Everything You Need to Know About Probiotics

Did you know that, right now, there's a big party happening in your gastrointestinal tract, with billions of bacteria? It's known as your microbiome, and it's filled with both healthy and unhealthy bacteria, including probiotics—a healthy kind that can provide your dancer bod with a bevy of benefits. Dance Spirit turned to Tiffany Mendell, MS, RDN, CDN, of Lara Metz Nutrition in NYC, for a crash course on all things probiotic, and the best ways to incorporate them into your diet.

What Are Probiotics (and Prebiotics)?

"Probiotics are the good guys—bacteria that help in everything from aiding digestion to synthesizing vitamins like vitamin K, which is essential for strong bones," says Mendell. "They also play a key role in your immune system by maintaining a protective layer around the GI tract, which prevents toxins from entering the bloodstream." Prebiotics are "basically the food for probiotics," Mendell explains. They help sustain the population of probiotics in your gut.

Where Can I Get Them?

"The best way to incorporate probiotics into your routine is through food itself," Mendell says. You can find probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, tempeh, or kombucha. When it comes to prebiotics, reach for fiber-filled foods like oats, leeks, asparagus, garlic, onions, or bananas. Mendell stresses that "while all prebiotics contain fiber, not all fiber is prebiotic."

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Wondering how to include these foods in your diet? Mendell suggests the following: "Oatmeal with nuts and berries for breakfast; a salad with tempeh, steamed leeks, and gouda cheese for lunch; yogurt and a banana for a pre-rehearsal snack; and a turkey burger with pickles, sweet potato, and asparagus for a post-performance dinner."

What's Up with Supplements?

Supplements are sold over-the-counter, but Mendell advises getting probiotics through food when you can. "However, taking a probiotic supplement when you're on antibiotics for an illness is fine, though it's important to consult your doctor first," she says. That's because antibiotics not only help kill the unhealthy bacteria in your system, they also wipe out all the good bacteria in the process. Supplements help to replenish it.

How Can They Help My Dancing?

There's nothing worse than having to make it through a tough class while feeling bloated and uncomfortable. "If you're prone to gastrointestinal issues, increasing your intake of pre- and probiotic-rich foods can promote a healthy GI tract," Mendell says. Additionally, probiotics play a key role in your immune system, and can help stave off every dancer's winter nemesis: the common cold.

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Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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