Dancer Health

Miami City Ballet corps de ballet dancer Christina Spigner has always suffered from foot cramps. But the problem was especially troublesome during the company's 13-show run of Ballet Imperial, a hallmark of Balanchine's demanding choreography. “We're onstage for such a long time and not just standing and posing, but doing a lot physically," says Spigner. “My feet would cramp up and it was painful. That's a hard thing to recover from onstage."

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Photo by © Albuquerque

Energy Enhancers

Eat breakfast. This may seem like the oldest piece of nutrition advice, but it's also one of the hardest to follow. Skipping this meal really does make it hard to keep energy levels high during a full day of teaching. Breakfast should consist of carbs, protein and fiber. Traditional oatmeal (there's not much fiber in instant), yogurt and an orange (juice has little fiber) would be a healthy option. If you're not hungry in the morning, eat dinner earlier the night before, and if you wake up ravenous, you probably didn't get enough sleep. “Less than six hours of sleep a night makes your body release hormones that make you hungrier in the morning," says Linda Hamilton, a clinical psychologist who works with performers, and co-author of The Dancer's Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body and Nutrition.

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Now that fall has arrived, there are some fabulous fruits in season. Here’s what they can do for a dancer’s diet.

Portable and delicious, apples are full of fiber. One medium-size apple provides nearly 20 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily fiber intake.

Pears are best eaten when soft to the touch. In October, they’re full of flavor and actually contain even more fiber than apples.

Late-season grapes are especially sweet. A delicious bag of red or green grapes contains loads of polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties.

Boost your Vitamin A intake by eating a persimmon. Vitamin A helps maintain skin health, cell growth and good vision and fights infection.

Photos: Thinkstock

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The paleo diet is high in protein and produce, but dancers also need carbs from grains and legumes for energy. Thinkstock

Fueling your body for dance is essential, but deciding what to eat isn't always easy. And with new diets surfacing every month, it can be hard to know what to believe: low-carb, low-fat, no gluten, no dairy? What's the best approach?

We delved into two hot diet trends—paleolithic and gluten-free—and consulted experts to find out how they really stack up for dancers. There's something to take away from both of these diets. Learn the facts to create a meal plan of whole, nutrient-rich foods that will never go out of style.

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For some time, health experts have warned us about the risks of artificial sweeteners. They say the products add unnatural chemicals to our diets and can increase sugar cravings. Now, science is emerging to back up the inclination that these sugary shortcuts are bad news. In fact, a new study suggests artificial sweeteners may even increase the risk of developing diabetes.

In an experiment, mice consumed saccharin (the sweetener found in Sweet’N Low), sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (Equal) in their water while others drank plain water or water sweetened with glucose or with table sugar. After a week, the mice drinking artificial sweeteners showed a significant intolerance to glucose, meaning they were unable to process large amounts of sugar. Researchers also enlisted seven human volunteers to consume the maximum recommended amount of saccharin for six days. Their blood sugar levels were similarly disrupted.

The experiments’ results do not bode well for Splenda-lovers. An intolerance to glucose, researchers say, can be a precursor to more serious illnesses, including Type 2 diabetes. This is yet another reason to use all sweeteners in moderation and when you do, reach for the real thing.

Carbohydrates are necessary to any dancer’s diet—they yield energy. But too many refined carbs can ultimately make you feel sluggish.

A recent study suggests that eating cookies, chips, and packaged foods chock-full of corn syrup can trigger food cravings by causing blood sugar levels to spike at first and then plummet like an amusement park’s drop tower ride. When those levels are down, we head to the fridge or pantry searching for another burst of energy. You can do the math: refined carbs + additional cravings = overeating.

Instead of highly processed carbs that will always leave you wanting more, fill out your food pyramid with lots of whole grains and vegetables. The body takes longer to break these carbs down into glucose, enabling blood sugar levels to rise gradually, instead of frantically. The result? You won’t be constantly returning to the kitchen, and that leaves more time for dance.

Read DT’s “Performance Boosters" for foods to keep you fit, fueled and focused.

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