequate water. Some cleansers even feel euphoric after a few days. But this isn’t the result of improved health; it’s because the body has started dumping opiate-like hormones into the system to protect you from noticing that you’re “starving.”
The aftereffects of a juice cleanse can also backfire. Most dancers gain weight when they return to solid foods because they’ve slowed down their metabolism. “You’ve programmed your body to store fat; it thinks it needs to save fuel,” says Dietzel. Because your body has turned down the production of digestive enzymes, it also takes a few days to restart that process, making you feel sluggish and tired after eating.
A Smarter Cleanse
Not all of the principles of a juice cleanse are inherently misguided. Cutting out artificially processed foods in favor of fresh produce can be a healthy choice. If you’re interested in the idea of rebooting your diet, Dietzel suggests spending one day drinking lots of water and eating only fruits and veggies (a large variety). “You’ll get more hydrated, give your liver a break from fat metabolism and get a wide range of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds,” she says. “Plus, all that fiber supports intestinal and colon health by absorbing toxic compounds in the intestine and helping to create a healthy bowel movement.” However, she warns, just like a juice fast, this one-day diet doesn’t offer enough energy to fuel a full day of dance rehearsals. Only try it on a day off.
For the long term, incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains with high fiber into your diet and drinking more water will keep your body on track. That way, you won’t need to resort to drastic cleanses in order to hit a risky “reset” button.
Originally published in the August/September 2013 issue of Pointe.
Whether you're heading off to a summer intensive or loading up on classes at your hometown studio, buying fresh and seasonal produce is a great way to get the fuel you need for dancing. Fruits and veggies are tastier (and often cheaper) when they're in season, since they are more locally abundant and don't have to be shipped from far away.
Fish: Oily fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help fight harmful inflammation. One study in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that omega-3s may help to reduce anxiety as well—this can also strengthen the immune system.
Have a question? Click here to send it to Amy and she might answer it in an upcoming issue!
What do you eat? I never know what to eat when I have super busy days of classes and rehearsals and don’t have time for a real meal. I feel like I always end up eating a box of cereal all day or something. Daniella, 18, NY
I have a lot of days like this, too. What I like to do is pack a variety of portable snacks to eat during my five-minute breaks. For instance, I might bring a yogurt, a banana, a hard-boiled egg, a sandwich and a granola bar and space them out over the course of the day. That way, I can eat something quickly and still keep my energy up.
Peggy Swistak, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutrition Consultant, says, “The number one thing is to eat a good breakfast. When you have a heavy dance schedule, it may be the only real meal you’ll have time for all day.” She recommends your breakfast include whole grains, fruit and protein like eggs, yogurt or peanut butter on toast.
Swistak agrees that dancers on the run should keep healthy snacks on hand throughout the day. Instead of only munching on cereal, try eating a variety of foods to ensure you’re getting enough carbohydrates (which replace glycogen in the muscles) and protein (which will make you feel satisfied for a longer time). Sometimes this takes some pre-planning. Here are some foods Swistak recommends for the next time you go to the grocery store:
Fruits, Vegetables, Cheese, Pita Bread with Hummus or Bean Dip, Trail Mix, Graham Crackers, Small Cans of Tuna, Popcorn (no extra butter), Peanut Butter and Crackers, Yogurt, Soup, Hard Boiled Eggs, Nuts
Remember to drink plenty of liquids, like water, juice or milk to prevent dehydration, and to avoid sugary foods like candy and soda, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike then crash.