by Danielle Downey
Whether you are a dancer or just sucked up into the endless fast pace of today’s lifestyle, fueling your body with healthy on-the-go snacks is a key task to master in order to perform your best on stage or in life.
Eating large meals between rehearsals or before a show is not exactly conducive to our lifestyle as dancers. No dancer wants to do grand allegro or 32 fouettes after chowing down on a large feast, but on the other hand, choosing not to eat is surely not a better option. Thankfully between the spectrum of starving yourself and the ‘yuck factor’ of feeling too full, there is the ingenious happy medium of snacking!
It seems that the strongest, most beautiful dancers that grace the stages are on a lifelong journey to master the ‘technique’ of healthy on-the-go snacking. So whether you already spend countless hours in the studio rehearsing or you are young student aspiring a professional career, it is beneficial for all of us to do a frequent check of our eating (specifically snacking) habits to ensure we are fueling our body with the maximum amount of nutrients and energy to feel and dance our best.
The great thing about snacking is that no matter what your taste buds or dietary needs require, the options are essentially endless! When reevaluating your snacking habits or looking for new ideas, thinking simple is surprisingly a smart and easy tactic. What is your favorite salad or healthy meal? If you break it down into it’s simplest components you will usually be left with a handful of healthy snacking options. By eating these simple foods individually throughout the day you are still receiving all of the nutrients from your favorite healthy meal while never having your waistband feel too tight.
As a dancer I am constantly tweaking my snacking habits. By trial and error and inspiration from other dancers around me, I am on a mission to find the perfect combination of on-the-go snacks to dance and feel better than ever! At the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre we receive a five minute break every hour. Changing my pointe shoes or leotard, using the restroom, checking my phone or just resting my legs are on the short list of things accomplished on those five minute breaks, but most importantly, I always reach for a quick on-the-go snack to keep my energy up for the next hour of rehearsal. My locker has become a makeshift pantry and I take advantage of the company refrigerator to store perishable items. I strive for natural foods high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Here are a list of my favorite healthy on-the-go snacks:
BANANAS- I have replaced the adage about apples with ‘A banana a day keeps the doctor away’. Nothing against apples, but I definitely grab a banana every day because of their high levels of calcium which are key to preventing muscle cramps. Bananas also supply 35% of your daily B-6 requirement which is used to help grow new cells. The fiber found in bananas also helps you feel full longer.
GREEK YOGURT- Greek yogurt has a much higher protein content than regular yogurt, and depending on the brand you prefer you can easily give your body 10-18 grams of it. I have also found that the thicker consistency of Greek yogurt helps me feel full longer.
BARRE. A REAL FOOD BAR.- Developed by a fellow Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer, Barre is a delicious nutrition bar on the market developed with dancers in mind. Julia wanted something to fuel her without weighing her down, something sustaining yet easy to digest, and something containing only the finest all-natural ingredients. When she brought the first product (straight from her food processor) as her healthy on-the-go snack, I tried some and fell in love. When I said I would buy some off of her, the idea for Barre was born!
DARK CHOCOLATE- Snack? Dessert? Call it what you wish, but dark chocolate has been making headlines for its health benefits. It contains more antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables, which can help reduce blood pressure. Chocolate lovers rejoice, but obviously, moderation is the key. I keep a large bar in my locker and break off a small piece whenever I need a small pick-me-up.
NUTS- Nuts are such an easy on-the-go snack, no utensils or refrigeration necessary. The omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts offer many health benefits but one that is really key for dancers is management of inflammation. Nuts are also a great source of arginine, an amino acid which boosts immune function and promotes wound healing.
KASHI GOLEAN CEREAL- I had to add this in because it is a personal favorite of mine in the studio. Keeping a zip lock bag of this right by my barre spot or in my dressing room at the theatre makes for super convenient on-the-go snacking. The 7 whole grains found in this cereal are a great source of complex carbohydrates. It also contains 13 grains of protein!
QUINOA- Coined as a ‘superfood’, quinoa has a long list of health benefits. Containing all nine amino acids, it is one of the most protein-rich foods you can eat. Quinoa contains almost twice as much fiber as other grains, which is key to helping you feel full on those long days of rehearsal. It contains iron which helps keeps the red blood cells healthy and increases brain function. Quinoa also contains lysine which helps with the growth and repair of body tissue. In addition to its ‘good for you’ qualities, it has endless possibilities in the kitchen (salads, desserts, breads, and much, much more!).
So no matter where you are on your journey to master the art of healthy on-the-go snacking–we can all benefit from doing a monthly reevaluation and refreshment. Get inspired by what is fresh now in the market, what other dancers you look up to are doing, or just tune into what your body needs or craves. Remember that our bodies are like automobiles which carry us where we want to go in life; we should refuel them often and with only the best!
Contributor Danielle Downey has a been a member of the Barre Team since it’s conception. She traveled to Las Vegas for Barre’s first convention, she did some early graphic design work for the look and brand of Barre, and is now marketing Barre through social media outlets. She has seen Barre go from it’s very earliest stages (straight from the food processor in Julia’s kitchen to the studio in a zip-lock bag) to a real food bar recognized by dancers, athletes, and regular ole’ folk all across the country.
