Eat More, Do More

Eat More, Do More

A dancer-friend of mine once told me that she wished someone had imparted this piece of wisdom to her when she was training: rather than eating less (as many dancers seem to do), and feeling that she had to conserve her energy and be careful about not overdoing it, wouldn’t it have made more sense to eat more and do more? Yes! In fact, that is the way to go. The question is, what to eat and do more of?

When most of us think about eating more, we often think this means eating everything. We hear “eat more” and think, “Yes! I AM going to have dessert after lunch…AND dinner! And throw in that bag of chips!”

That’s not what I mean though. What I mean is to eat more whole foods, more REAL foods: more greens and veggies, more whole grains, more fruits, more beans. As athletes, dancers need adequate fuel, and that fuel cannot be substandard in quality. If you were taking a road trip across the country, would you fill your car with the dirtiest, cheapest gas you could find? You could, but you wouldn’t get very far and your car would be in a sad state after a few hours.

It’s a crude metaphor, but the same is true for your dancing body: if you fill it with processed foods, sugar, simple carbs, and/or junk food, you’re not going to much out of it. Most dancers I have worked with tend to eat very little actual food. Instead, they exist on snack foods: pretzels, nuts, rice cakes- nibbles of finger food rather than the real deal. And they usually think that they have good energy and strength; they don’t even know what they’re missing. Once we get them on a diet of whole foods, there are some pretty exciting changes like increased energy and power reserves they never experienced before.

Once you have adequate fuel, you’ll know you can do more- you’ll feel stronger and more energetic. You’ll have the fuel for the cross training which is so critical to improving. (What kind of cross training to do depends on your body, what kind of dancing you’re doing, and previous injuries you’ve sustained. Check out this post from a few weeks ago about fitness and this link to a Dance Spirit article on cross training.)

You’ll also have energy to get through your day. It used to surprise me to hear young dancers talk about how tired they were all of the time- then I realized how little they were eating and it made perfect sense. Of course you slow down when there is no fuel in the system: your body is conserving energy. And with low/no fuel, your dancing suffers. But with a full tank of whole foods that is regularly replenished, your body will be capable of amazing things. How else do we explain marathon runners, mountain climbers, and cyclists? Are we saying that dancers aren’t capable of that level of exertion? I think not. I think most dancers can do a lot more than they think- the trouble is, without adequate fuel, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.

Hungry for Spring? Nicoise Salad

Hungry for Spring? Nicoise Salad

The Nicoise Salad is composed of some of my favorite things and is a bit like small plates, which I also love.  Traditionally, the Nicoise has fresh tuna atop a bed of greens, with olives, fresh tomatoes, and hard-boiled egg. Sometimes there are barely-cooked green beans as well. The other night, my husband whipped this up with a few substitutions.

  • Mesclun salad greens with cherry tomatoes and black olives in a mustard vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • Tuna spears packed in olive oil (more affordable than fresh tuna and no cooking required!; good for protein)
  • Fresh, sliced avocado (omega-3 fatty acids- the good fats)
  • Sliced, hard-boiled egg (good for protein)
  • Pickled jalapeno peppers instead of green beans, which are not in season

It was scrumptious and brought some of the freshness of spring to me. This simple mustard vinaigrette made it truly French:

  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 Tablespoons vinegar (white/red wine)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whip all ingredients until combined. Taste and add more mustard or vinegar depending on how mustardy/tangy you like it. Pour over greens and toss well to coat all leaves.

Also, in order to cut down on prep time, you can pre-hard boil the eggs, and toss the salad without the vinaigrette. All in all, it’s pretty quick to assemble and delicious to take it apart as you eat it. Bon appetit!

Amaranth: A Super Grain for Breakfast

Amaranth: A Super Grain for Breakfast

Amaranth is an ancient grain, eaten by the Aztecs. In addition to being a high quality source of plant protein (9 g per cup- 19% of your RDA), amaranth is high in iron and calcium, and is an excellent source of fiber (3 times more than wheat). It’s rare when a grain is also a source of protein, which is one reason why amaranth is considered a superfood. (It’s also, technically, a seed, not a grain, but it doesn’t matter really…)

Perhaps more importantly for dancers, amaranth is delicious and easy to cook. In a small pot, combine

  •  3 cups cold water
  • 1 cup amaranth

Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn heat down to a low simmer and set the timer for 20-25 minutes- keeping it covered. Check after about 15 minutes, to be sure grains aren’t sticking to the bottom. Amaranth is done when the water has been absorbed and you have a thick, viscous cereal. It has a particular taste even before adding nuts and berries, so give it a try and see what you think. I like it sweet, but it can also be made savory if that’s your thing.

