Thursday, 14 February 2013

Nutrition - Carbs

Nutritional needs get a whole lot easier to understand if you have a basic understanding of your energy systems and the fuels each energy system uses. Your body has 3 - the ATP-PCr, the Glycolytic and the Oxidative systems.

The ATP-PCr System produces immediate energy and so is able to assist in instantaneous muscle contraction for short periods of high exertion exercise.The Glycolytic System, producing ATP through the breakdown of glucose. The Glycolytic system resynthesises ATP at a faster rate than the Oxidative system, and produces energy for short bursts of activity lasting up to around 2 minutes. The Oxidative System takes longer to be activated through activity than the other energy systems, however it has a higher energy producing capacity and so is utilised in endurance activities. Dance utilises all three energy systems, depending on the specific activities being performed; all three systems use carbohydrate as their main, if not sole, source of fuel.

Your body's preferred energy source is carbohydrate, which it stores as glycogen throughout the body. Your body's carbohydrate stores can last you for about 90 minutes of non-stop exercise, at which point they will start to run down. The muscle fatigue you feel? It's your brain panicking that it is running out of easily sourced fuel and telling you to stop. Your body is not stupid, when it thinks it is being starved it goes into survival mode - it knows the most important priority is maintaining brain function so if fuel is compromised it tells you you're fatigued. It's your body's warning system; in order for your body to continue, you need to replenish your glycogen stores.
Variety of carbohydrate sources.
Carbs should constitute up to 70% of your diet if you're professional or pre-professional. Forget low carb diets, they're not for people who are in full-time training. You body needs the fuel to continually function at it's peak. Most professional dancers aren't looking to lose weight or body mass, they're looking to maintain their body's current status, so make sure you fuel your body appropriately. Remember that fruits and vegetables are good sources of carbs, if you need to refuel after class or rehearsal an apple of a banana will do, you don't need to head straight to pasta or breads. As your glycogen stores are worn down you need to top them up, so having snacks that provide a good source of carbohydrate is crucial throughout your training day. If you can't face dancing straight after eating, there are plenty of drinks that are options; just stay away from anything carbonated or caffeinated so that you don't become dehydrated.

Aim to replenish your glycogen stores within 30 minutes of finishing exercise, if you leave it a few hours your body will take longer to rebuild its store. Grab something quick to eat that contains a good source of carbs straight after you finish training and then have a proper meal later. When you're dancing several hours a day you need to think about the fuel you need, and how best to replenish it at the right time.
Principal dancer, Sian Richards, NBC.
For recreational dancers the same rule goes for finishing training. Regardless of what your diet is like normally, the best time to consume carbs is after you have depleted your existing glycogen stores, so straight after exercise. Eat a banana, a cereal bar, whatever source of complex carbohydrate you like straight after your class. Provided you're sensible about your choices and keep the simple carbs to a minimum, (the general rule is avoid anything refined or "white" - white bread, white sugar etc) you'll be giving your body a decent slow release energy source.

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