To perform at peak levels, dancers need to be particularly mindful of how they fuel their bodies. They need to be sure they get not just enough food, but the nutrients required to build strong bones and muscles, a sturdy immune system and supple joints. When you're always on the move, it's easy to miss out on vital nutrients. Although dietary supplements may seem like an ideal shortcut to better nutrition, experts advise that they should never be considered as a replacement for healthy, whole foods. However, if chosen carefully, they may fill in nutritional gaps when combined with a balanced diet.

We spoke with several nutritionists about supplements and dancers' dietary needs. They shared their advice about essential nutrients and where to find them.


Food First

Their number-one piece of advice was food first. Eating nutrient-rich whole foods is the surest way to fuel a healthy body. "Nature's really smart. It packages a lot of vitamins and minerals in ways that our body best absorbs them," says registered dietitian-nutritionist Rachel Fine. Several factors contribute to a nutrient's bioavailability—broadly, how much will be absorbed and used by the body—including the nutrient's chemical form, interaction between nutrients and how the food was processed and prepared before consumption.

Fine stresses the importance of well-rounded meals with a mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, supported by supplements when necessary. She often recommends dancers take calcium and vitamin D supplements, which help with developing bone mass. She also suggests taking a multivitamin, which can help round out a healthy diet.

More Than Enough

That said, when taking supplements, there are some considerations. Many supplements contain well over the daily-required amount of a nutrient. Vitamin C, for example, can come at a dose of 500 mg or 1,000 mg in a supplement, while an orange offers around 70 mg. (The recommended daily intake for a female teenager is 65 mg.) Research suggests your body will not absorb and use all of the vitamin from a supplement. Vitamins found naturally in food are more readily absorbed because of the additional nutrients and chemicals in the food interacting with them.

Some researchers have raised concerns about the risks of toxicity when consuming too much of a given vitamin, which is something to consider when taking supplements. Vitamin D toxicity (which takes months of megadoses to build up—50,000 IUs daily) can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, weakness, frequent urination and possible kidney problems. Too much calcium may contribute to kidney stones in susceptible individuals and soft-tissue calcifications. DT

Knowledge Is Power—and Potency

You want supplements that contain what they say they do, and don't have extra, unknown ingredients. That doesn't mean you need to buy pricey brands. An expensive or organic label does not mean you can trust the ingredients any more than a generic brand. Instead, choose products that have been tested and approved by independent labs, like the following. Look for their labels on bottles or visit the company websites for a list of verified products.

• The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP)

• NSF International has a regular certification for supplements and a special one for sports products.

• ConsumerLab.com randomly tests supplements and reports their findings. They also keep a list of health warnings and recalls.

• Labdoor offers lists that rank brands of different supplements and explains what tests they conduct to determine quality.

Crucial Nutrients

There are certain nutrients a dancer should not go without. Here's where to find them and how much you should be getting.

CALCIUM is essential to bone density, especially for young dancers, who develop bone mass into their late teens and early 20s. "You're putting physical pressure on your bones," says dietitian-nutritionist Rachel Fine, who often recommends calcium supplements to dancers. "You want to make sure you're building strong bones and not risking one of the most common injuries for dancers: stress fractures." In food, calcium is available in dairy products, nuts, leafy greens and fish. Children (age 9 and up) and teens need 1,300 mg daily, and 1,000 mg for adults 19 to 50 (1,200 mg for women over 50 and men over 70). When taking a calcium supplement, it's best to take it with food, since the most commonly available form, calcium carbonate, relies on stomach acid for absorption.

VITAMIN D also contributes to bone health and is a commonly recommended supplement, since it's hard to get enough of it from food alone. Vitamin D is available in fatty fish like wild-caught mackerel, salmon and tuna, as well as in fortified milk and orange juice. And, of course, sunlight. (Fifteen minutes of sun exposure a day goes a long way.) Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means including healthy fats in meals is a must for maximum absorption. A supplement can help dancers reach their daily requirements: 400 to 800 IUs daily.

Females need to be particularly aware of IRON, because many young women have iron deficiency or anemia. The recommended daily allowance for premenopausal women is 18 mg, 33 mg if they are vegetarians. This is because there are two types of iron: heme, from meat, and nonheme, from plants and iron-fortified foods. Heme iron is more bioavailable than nonheme, and actually aids in the absorption of nonheme iron. Vegetarians need to make up for that disadvantage by consuming significantly more iron to ensure their bodies absorb enough. (Men and postmenopausal women require just 8 mg, 14 mg for vegetarians.) Iron is found in red meat, dark leafy greens, oatmeal, black beans and lentils. To increase absorption, add a vitamin C source, like citrus fruit, to a meal.

VITAMIN C ranks high on the list of nutrients for dancers because of its benefits for joint health. It is also essential for a functional immune system. You can take a supplement, but really there's no excuse for not getting enough vitamin C, since it's in many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, red and green bell peppers and cooked broccoli. Keep in mind, too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea.

Other beneficial nutrients for dancers include omega 3s, found in fatty fish, vegetable oils, leafy greens and nuts; phosphorus, from meat and milk; magnesium, found in rich supply in almonds and spinach; vitamin K, from spinach, broccoli and lettuce, as well as vegetable oils; and probiotics, found in yogurt with active cultures. Each is also available as a supplement.

If a dancer is unsure whether she's getting enough of a given nutrient, the website for the National Institutes of Health lists vitamin and nutrient content for lots of foods, and Fine recommends the site The World's Healthiest Foods, as well.

The following experts contributed to this article:

Rachel Fine, registered dietitian-nutritionist and founder of To the Pointe Nutrition

Dr. Susan Kleiner, owner of High Performance Nutrition in Seattle

Marie Scioscia, registered dietitian-nutritionist for The Ailey School

Heidi Skolnik, certified nutritionist and owner of Nutrition Conditioning

Andrea Marks is a freelance writer in New York City and former assistant editor of Dance Teacher.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're not prepared, studio picture day can be a real headache. But, if done right, it can provide you with gorgeous photos that will make your students and parents happy, while simultaneously providing you with marketing content you will be able to use for years to come.

Here are five tips that will help you pull off the day without a hitch.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via YouTube

In its 14 years of existence, YouTube has been home to a world of competition dance videos that we have all consumed with heedless pleasure. Every battement, pirouette and trendy move has been archived somewhere, and we are all very thankful.

We decided it was time DT did a deep dive through those years of footage to show you the evolution of competition dance since the early days of YouTube.

From 2005 to 2019, styles have shifted a whole lot. Check them out, and let us know over on our Facebook page what you think the biggest differences are!

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox