Stress fractures are one of the most feared – and devastating – injuries that can affect a dancer. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, dance injuries increased by 37 % from 1991 to 2007. Hours of practicing the same movement can make dancers prone to overuse injuries, especially of the lower legs and feet. Along with footwear, floor quality, and muscle imbalances, diet plays a major part.
You cannot control all of these, but adjusting your diet can help keep your career on track.
“There is a lot of emphasis on what a dancer cannot eat,” says Leslie Bonci, the sports dietitian for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Yet, whether you are a meat-eater, vegetarian, or vegan, you can get adequate nutrients from food – without expensive supplements.
Calcium and vitamin D both contribute to healthy bones. Vitamin D aids calcium absorption; it also helps maintain cardiovascular fitness, immune function, and fight inflammation. An 8-ounce glass of milk provides nearly one-third your daily dose of calcium. Other calcium-rich foods are yoghurt, cheese, broccoli, kale, and fortified soy milk.
Getting sufficient vitamin D from food can be difficult. Salmon, tuna, and mushrooms are sources. Milk and juice sometimes also contain added vitamin D.
A Healthy Support System
“Very often, when a dancer comes with a stress fracture, it’s a lot more than calcium,” says Bonci. Inadequate protein is often the culprit. The main building block for muscle and bone, protein also makes up your ligaments, tendons, and other joint structures. “Take care of your supporting structures,” advises Bonci, if you want to avoid injury. Dancers should eat about 1-1.2 grams of protein per kilo. Someone weighing 55 kg would need 55 g of protein a day.
Bonci advises eating smaller quantities throughout the day. A cup of Greek yoghurt is easy to take to the studio, and contains as much protein as a 3-ounce piece of lean meat.
What You Should Avoid
Stay away from processed foods, which are loaded with salt and phosphorous. These “bone robbers” leach calcium from your bones. Anything sold from a vending machine probably isn’t good for you. Sodas are especially damaging to bone health.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who drank one can of soda a day had a 3.7% decrease in bone density at the femoral neck.
Caffeine also promotes calcium loss. Try to drink no more than three cups of caffeinated beverages a day, including coffee and black tea.
More Fluids, Fewer Injuries
Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and poor concentration. In a 90-minute dance class, you can lose as much as 2 liters of fluid. You should drink 500 ml of water for every half hour of dancing to replace lost fluids, according to the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS).
Vitamin waters, green tea, and unsweetened juices are all options. Fresh fruit and vegetables, which have a high water content, also help you get your fluids.
“It’s never one-size-fits-all,” says Bonci. Your individual needs may also fluctuate depending on your rehearsal schedule and other factors.
Talk to a dietician for advice, especially if you think you may have a deficiency, or if you have concerns about adequate nutrition.
-Personal communication with Leslie Bonci, RD on 25 November 2014
– Russell, J. Preventing Dance Injuries: Current Perspectives. Journal of Sports Med (2013) 4: 199–210.
-Tucker. Colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006 Oct;84(4):936-42.
By Stephanie Kramer
Stephanie Kramer studied Politics in Berlin Public and Health at Johns Hopkins University, USA
And she works at Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin. She has been dancing since age 3. She studied ballet, modern, contemporary, and jazz, and performed in dance theatre productions and modern dance works. She has been writing since 2001 and has published articles on a range of subjects related to health and nutrition. Her translations include and Taschenatlas der Anatomie and Anatomie der Inneren Organe.