How Food Fuels the Body

Do you know why you need to eat? I mean, beyond the basic knowledge that food helps you live? It’s not always something that our dancers and athletes think of as an important part of their training, but let me tell you, it makes a difference. Setting aside the fact that food can connect us to culture and social engagements, for athletes, food is the fuel that powers you through all the intense training and stress that our sport and performance puts us through. Making sure you are fueling your body properly helps you to be better equipped to last the long competition days, or throughout all those summer intensives that we have going on. Before anything you should understand the basics of how this works

The Basics

Our bodies are made up of a series of systems that work together to help us move, breathe and dance to our heart’s content. In order to function and do the basics of daily living, these systems use energy, also known as calories that break down into energy sources for our body to function, even when we aren’t doing anything at all – yep, even when you sleep or just lounge on the couch, our body systems still use those calories to keep us functioning. These calories come from our major food groups called macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Depending on your body size, muscle mass and how much activity you do in a day, the base amount of calories you’ll need will change, and the number only increases with the amount of training and dance classes you take. For the average teen pre-professional dancer, that number could easily be 2000+ calories a day to have enough energy just to do a basic week of classes (summer intensives not included).

This is something I could talk about forever, but let’s take the time to break it down for you and discuss some key reasons why you need to understand how food fuels the body:

Energy for Competition Days

Like I said, our bodies have a base number of calories that it wants to consume just to keep our systems functioning properly. When we increase the amount of work our systems are doing (for example, intense dance training and long competition days with 4 or 5 dance numbers) then our body needs to take in more energy (more food) to be able to keep up. We burn a LOT more calories on days when we do a lot of dancing, and especially on days that might be a little higher in stress than we’re used to – even you seasoned competition goers, mentally you might handle it better, but that doesn’t mean your body doesn’t still need the same level of care and calories!

Having those long days and schedules that aren’t always too predictable can make it challenging to even want to sit down and eat something – I get that. But having some quick snacks will help make your body happy and take you throughout the day.

Eating simple carbohydrates, like fruit juices, white bread and milk products is a good way to keep your energy levels up and make sure you have the right type of fuel for your body. Simple carbohydrates are easy to digest and gives you those simple sugars that have your muscles and brain happy and ready to go on stage ready to crush your final routine.

Save the complex carbohydrates like high fibre or starchy vegetables, whole grains and whole fruits for after the competition day is done. Our body will be better equipped to use these to replenish our energy stores with these, make the dancer feel more full and our system will be in a more relaxed state to properly digest all the nutrients in these foods instead of burning them all away.

Stamina for Long Classes

We are in the midst of summer right now and we know we’ve got those summer intensives taking up our days. Classes can be long and with not many breaks in between, so making sure you are fueling your body well before and after is key to make sure that you are supporting all your systems, including your muscles, heart and lungs so you can keep going and keep going the next day as well. The food you eat can make a big difference in maintaining your energy levels and stamina to make you feel less exhausted after the first class of the day. Not only this, but fueling your body well during class and having enough stamina will mean that you are not excessively burning calories after class, leading to excessive eating afterwards or worse, not feeling full, eating late and having a poor sleep that will risk your performance in class the next morning.

Having foods filled with healthy fats, like avocado, olive oil or full-fat yogurts will help with this. Fats are the bodies 2nd favourite energy source, after carbohydrates. Fats are what’s needed to last in physical activity training lasting longer than 90 minutes as our body switches to burning more fat so it save the carbohydrates for our brain and heart – which will only eat carbohydrates. Making sure we have enough healthy fats in our diet will help our other systems stay efficient, making sure our heart pumps enough blood to our muscle and lungs and keeps us strong enough to last the entire 8hr intensive day and the rest of the week after that.

Injury Recovery Process

We all know it’s honest to say, keeping up with the dancing we love, we are more prone to get an injury or two. Aside from the rest we know we need to help with healing, proper rehabilitation and the food we eat will also make the difference between getting back to class for the rest of the summer stronger than before, or dealing with chronic pain flareups for the rest of your dance season as well. One thing that a lot of dancers (and athletes in general) don’t realize is that the body starts burning more calories a day when we get injured. The damaged joints or muscles will use up the energy in our body to repair itself, so if we aren’t making sure to account for that when we are fueling for the day, we might not be giving ourself enough energy in total to get back and feel our strongest for the next class we take.

Proteins, like chicken, beans and eggs are best here, because those give us the building blocks for healthy tissue like muscles and tendons. Protein is commonly the macronutrient that dancers and athletes know about, but don’t actually get enough of on a regular basis. Not only will proteins also fill you up and make you more satisfied with your meal, but it helps you to heal from your injury that much faster because you are actively giving your body the pieces it needs to rebuild healthy muscles and joints instead of it taking from somewhere else in your body – so key when building a strong dancer.

Take away

Food fuels our body in order to keep us dancing as long as we need to, and it works together with the training you do on a daily and weekly basis. Your body needs calories to keep its systems going and the types of foods that turn into calories in your body are the game changers that influence your performance. Macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are what need to be focused on to make sure you are eating enough; they are what support you through your long competition and intensive days and while you recovery from injuries. Knowing when to eat which foods is a key part of knowing how your body works, and gets you one step closer to being the amazing dancer and performing athlete you know you are.

In Health and Wellness,


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