Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Nutrition for Dancers - Calories

Adequate nutrition is as important for dancers as it is for any other professional athlete, yet very few dancers have ready access to professional nutrition advice. Owing to the pressures (whether perceived or actual) placed on dancers to adhere to specific aesthetic ideals, it is common for dancers to either under-fuel themselves and attempt to control body composition through restricted energy intakes or by experimenting with various fad diets. Insufficient energy intake means you're more likely to become injured due to fatigue or weakness - it's crucial that you fuel your body for the job it needs to do.

Calorie restriction is often used to achieve
specific body ideals.
Photo (c) Gene Schiavone
Western culture, and particularly the media, is fixated on calorie intake, and yet far too many people count calories obsessively without any understanding of what it is they are counting. Calories are units of energy, your food provides energy, hence food contains calories. That's it - calories then aren't a good thing or a bad thing, they're just a means of measuring energy content. Basic guidelines for those in physical training are 45 calories per kg body weight per day. So if you weight 50kg, you need 2250kcal/day, if you weigh 60kg you need 2700kcal/day, and so on.

It's not rocket science; if you want to lose weight, the simple rule is you need to ingest less calories than you burn. If you want to put on weight you need to ingest more calories than you burn. Yes everyone's bodies are different and there can be additional factors, but at it's most basic level that's all you need to know about calorie counting. Most dancers will have a high level of fitness and a well conditioned body and so are looking to maintain what they have while maintaining both their health and their energy; therefore making sure you eat enough food, and enough of the right food is a priority.

If you're looking to eat 2500 calories a day, you can get that from 2500 calories of junk, or 2500 calories of good food. The energy provided is the same, however the nutrient balance can differ hugely. If you're on a 1000 calorie a day diet and you're only eating crisps and chocolate, you will still lose weight simply because you're not giving your body enough energy. 

240 calories
240 calories

Equally if you're on a 4000 calorie a day diet but you're only eating fruits, vegetables and lean meat, you will put on weight because you are providing your body with an excess of energy that it will convert to fat. 

You need to look at both your calorie intake and your nutrient intake to have a healthy diet. You're better to have 100 calories of a nutrient-rich food than 100 calories of processed junk. Instead of obsessing over the amount of calories you consume you should be looking at the quality of what you're eating and how you are best providing your body with it's nutrient requirements. If you're exercising all day and you're hungry it's a pretty good sign your body is wanting more energy, there's no reason to restrict your energy or nutrient intakes. Dancers often put more pressure on themselves than is needed to adhere to specific body types - if you are pushing your body all day the worst thing you can do is starve it. Eat well, eat enough so that you feel healthy and energetic and unless body weight, whether too high or too low is a genuine problem, don't feel the need to obsess over calorie intake.

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