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Should dancers avoid carbs?

Dancers do not have the same diet needs as the rest of the general public. We hear all sorts of diet trends and ideas from the media from “low carb” to “Atkin’s”. A dancer's diet requirements are entirely different because our diet needs to be based around performance and output rather then revolving around a general weight maintenance diet regimen. Out of all the diet fads in the last several years, we have all come to believe that sugar and carbohydrates are the worst thing you can ingest! But to an athlete such as a dancer, carbohydrates aren’t such a bad thing...

A dancer’s body needs to be maintained like a high performance car. We need a regular supply of fuel to function at optimum performance. Fuel is energy and energy comes from caloric intake. These calories come from proteins, fats and carbohydrates and all are needed for a healthy body. Especially one that runs at the level a dancer’s body does!

Some foods provide more energy then others: we need energy that is longer lasting and performance inducing. The best performance and endurance energy comes from non other then carbohydrates! These “carbs” supply about 60% of our energy needs. As dancers, our bodies are tuned in to managing carbohydrates more efficiently, they are burned for performance rather then stored as fat. Any extra "fuel" that is stored and not burned is not saved as fat in this case, it is rather saved as muscle glycogen that’s ready to fuel up physical activity for the next day.

The general public however, will not have the same luck with carbs unless they’re engaged in a fast paced athletic lifestyle like a dancer is. The last thing a dancer needs to cut are carbs! This is where a lot of dancers can go wrong. Of course we still need to eat them in moderation and the type of carb is important. But if a body is pushed to the limits of a full time dancer, and it is not supplied with enough fuel – the parts start to break down. Namely the muscles: the heart is one of those muscles! It can become very dangerous! We need to fuel our muscles with enough energy to endure the demands of this lifestyle.

Not all carbs are created equal! Some carbs fall into the “starch” and “simple sugar” category. These particular types of carbs lend a quick energy boost but are nothing but empty calories. The body does not benefit from these carbs nutrition wise so they should be limited and they absolutely should not be relied on! The type of carbs that we’re looking to ingest are “complex carbs” which basically provide a more prolonged energy level as well as a solid nutrition base. They last longer because the body takes longer to digest them.

A few foods that are rich in "complex carbohydrates" are:

    whole grain breads
    wheat pastas
    bran and grain cereals

A few foods that are rich in "simple sugars" are:

    desserts and sweets
    soft drinks

Both types of carbs can be a useful diet tool for the full time dancer, the key is balance. An 80/20 ratio works for most full time dancers: 80% being complex carbs and 20% (max) being simple carbs. This ratio should be incorporated into your entire diet plan which will include plenty of protein, calcium, fluids, minerals and vitamins. Dancers need to find their top performance level, a boost with carbs not only increases endurance and performance but it safeguards the body as well.

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