Even though it's still summer, audition season will be here before you know it. The goal is to look, dance and feel your best when auditions roll around. You're likely focused on improving as a dancer technically and artistically, but aesthetics are (unfortunately) something companies will consider as well. To look your best, healthfully and mindfully crafted body goals will make a world of difference.
Most commonly consumed as a powdery spice, turmeric has seen a recent spike in popularity but has been used in Indian and other Asian cuisines and natural medicine for centuries. Today, it's often consumed as a natural anti-inflammatory and a dietary supplement for a variety of medical conditions. Comparable to ginger, turmeric tastes warm and peppery. (It has a slight kick, so a little goes a long way.)
Forget the heart-shaped box of chocolates. There's a healthier way to satisfy your sweet tooth for Valentine's Day. One tablespoon of cocoa powder will add a touch of chocolatey richness to your morning bowl of oatmeal or yogurt—and offers these nutritional perks:
Should I turn down an apprenticeship to finish my dance degree, or should I put my education on pause? —Ashleigh
Congratulations on receiving an apprenticeship offer! They don't come every day. If you think you're ready for company life, and will be full of regrets if you turn the offer down, you can always resume school later. However, make sure you know what the position entails.
Not all apprenticeships are paid, and there's no guarantee that you'll be promoted to the company's corps de ballet at season's end. Are you comfortable entering the dance world without the security of a college degree? And are you motivated enough to return to school if you put your education on pause now?
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.
Think fast: Would you like a few more degrees of turnout? If your answer is a resounding “yes" (perhaps even punctuated by a grand jeté), you're not alone. Although natural turnout is largely dictated by the anatomy of your femur and hip socket, if your turnout muscles are weak, you could be missing out on those highly coveted extra degrees of rotation.
But there's good news: According to Shannon Casati, a former Miami City Ballet dancer who's now a physical therapist assistant at Reavis Rehab and Wellness Center in Round Rock, Texas, strengthening the muscle groups that aid in external rotation and hip stabilization, such as the inner thighs, glutes and piriformis, can make a difference. Casati recommends these three exercises to help you access your full turnout. Try them daily after warming up, or two to three times a week when your rehearsal or performance schedule is intense.
- a Thera-Band
- a soft, soccer-sized ball
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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.
You want to fuel yourself with foods that will give you the energy and nutrients you need to dance your best, but with all the conflicting information out there, it can be hard to figure out what's actually healthy. Last year, we found out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would be giving the classic Nutrition Facts food label a makeover, to make labels more accurate and easier to understand. The FDA finalized the new label last week, and announced that the new label is expected to be on most packaged foods by July 2018.
We broke down the biggest changes so you'll know what to expect on your future trips to the grocery store:
1. Serving sizes. On the new label, serving sizes reflect what a person is actually likely to consume in one sitting. For example, both 12 oz and 20 oz drinks will now be considered one serving (as opposed to listing 20 oz bottles as multiple servings).
2. Calories. The number of calories is now displayed in larger font, making it easier to find. "Calories from fat" has been deleted, to acknowledge the fact that there are healthy fats, too.
3. The new "added sugars" line. This will show how much sugar has been added to the food, and will include the percent daily value it makes up out of a 2,000 calorie diet.
4. New nutrients. Labels will now be required to list the amount of Vitamin D (to help you develop strong bones) and potassium (which reduces muscle cramps).
What kinds of foods should I eat for sustained energy? I don't want to be weighed down, but I can't dance when I'm hungry, either. —Cecilia
The only thing worse than dancing hungry is dancing with a bowling ball feeling in your stomach after lunch. The key is nutritionally balanced, well-timed eating habits.
For on-the-go dancers, iron is a must. Without enough of the mineral, it can lead to fatigue and a lowered immune function. That's why stocking your fridge with iron-rich foods is so important.
But it doesn't stop there. You should also make sure that other healthy habits, like drinking tea, aren't hampering your body's ability to absorb iron. According to research from the journal Food Science and Nutrition, micronutrients in tea, known as polyphenols, have been shown to limit iron absorption to a certain extent. However, Emily C. Harrison, a dietitian at Atlanta Ballet's Centre for Dance Nutrition, says that there are some dietary strategies that can improve iron absorption in healthy, tea-drinking dancers. Here are her top nutritional tips: