I grew up with the mantra “If dance were any easier, it would be called football” imprinted on my brain.
Anytime I didn’t think I could push myself any further, realized that “one more time” was never actually the last time, or was simply exhausted and running on fumes, I’d repeat this phrase.
Much like the burly men of football, dancers endure grueling rehearsals and demanding training repertoires and as a result experience DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness.)
You know, the morning after a performance when you need Advil just to roll out bed, cringe at the thought of a flight of stairs, or have to wear 10 layers through the entire barre until you feel ‘warm’ enough to take them off during center.
This soreness obviously varies in intensity, but the cause is always the same. That aching feeling that sets in after 12 to 24 hours is a side effect of the repair process as your body heals tiny, microscopic muscle-fiber tears. That’s right, tears.
But what if there was a way to prevent this pain and actually use it to your advantage by building muscle? There is!
What you eat before, during, and after you dance
plays a huge role in how you feel the next day.
Real quick, imma hit you with some science…
Muscle fibers are made of peptides (which are made of particular combinations of amino acids), which can be found in protein rich foods. The ability for muscles to function properly depends on how much energy is readily available. A muscle’s favorite type of fuel is glycogen and it’s stored in the muscle itself, glycogen is the stuff glucose is made of. Glucose is the basis for, wait for it… carbs!
By having protein to repair these microscopic tears and glycogen there to power the work being done, you can reduce the suffering of DOMS.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Believe me, it is.
If you have protein and carbs before you dance
you’ll be able to get ahead of the pain.
Having them during your class, rehearsal, or performance means healing/ maintaining muscle as you go, and having them after means ensuring you can dance another day!
This method not only reduces soreness, it reduces risk of injury!
Think about it…
If your muscle is a rope and one tiny strand breaks you can ignore it, but when a few start to tear the rope is weakened. Ultimately, this rope is at risk for a complete tear! Putting it out of commission. That’s what professionals call a muscle strain or tear. Uh, yeah, I’ll pass on that. Thanks.
Anywho, I’ve read other dance blogs concerning this same issue, and this is where I get frustrated. They offer a variety of snack suggestions that will supposedly reduce DOMS, like peanut butter sandwiches and cheese sticks.
Sorry, but those foods are not reasonable sources for protein and carbs after an intense bout of dancing.
Firstly, who’s going to be in the wings nomming a PB sammy during intermission of a performance? #AmIRight
Secondly, neither of those foods are high protein choices. Both are actually higher in fat than protein. Way higher. Although super important and beneficial in a dancer’s diet, dietary fat isn’t the best choice when eating for immediate recovery.
DOMS reduction method #1, get ahead of it.
Eat a real meal before dancing or working out. One that has a lean protein and a whole carbohydrate source.
Before: Example, for a 10am ballet class I start my day with an egg and a few egg whites, a cup of greek yogurt, a piece of fruit, like a banana or mango, and salad (Yeah, I eat salad for breakfast. Get at me). Try to have this in your tummy at least 2 hours before you pull on your leotard or leggings.
DOMS reduction method #2, hit it as it’s happening.
Back to the rope analogy: If you repair the rope as soon as it starts to weaken you’ll increase the longevity of the rope. Same with these microscopic tears.
During class I’ll sip on a cocktail of branch chain amino acids (the smallest building blocks of protein), glutamine, and carbs- like a one-part water one-part juice blend.
You’re not only drinking this to prevent DOMS, you’re actively fueling your body as you go. This is a matter of surviving grande allegro versus CRUSHING grande allegro. Now, BCAA’s have been highly debated on their actual effectiveness.
And truth be told, for the “average” person, they’re probably just a fancy form of flavored water. If you’re getting enough dietary protein the presence of BCAA’s may or may not make a difference. However, if you’re jumping from one class to the next, or workout to workout, or have a dietary restriction (like veganism) that might limit the amount of protein you get in your day-to-day diet, BCAAs will be a great addition.
If you’re pretty set in a diet of regular protein uptake, you can likely skip the BCAAs, and just utilize glutamine and carbs (fruit juice) for equal benefit.
DOMS reduction method #3, more protein and carbs
Regardless of the before and during, if you’re giving it your all in class or in the gym, you will inevitably do some damage.
That’s okay! Within an hour or two of dancing reach for more protein and carbs.
We used to believe there was a “window of opportunity” to get in ample repair products… frantically thinking “I’ve only got 60 minutes after my workout to eat or everything will be wasted!” This myth has been debunked, however, that doesn’t mean you should procrastinate on your post-workout nutrition. The faster you get that energy in there, the sooner it can get to work and the faster you’ll be ready to go ahead.
So, I’d recommend, once you thank your instructor (please, always thank your instructor), it’s lunch time. Grab your gal pals and enjoy another well rounded meal! Lean protein like chicken or turkey or fish with a whole carb like a sweet potato, rice, or fruit salad and some powerhouse greens will help keep you energized for the rest of your day and alleviate signs of DOMS.
Or if you’re on the run, a protein shake packed with berries and greens will carry you over until your next real meal.
At this point you’re probably saying, “damn this girl eats a lot”.
How much protein do I actually need?
Well, as an athlete… a ton!
Think about how much of your body is made from protein. Besides muscle, you’ve got organs, hair, skin, nails… your brain! So, in order to maintain all of these functions and maintain and/or sculpt sexy muscles you should aim for .8-1.25grams of protein per pound of body weight.
ex: a 110pound dancer should aim for 88-140 grams of protein every single day!
Protein is important stuff. Muscles are important for longevity as a dancer. These two go hand-in-hand
Remember, you only get one body and your profession- your passion- demands that you take care of it. Listen to what it’s telling you. Rest when you need to, fuel yourself like an athlete, so you can live like an artist.
Comment and share to save the bodies of fellow dancers!