Danielle also dances in the Corps de Ballet with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Prior to joining the company, she trained in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Graduate Program. She received her early training with the Lake Erie Ballet and spent summers training with Boston Ballet and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.
Happy Valentine’s Day! We have a great article on CHOCOLATE for you this week, from Shannon Sterne, who is a dancer and nutritionist. She is also the founder of Step Wise Wellness Consulting - specializing in nutrition and wellness consultation for dancers. It reminds me of what the IPhone’s SIRI says, when you ask “her” the question:
“What is the meaning of life?” — you can get different answers from “her”, but my favorite goes something like:
“According to the best interpretation — it’s Chocolate”!
Enjoy ! And have a love and chocolate-filled Valentine’s Day!
Jan Dunn, Editor, Dance Wellness
by Shannon Sterne, RD, MS, MA
Valentine’s Day is here, and according to most Americans nothing says “I love you” like a box of chocolates. More than 60 million pounds of the confection will be sold in the days surrounding February 14th generating sales upwards of $350 million. If you’re a dancer concerned about your weight, this go-to gift for Valentine’s Day could elicit more grief than passion.
Gifted to us by friends, lovers, and spouses as signs of love and affection, chocolate-covered fruits and nuts, nougats, truffles, and caramels abound, and historically, we are weak to resist chocolate’s sweet pleasures. Often referred to as irresistible, decadent, indulgent, and sinful, chocolate is consistently reported by women to be their number one food craving. Some even joke that chocolate should be its own food group.
Food cravings can be particularly problematic for dancers as we strive to maintain a svelte figure while ensuring that we have enough energy to make it through a full day of classes, rehearsals and performances. Some dancers will go out of their way to avoid the foods they crave; afraid that eating one handful of M&Ms will lead to eating the entire bag, making them look terrible in their tights and impossible to lift. Consuming chocolate then becomes a guilty pleasure.
Ironically, attempting to deny or control your desire for chocolate can increase stress levels leading to stronger cravings, and often to binge eating. Eventually “will power” runs out and we give in to these cravings; and feelings of failure and guilt accompany our indulgence. Removing the prohibition on chocolate, and eating small amounts to satisfy cravings, chocolate becomes a source of comfort rather than guilt.
Our cultural obsession with chocolate may be due in part to its rarity in our diet. Most of us do not eat chocolate regularly with our meals, instead reserving chocolate for snacks, desserts and special occasions. It is not something that we “should” eat, but is instead a delicious escape from the daily grind. It is a treat, a pleasure, a comfort. And most often, chocolate is eaten in spurts. Late in the day (after many hours of rehearsals); when we are feeling stressed (learning new and difficult choreography or before performances); and for the ladies, during “that time of the month.”
What makes chocolate so desirable? Pure chocolate, harvested from the seeds of the Threobroma cacao tree, is high in fat, which gives chocolate its rich and creamy melt-n-your-mouth texture. Chocolate also contains the compounds theobromine and caffeine, which provide a mental lift. But very few Americans consume pure chocolate. The chocolate bars and candies consumed in the US are laden with sugar. Together, this combination of fat and sugar, triggers the release of several neurotransmitters, including serotonin and endorphins, which result in a sense of well-being. “Chocoholics” become addicted to this chemical rush, which they associate very strongly with chocolate.
But chocolate isn’t all bad. Research continues to point to the health benefits of regular consumption of small amounts of chocolate, particularly when it comes to heart health. With more antioxidants than green tea and blueberries, chocolate is also high in magnesium and copper, and – if it’s milk chocolate – calcium. But not all chocolate is created equal. The more processed it is, the fewer nutrients it contains. Raw cacao, at room temperature or heated just to its melting point, will provide the most nutrients. Dark chocolate is your next best bet – the higher the cacao content, then generally, the more antioxidants. White chocolate is actually made from cocoa butter (the fat extracted from chocolate) but otherwise contains no chocolate, and therefore none of its benefits. However, it is important to remember that chocolate in any form is high in fat and calories. Adding chocolate to your diet solely for health purposes is not recommended, especially if you are watching your weight.
So what’s a dancer to do? If chocolate cravings get the best of you, try these tips for satisfying your desire for chocolate without giving in to obsession.
4dancers would like to welcome our latest contributor–the Team from Barre. A Real Food Barre. Each month you can look forward to a post from one of the team members about food–a topic that we wanted to cover more on the site.
Today’s post is a Valentine’s Day special–just for you…
February 14th is a day for love, candy, chocolate, and fancy dinners. With audition season in full swing, it could be hard to find a balance on this special day between indulging with your sweetheart and wanting to stay in tip-top shape for that cattle call on the weekend. However, there is a way to have a sweet treat AND feel confident in your leo and tights the next day! Though these sweets aren’t totally guilt-free, you can treat yourself (in moderation, of course!) knowing that they are providing substantially more health benefits that those conversation hearts and lollipops. They’ll also make your Valentine’s fare a bit more interesting than the same old candy you’ve had every year.Dark Chocolate: Valentine’s Day is practically synonymous with chocolate. It’s one of the first treats people turn to when deciding what to give loved ones on the 14th. This year, ask your special someone to forgo the caramel filled truffles and instead buy you a bar of high quality, extra dark chocolate. Believe it or not, dark chocolate has quite a few health benefits!