If you like a sweet breakfast, try serving it with any combination of the following:

  • Fresh berries (I’m partial to fresh raspberries though frozen ones work as well)
  • Chopped nuts: almonds, walnuts, pecans
  • Dried fruit: raisins, cherries, blueberries, apricots
  • Dried, shredded coconut (unsweetened)
  • Maple syrup, raw honey, or stevia
  • Almond milk

Amaranth is tasty reheated as well; just stick it in the microwave with a few drops of water on it to remoisten or heat it over low heat on the stovetop. If you like variety, add fruit and nuts only to the bowl you’re eating so that what you put in the fridge is plain and can be flavored differently later on. If you make a large enough pot, you’ll have enough for two or three breakfasts or afternoon snacks.

Dancer, Yes. Physically Fit? Maybe.

Dancer, Yes. Physically Fit? Maybe.

Don’t assume you are physically fit just because you’re a dancer. Find out! Schedule an appointment with an athletic trainer or physical therapist, explaining that you want to test your fitness and strength levels, as well as get some ideas for improvement.

Chances are, your endurance is not what it could be. That’s because most forms of dance are anaerobic; you will need to cross train in order to build your stamina. Also, depending on what kind of dance you do, some muscle groups get a lot of attention, while others are left alone; a fitness test can show you where you need work. Working even for 1 or 2 sessions with a trainer can open your eyes to the wide variety of activities that you could do to cross-train your body into better physical fitness. Strengthening of your overall fitness will help you in the dance studio in ways you probably don’t even know about; it can improve your…

  •  Agility: ability to change direction quickly and powerfully
  • Strength: how much force can you generate for a specific muscle group or movement
  • Coordination: from simple to complex movements, getting all your parts in the right place at the right time
  • Stamina: get your heart and lungs to keep up with the pace of your allegro
  • Muscular endurance: when your lungs feel great but your muscles give out or shake= lack of muscular endurance

If you haven’t cross-trained before or need some tips, Dance Spirit Magazine has a great article out this month: The Dos and Don’ts of Cross-training. Give it a peek, contact a trainer or PT, and then make a plan to improve your physical fitness. You will feel the difference, I promise.

Tell me how you’ve improved your physical fitness; did your dancing improve as a result?

Injured? Don't Watch Class.

Injured? Don’t Watch Class.

In theory…

When you are injured, it is often customary to be asked to sit and watch class. In theory, this is a good idea that should have practical benefits. Learning from observation and keeping your head in the game are two reasons I have heard teachers give for this request.

In practice…

In practice though, watching class when you are injured is a recipe for disaster because you are not happily absorbing corrections and gaining insight into things. Instead, you are undergoing what my students have variously called “mental torture,” “instant depression,” and “a lesson in frustration.” Does that sound overdramatic? It’s not.

The psychological impact of not being able to do something you love should not be underestimated: it is huge. A dancer who cannot use his/her body can experience a range of emotions from anger to sadness. Being reminded of what you are unable to do can have a deeply destructive effect, and that effect can impact your healing process.

We know that a large part of recovery from illness and injury is state of mind: the more positive you are, the faster you will heal. The mind-body connection is powerful, and if you spend your days in despair, it will be difficult to get back in the studio even when you’re given the medical okay.

Here are some more effective ways for you to spend your time.

  • Ask your doctor and PT what types of activities you can safely do, and then find a way to do them. When I had my fracture, I was cleared for swimming, so I joined the YMCA and swam every day. If you can ride a bike or do non-weight bearing Pilates, for example, get started right away. The sooner you start moving that body of yours, the better you’ll feel. 
  • Take class in your mind. (What? Yes, in your mind.) Mental rehearsal will keep the mind-body connection alive and receptive even when you can’t take class (or full class). Find a quiet space where you can close your eyes and visualize yourself taking class. Use recorded music if it helps. It takes a lot of concentration to do this, so you may only get through part or half of class the first few times. Try to recall recent corrections, and really allow yourself to feel as if you are dancing.
  • Get support. Dancers identify so strongly with their dancing, that when injured, they can feel lost. That feeling can become darker before it gets better. Keep tabs on how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask for support from teachers, friends, family, and professionals: seek out a coach or therapist. Talking with people about how you feel is an important part of the healing process.
  • Learn something new. If your healing and rehab process leaves you with time on your hands, don’t spend it wishing you could dance- it will only create a negative feedback loop and you’ll feel worse. Instead, commit to learning something new; when I was injured, I did a night school class at a local university; an injured friend of mine took a cooking class. Think about what you’d like to improve in your life (healthier foods, improve your mental fitness, brush up on your Spanish skills…) and dive in.

The aim is to keep your mind active and receptive, and your energy positive, which allows you to reframe your injury as an opportunity. Sitting and watching class often has the opposite effect, so be sure to talk to your teachers about how that request affects your mental health. Then, share your plan for recovery with them. 

Are you or have you been injured recently? How did you stay positive through the healing process?