As a professional ballroom dancer and a Registered Dietitian I have explored personally and professionally the importance of nutrition in performing your best as a competitive ballroom dancer, whether you are a student, a teacher, a professional or an amateur competitor. Last week we discussed important nutrition tips and facts for competitive ballroom dancers pre-competition/during the training phase. