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Home > health and fitness for life

Anybody here dance six days a week?"

I get a laugh whenever I ask this of the students at San Francisco Ballet School. As dancers progress in their training, the time spent dancing escalates with the demands of rehearsing and performing, which can add up to underperformance and fatigue over time. Although dancers differ in their individual responses to lengthy dance schedules and the decreased sunlight, dehumidified air, and hot stage lights of artificial environments, how they manage nourishment during intense dance periods will leave telltale signs. They need to know how to balance the right foods and fluids to look and perform their best.

At the end of a dance class or a performance, are you wired or tired? Some dancers report an inability to eat during intense performance schedules. Are you refreshed when you wake up? Are your legs and back tired? Is your voice pitch getting lower as the week progresses? How are you sleeping? Some dancers say they find it difficult to sleep during times of intense training or mid-performance season. When fatigue sets in from long, sometimes tedious rehearsals, what you think you look like may not match the image you're making in the eye of the beholder; dancers onstage are very transparent to the audience. Those who do well and perform effectively pay attention to their physical needs.

What can you do not just to survive but actually excel during a long rehearsal of performance run? First, let's look at fluids. Dehydration is a sneaky condition. Moving through the air often dries off perspiration from the skin. Remember the joke that female dancers effervesce and men perspire? All it takes is getting smacked once with flying sweat to know that dancers give off water, and lots of it. Studies on athletes show that a person can lose up to two liters an hour in an intense physical activity. Although humans are about 70 percent water, the body can compensate for less than one liter of fluid loss per hour at best. According to author and registered dietitian Laura Pawlak, a loss of as little as 2 percent of body fluid can imbalance a dancer's brain chemistry to the point of creating mental confusion and loss of coordination and balance. The brain absolutely needs fluid to function. So, start the day by drinking one full eight-ounce glass of water, since you haven't had a chance to drink any liquids all night. If you get up during the night, drink a little water on your trip up, too. Keep a water bottle with you during the day and drink a little at a time in frequent sips rather than trying to consume an over-abundance of fluid at one time. The accepted rule of thumb is to drink two quarts of water a day.

And what about eating? Dancers should not confuse the concepts of endurance athletes' carbohydrate-loading with their own pre-performance nutrition needs. Endurance athletes use an entirely different type of muscle metabolism than dancers. Timing between eating and dancing and what you eat is critical for optimal performance. So, in the four hours before a performance, avoid foods that may cause adverse reactions: High salt content can cause fluid retention; high-fiber foods can cause feelings of over-fullness; foods such as beans and cabbage can produce gas. Since protein and fats are slow to leave the stomach and can create an acid stomach, they also fit in this category.

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