Heart Healthy: Recent studies in Germany and Switzerland have found that one serving of dark chocolate per day can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart failure by a third!
Weight Healthy: Dark chocolate is more filling than milk chocolate, ultimately helping you to eat less of it and still feel satisfied. It can also help reduce your cravings for sweet, salty and fatty food. Just make sure you stick to small portions!
Brain Healthy: Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols, antioxidants that improve blood flow to the brain, thus improving short-term brain performance and alertness. It may even help you remember an extra tricky pirouette combo!
Good Earth Sweet and Spicy Tea: If you’re craving a sweet drink to relax with after your date, forgo the hot chocolate or soda and try this flavorful tea! Great on its own or with a little bit of milk, this sweet tea will warm you right up with its aromatic spices and satisfy your sweet tooth with its unique flavor. I like to call it “Dessert in a cup!” Better yet, it has zero calories and comes in a caffeine-free version.
Hail Merry Coconut Macaroons: If you’re a fan of coconut, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried these vegan, gluten free, and utterly delicious cookies. Rated the best new vegan product by VegNews Magazine, these responsibly sourced macaroons are rich, flavorful, satisfying, and even a little healthy! They contain coconut oil, which has been found to aid in weight loss because of the triglycerides present. The fiber in these macaroons will also make you feel full sooner, helping to prevent overeating.
Coconut Bliss: Another dessert for coconut lovers, Coconut Bliss is a delicious vegan, gluten free, soy free, and kosher dessert that, in my opinion, is a million times better than ice cream. This rich and creamy dessert comes in a wide variety of flavors and is made from coconut milk instead of dairy milk. It is also sweetened with agave, a natural sweetener with a low glycemic index. Coconut Bliss has less saturated fat and sugar than your typical ice cream and is made from whole food ingredients at a sustainably operated farm in Oregon.
Chocolate Covered Strawberries: Keep this classic sweet treat on the menu this Valentine’s Day! These bite-sized treats provide you with some of your daily fruit needs, and are relatively low calorie. If you dip them in dark chocolate, as opposed to milk, they’ll also provide you with all the health benefits that chocolate has to offer!
Sorbet and Frozen Yogurt: These two frozen desserts, like Coconut Bliss, are healthier alternatives to ice cream, providing you choose the right kind. Sorbet is low fat, vegan, and has fewer calories than ice cream. If you choose this fruit-based dessert, try to buy one that doesn’t have added sugar, corn syrup, or artificial flavors and colors. If you decide to treat yourself to some froyo, pick one that is nonfat and has live active cultures so you receive the full benefits of this creamy dessert.
Happy Valentine’s Day from the Barre team!
BIO: The Team at Barre contributes posts about food, snacks and healthy eating for 4dancers. The mission of Barre is to provide exceptional nutritional fortification for dancers and everyone else who demands clean, wholesome, nutritious and great tasting sustained energy. To accomplish this goal, Barre produces and distributes health-minded snacks and performance products specially formulated to live up to the rigors of such a demanding artist-athlete lifestyle. Learn more about their products here.
Today I’d like to introduce Emily Harrison, who is sharing a great healthy recipe with us here at 4dancers, as well as talking a bit about nutrition. Part of our health/wellness focus for the month of February. I haven’t had a chance to make the recipe yet, but it sounds delicious and I can’t wait to try it!
I am thrilled to be guest blogging with 4dancers.org. As a former professional dancer I learned early on in my career how important nutrition was to my performance. Now as the dancers dietitian, I work with dancers to help them be at their best with fewer injuries.
Nutrition is a complicated science, but if I had to only give one piece of advice it would have to be: “eat breakfast”. I know you all have heard this before, but you can’t minimize the importance of literally breaking the fasting state with a good source of complex carbohydrates.
Carbs have gotten a bad rap in recent years. But in fact carbs are the body’s preferred source of fuel for athletic activity. Complex carbs in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits give the muscles a prolonged source of energy that is critical in the type of start-stop activity we do as dancers. Whole grains are important sources of fiber, B-vitamins, iron, and folate. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes get 55-60% of their total calories from carbohydrates. Carbs can be found in whole grain pasta, bread, rice, quinoa, barley, all vegetables and all fruits. How can something like that be unhealthy? Sure we want to avoid simple sugars in sweets, juices, soda, refined grains, and baked goods. Those kind of carbs won’t give you enough energy to get through tendus in class. But have three of my oatcakes for breakfast and dance strong all the way through grande allegro.
This recipe has become a favorite of the dancers that I do food demos for. In fact the dancers from Atlanta Ballet’s summer program loved them so much that they set off the fire alarms in the dorms making them the next day:0