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Food for Thought – Fueling the Dancer – Focus on Hydration


by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

To perform at their best, dancers need to be well fueled for classes, rehearsals, and performances and need the right balance of carbohydrate, fat, protein, micronutrients, and fluids. {1} Spending the day in a hot studio is normal for dancers. Therefore, hydration is an important topic for the dancer-athlete.

During the summer months, dancers want to pay special attention to fueling the body with particular focus on fluid intake. Because dancers are athletes as well as artists, we can look to the research available on sport performance and hydration as many parallels exist between dance and sport. There are a few schools of thought on hydration for performance.

A recent and vigorous discussion regarding hydration amongst colleagues comes to mind! While athletic trainers and dance teachers agree that hydration is an important component of both training and performance, I was not surprised to see the many varied responses involving electrolytes, sugar, vitamins, juices, sparkling water, Emergen-C, coconut water and even milk!

Let’s examine the facts. As a dancer works, muscles produce heat, which activates the body’s cooling system in the form of sweat on the skin via evaporation. Sweat losses during a hard class or long rehearsal can be substantial-up to 2 liters/hour. Fluid loss results in dehydration that can impair performance and mental functioning, such as the ability to quickly pick up complicated choreographic combinations and execute them effectively.{1,2}

Dancers should have quick access to fluid during class or rehearsal and should be encouraged to drink during breaks. The thirst mechanism does not keep up with the body’s need for fluid so a water bottle should be part of a dancer’s ‘gear’. The recommendation is an 8-ounce cup of fluid every 15 minutes. {1}

Exposure to prolonged exercise in the heat can induce water deficits due to profuse sweating, resulting in hypohydration (excessive loss of body water). This water deficit lowers both intracellular and extracellular volumes and results in plasma hyperosmolality (increased urine concentration) and hypovolemia (decrease in blood plasma); both of which impair sweating. During this process, if a dancer does not drink, the sweating mechanism slows down or stops completely. Once fluids are taken again, the sweat rate immediately increases. {2} The body is an amazing machine and dancers are well aware of this! Following class or performance, dancers should continue to increase fluid consumption. {1}

How can a dancer check for dehydration?

A simple way to monitor hydration is to check urine color: clear to light yellow is hydrated; yellow to dark yellow means dehydrated. One caveat, vitamin B supplements will result in yellow urine and make this dehydration “test” inaccurate. {1}

What is the best fluid for dancer-athletes to consume?

This question is debatable as the many schools of thought hinge on intensity. If the dance day is long and intense, lost nutrients and electrolytes need to be replaced. In addition to water, some athletic trainers and professionals recommend simply drinking water and eating a banana, while others lean toward electrolyte and greater potassium replacement via either coconut water or an electrolyte replacement drink.

What about energy drinks and energy shots?

More controversial, however, are the subjects of energy drinks and energy shots, so much so that sports organizations have published official stands on this. The International Society of Sports Medicine lists 9 points in their position statement on energy drinks and shots. The statement includes concerns for caffeine level intakes and blood glucose and insulin levels around the higher calorie energy drinks. They also state that athletes should consider the impact of these levels with regards to motor skill performance.{3}

As I have said before, dancers know their bodies! The most intelligent choice for hydration is water. Beyond that, dancers should consider their work day and work out intensity levels, check in with their bodies and find what works best in each situation.

Until next time, friends, dance healthy and strong (and drink your water)!

Janine Bryant

  1. Clarkson PM. Fueling the Dancer. Position Statement, International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, 2002.
  2. Shibasaki M and Crandall C, Mechanisms and controllers of eccrine sweating in humans, Front Biosci (Schol Ed). ; 2: 685–696, 2011.
  3. Campbell et al.: International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: energy drinks. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013 10:1.

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