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Sports nutrition: How to get the energy for performance

Whether you are a dancer, gymnast, or runner, sports nutrition plays a very important role in optimizing the beneficial effects of your physical activity. You can enjoy different advantages like better performance, injury prevention, and quick recovery if you make the right decisions with your hydration and nutrition.

To support your health and goals there are different types of sports nutrition to include in your diet. As a dancer you have to assure that you consume a healthy and balanced mix of foods that will keep your strong during training and capable of giving the best performance.

What are the three main sources of energy?

Today we are going to explore some of the important elements of the dancers’ diet that provide fuel for performance. Support your training sessions with the following three energy nutrients:

Carbohydrates

The first and most important nutrient that dancers should include in their daily nutrition plan is carbohydrates. Some dancers may consider carbs dangerous because they can increase their weight, making them think that they will not be capable of maintaining their figure. That is not quite true. While some excessive carbs do get stored as fat, they are a crucial source of energy for your body and irreplaceable in the post-exercise recovery process. Your body stores most carbs you eat in the form of glycogen, along with quite a lot of water – almost three grams of water for each gram of glycogen. So if you notice an increase in your weight after eating carbs, it is mostly not due to the fat, but rather to the water.

One thing to pay attention to when eating carbs is the GI (Glycemic Index) which stands for the amount of increase in the blood glucose levels after eating certain foods. It’s a good idea to avoid foods with a very high GI (such as sugar, white bread) as they contribute to the risk of diabetes and obesity. Your go-to food should be rich in carbs and low in GI, such as whole-grain breads, fruit, many grains (especially barley, oats, quinoa), and – surprisingly enough – pasta.

Fats

Good fats are essential for a healthy body. Some vitamins (such as A, D, E) need to first dissolve in fat in order for the body to be able to absorb them. Fats are also a great source of energy for performance – it is recommended that up to one-third of our calories come from fats. Aim primarily for healthy (unsaturated) fats, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, or salmon.

In addition, dietitians advise to limit the saturated fats found in animal products and some vegetable oils (coconut and palm) to under 10% of your total calories.

But most important, do watch out for the artificial trans fats that are nowadays used widely in fried and baked products, sweets and snacks. In the ingredients lists the trans fats often hide behind the words “(partially) hydrogenated oil” – if you see this phrase, it’s a good idea to steer clear of the product.

Proteins

One of the most important nutrients that should be included in the dancer’s diet is proteins. Make sure to consume a healthy amount of proteins in the form of eggs, milk and cheese, fish, meat, and pulses (beans, peas, lentils). There are no side effects of proteins and your body needs them to repair the muscles after exercise, making you stronger and safer from injuries during the performance.

Where is energy stored?

Your body has several ways to store energy: As sugar in the blood immediately after eating, as glycogen in muscles and liver, as protein in muscles, and as fat.

As your muscles and liver can only store a certain amount of glycogen (100 grams in liver and 500 grams in the muscles for an average person), all carbs that are consumed beyond this amount are stored in the adipose (fat) tissues of the body.

How does the body use nutrition to produce energy?

A common question that most of the dancers and athletes ask is how the body derives its energy from foods we ingest daily.

Carbs, fats, and proteins have energy trapped within the bonds between the atoms that they consist of. This energy is released when the foods are broken down into their basic components. Some of the energy is conserved and used to make a high-energy molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), while the rest of the energy is lost as heat. ATP, considered to be the energy currency of life, is the body’s direct source of energy that keeps everything going. When you want to use your muscles to move and perform, your body cells break down the ATP molecules to release energy.

sports nutrition: energy sources for dancers

As the very first source, your body uses the sugar in your blood – which is a bit like starting your car in a low gear: It gives immediate access to energy, but is very inefficient (a lot of it is lost as heat). Once that is used, you’ll be using a mixture of glycogen from your muscles and liver, along with fats and sometimes even proteins of your muscles. In general, the higher the intensity of the exercise, the more energy will come from glycogen compared to fat. Always keep in mind that fat requires longer time and lots of oxygen to be converted to energy. It means, if you deplete your glycogen resources and continue to exercise at a high rate without refuelling, your body will start breaking down your muscles to generate energy.

Sources:

  • Bean, A. (2017). The complete guide to sports nutrition. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Van Loon, L. J., Greenhaff, P. L., Constantin-Teodosiu, D., Saris, W. H., & Wagenmakers, A. J. (2001). The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans. The Journal of physiology, 536(Pt 1), 295.
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