Dancers sweat. They sweat and they work their bodies for long periods of time–much like other athletes.
Enter hydration. Keeping your body properly hydrated is important as a dancer. Today we have Emily Harrison, MS, RD, LD with us to take a closer look at this key subject….
Even mild dehydration can affect performance. Staying hydrated is extremely important to a dancer’s performance because the first signs of dehydration are fatigue and poor balance. Thirst actually only kicks in after the body has lost 1-2 liters of water. If you are thirsty then you are already dehydrated.
Water makes up approximately 60% of body weight and is the largest component of the human body. The muscles we work so hard to develop as dancers (skeletal muscles) are about 73% water, your blood is about 93% water and even bones and teeth have some water. Water is critical for maintaining homeostasis within the body and is important in the thousands of biochemical and physiological functions our body goes through every day. Water aids in digestion and is important in the transport and elimination systems of the body.
Overheating and performance:
It’s important for dancers to know that being properly hydrated helps keep the body from overheating. Helping the body promote heat loss when dancing full out will improve athletic performance and aid in recovery. This is especially important for dancers wearing hot costumes and performing under stage lights. Sweat losses during performance can be significantly more than during rehearsal of the same piece. This is why drinking regularly (even small, regular sips) is an important habit during a show.
How much is really needed? Can a dancer get fluids from other things besides water?
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes (we all know that dancers are athletes) start their exercise already hydrated with about 17 ounces of beverage taken before you begin. Then drink 5-10 ounces every 20 minutes or so. This means that your reusable water bottle should be your constant companion in the studio or backstage. Every dancer is a little different but pre-professional and professional level dancers should aim for about 2800-3500ml (94-117 oz) of fluids every day. That’s about 12- 15 cups. About 20% will come from foods like fruits and veggies, but about 80% comes from what you drink. Aim to get most through water, but juices, sports beverages, and even tea and coffee can be counted toward that goal. Some dancers find that mixing 50% sports beverage with 50% water in their reusable bottles helps them get through long rehearsals or classes. This is because sports beverages contain a source of energy (calories) and electrolytes that are lost in sweat.
What about caffeine?
Caffeine makes us more awake and is known to enhance athletic performance. But there can be too much of a “good” thing. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, not a source of energy. Yes, caffeine can also promote water loss and dancers should limit caffeine, but those beverages can still count toward your daily intake. I always recommend limiting or avoiding sodas. They are empty calorie bombs and can make bones weaker. One cup of coffee is fine, but being overly jittery doesn’t help your dancing.
So be good to your body and good to the Earth by bringing your reusable water bottle with you everywhere and refilling it often.
Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
Nutrition for Great Performances
BIO: Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian (RD) and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and energy balance and the relationship to injuries. She completed her dietetic internship through GSU and has experience providing nutrition counseling for people with diverse needs including eating disorders.
Emily received her dance training at the Rotaru Ballet School and Boston Ballet School. She was a professional dancer for 11 years. Dancing with Boston Ballet II and Ballet Internationale in Indianapolis, IN where she worked with legendary Kirov dancers Eldar Aliev and Irina Kolpakova. She also danced for Emmy award winning choreographer Michael Smuin in his San Francisco company. Emily has been with the Atlanta Ballet since 1998, first as a company dancer and now as faculty in the NASD accredited Centre for Dance Education.
She is a dance educator for all ages working primarily in the pre-professional division. She also provides comprehensive nutrition services for Atlanta Ballet company, school, and outreach division. Emily is also the mother of two children and understands the unique challenges parents face when it comes to nutrition.