Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Basics of Nutrition - How much and of what?

It can be confusing hearing conflicting advice over what quantity of what nutrients your diet should consist of. How much fuel does your body need, and what is the right fuel for the demands you place on your body? There's no straight answer, everyone's body is different however the bottom line is you need to fuel your body appropriately for the work you need it to do.
Bare in mind a lot of the advice in the media is based at people aiming for a specific aesthetic, not to adequately fuel their body. Low-carb diets and Atkins, Paleo, South beach...all of these come about by telling people if they follow them they will end up looking a certain way. They are not necessarily based on health, energy or balanced nutrient intake. A guy looking to build a 6-pack and huge biceps by going to the gym for an hour a day four times a week might reach his goals by consuming vast amounts of protein and a small percentage of carbs, but could he push his body through 6 hours of rehearsal and 2 hours of performance 6 days a week? Equally a 140lb woman wanting to hit 120lb for summer might jump on Atkins for a few months, but is it sustainable and is it providing her with the energy for demanding physical work? Unlikely.

People will always try and sell you a diet or a pill or a lifestyle change, as long as they can make money from it. Although dancers look to control their body composition, they must consider that they do not treat their bodies the same as the sedentary public that fad-diets are aimed at and that it is much more important to look at the long term effects and benefits of lifestyle choices than to go for quick fixes.

Professional athletes tend to have much readier access to professional nutrition and dietary advice than professional dancers do, and until all working dancers have access to a nutritionist or dietician, it is up to them to educate themselves and work out what their body needs to perform at it's peak. When you're looking to work this out for yourself simple is always best; don't over complicate things. If you are hungry you need to eat. Make sure you're hydrated. Base your diet on fruit and vegetables, lean protein and complex carbs and you'll have made a decent start.

If you are dancing all day then you're burning a much higher number of calories than someone who works in an office so your energy requirements are higher. If you work in an office and go to dance class at night, you might need more calories than your friend that does no exercise, but you certainly don't need the same amount as someone in full-time training. It is up to you to assess how much food you need. Guideline daily amounts tend to be far too high for people who drive to work, sit at a desk all day and then sit in front of the TV at night. Equally, they tend to be too low for people who are in physical training 6-8 hours a day. Additionally dietary choices may need to be heavily restricted by common medical conditions such as diabetes or coeliac disease. There is no one size fits all answer for what you should be eating, it will be entirely specific to you.

Over the coming weeks I will put up some information on dietary choices so that whether you dance for 1 hour a week, or 8 hours a day, it can be used to better inform your decisions about your nutrition. You might need to experiment for a while to find out what works and what leaves you feeling at your best, but it is better to experiment and know your own body than to blindly follow a plan just because it worked for someone else.

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