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Debunking The Myth About Carbs
Ideal Nutrition Plan for Dancers: 60-20-20
By Courtenay Schurman, CSCS for Dance Spirit Magazine November 2001
Just as every rule has an exception, every nutrition strategy, or diet, will work for some and fail for others. Itís also important to remember that most popular diets target the general public, not the dancer. Non-athletes need a bare minimum of 50-100 grams of carbohydrates per day (the amount found in one baked potato) to support normal body functions. Dancers need significantly more than that for sustained energy during long rehearsals. Without enough calories and carbs, the body destroys lean muscle tissue for energy, resulting in decreased metabolic rate, the last thing dancers want. Daniel Gastelu and Dr. Fred Hatfield, authors of Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance, suggest that what seems to work best for most dancers is a plan that includes a blend of 55-60 percent carbs, 20-25 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. Thomas Incledon, MS, RD, agrees, "as long as the calorie values are high enough to fuel the demand of their active lifestyle. If the individual is only ingesting 800 calories per day, then using a percentage based system may result in inadequate nutrients in the diet." Letís explore which carbohydrates will provide the best fuel for you.
Carbsí Two Faces
"Sugar: Friend or Foe?" in the March 2001 issue of Dance Spirit Magazine addressed the issue of sugars, the simple carbohydrate form that includes brown sugar, molasses, fructose and honey, or other substances commonly found in foods such as candy, pastries, colas, ice cream and cookies. Many of those foods provide empty calories that lack significant nutrients but supply energy. They tend to provide an initial burst of energy and then leave you craving more as your energy levels sag.
Complex carbohydrates, however, include starchy or fibrous foods that are low in Glycemic Index. This index compares how quickly a carbohydrate raises blood glucose versus white bread (or glucose, in some studies). Foods high in Glycemic Index (as in sugars, above) are very quickly converted into energy and will not leave you feeling satisfied for long.
Raw foods, such as fruits and vegetables, or foods high in fiber, such as wheat breads and bran cereals, register lower in Glycemic Index. They take more time for the body to digest, providing you with sustained energy. These low-GI foods should constitute about 45 percent of your total caloric intake and are the ones you want to consume a few hours before your classes or rehearsals, as well as throughout the day. Finally, combining high-GI carbohydrates with protein, fat, or low-GI foods lowers the mealís total GI and leaves you feeling satisfied for longer. See below for ratings of common snack carbohydrates.
Try substituting Low-GI carbohydrate snacks (right) for High-GI (left), or add protein for longer-lasting energy. GI ratings below are compared to white bread =100. Remember, these numbers have absolutely nothing to do with calorie content (note that there are no portion sizes suggested) so be sure to also consider portion size when choosing snacks.
Will Carbs Make Me Fat?
Any food eaten in the appropriate serving size will not make you gain weight, but calories in excess of your bodyís metabolic needs will, whether they come from fat, carbohydrates or protein. Often itís the fat-laden goodies piled on top of carbs that are the weight culprit, such as sour cream on potatoes, butter on bread, or cream sauces over pasta.
Identifying realistic portion sizes for carbohydrates can be challenging. A single serving of pasta (2 oz. dry) is 220 calories. Most restaurants serve you 2-3 times that, plus all the bread you can consume. Cereal boxes usually suggest a serving size of 1 oz., but depending on the cereal, measured quantities can range from a tiny 1/4 cup of raisin granola (123 calories), to a much larger 1 cup of corn flakes (110 calories). Learn what constitutes a serving and pay close attention to food labels.
Eating For Yourself
The ideal meal to eat before dancing is the one that works best for you. If you find that having any solid food in your system 90 minutes before a recital leaves you feeling nauseous, a fruit smoothie consisting of carbs and protein in liquid form may feel better on your butterfly-filled stomach. Another dancer may need to eat a piece of wheat toast with boysenberry jam and yogurt. A third may prefer leftover thick-crust vegetarian pizza with nonfat cheese.
Try this: Two hours before a class or performance, eat a small meal (200-300 calories) consisting of a serving each of grain, fruit/vegetable and protein (for example: a turkey, lettuce and tomato sandwich on a bagel, no butter). Bring along some water or an energy drink to sip during breaks. Have a healthy snack (75 percent carbs, 25 percent protein) handy for right after your class to replenish depleted glycogen stores in your muscles.
Finally, remember that no single plan works for everyone. Finding the appropriate blend that works best for your body takes time. Start with the general guidelines of 60-20-20, and then add or subtract 5% to each until you find what helps you to feel good, maintain energy levels, and dance your heart out.