So with just a few days left until our show, thoughts turn to final preparations for the day. One of our top considerations must be how to refuel our body so that we have enough energy to perform. I have asked Alicia Gurner, one of my adult dancers who is also a Registered Associate Nutritionist, for her advice on the best things to eat and drink so that we can perform at our best.
While films and newspaper headlines may have us all believe that professional dancers stick rigidly to a daily diet of a few grapes, a lettuce leaf, and endless amounts of black coffee, this is far from reality. Interviews with dietitians for major dance schools have shown that their advice is actually far more like the everyday healthy eating advice that we all hear, with a few areas emphasised. For us here at Dance Dynamic, who perform on stage once every 2 years rather than 8 times a week, this more realistic advice is what we should be following, particularly on our Show day.
The key is to keep energy levels high throughout the day; lots of dancing, quick changes and nervous energy means you need to keep your body and mind performing at their very best. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, as although these may appear to increase your energy levels at first, this will be shortly followed by a sudden “crash” and a reduction in concentration… definitely not what you need during the Show! Eating smaller, fibre-rich meals will give you the essential carbohydrates you need for a steady, slow release of energy and will help to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Protein is also important when considering exercise, as your body uses it to build and repair muscle tissue. Whilst a lack of protein is very unlikely in the modern Western diet, it is good to ensure you’ve consumed some protein rich foods to help with your recovery post-exercise. In addition, while fats are often portrayed negatively, your body needs a certain amount of “healthy” fats to be able to function normally. Essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3, are found in many foods including eggs, oily fish and nuts. They have been shown to improve cognitive function in children, including their ability to learn and memorise, which is of course essential for dance.
You want to start your Show day off on the right foot, so for breakfast you could consider a fibre and protein-rich breakfast of wholemeal toast topped with scrambled egg, or perhaps peanut butter (one without palm oil and all the nasties… the fewer ingredients listed on the jar, the better!). For fans of breakfast cereals, which often contain more added sugar than you would think, you might want to try a higher fibre alternative. Studies have shown that high fibre breakfasts significantly reduce fatigue and increase energy levels, whilst also keeping hunger at bay. As an alternative to traditional breakfast cereals, why not try porridge or granola topped with yoghurt, plus some berries and honey for added flavour.
For lunch, something small but again fibre and protein-rich will be perfect – the Show will be starting shortly after lunchtime, so you don’t want to be too full! Something convenient to pack in a lunchbox and easy to eat will also be ideal. You could try a wholemeal bread sandwich or wrap with your favourite healthy filling, or a wholemeal pasta salad with plenty of vegetables. And you can’t go wrong with my particular favourite - a pot of houmous and some vegetable sticks. If you want something sweet for after, try going for a yoghurt or whole piece of fruit. Save those naughty, chocolatey snacks as a special treat for after the Show!
Small snacks between dances or during the interval will help to keep those energy levels up. Nuts and dried or fresh fruit are perfect as they’re very easy to prepare and eat. Cereal bars (the more natural, additive-free ones) are also great to nibble on. Consumption of carbohydrates during exercise has been shown to improve endurance, as well as replenishing your body’s energy stores as they’re being used.
A final area of importance is staying hydrated. Make sure you have a bottle of water with you and drink plenty of water between dances to replace the fluid you lose during exercise. This will help you to feel more awake, be able to better regulate your body temperature, and help to prevent cramp. Mild dehydration can also affect your focus and memory, which won’t help when trying to remember all those dances!
Finally, the most important thing is to have fun! Taking part in a Show is very exciting and rewarding, and proper nutrition will help your body to feel at its very best while performing to all your friends and family. Make sure to arrive prepared for the day, enjoy yourselves, and don’t forget to smile!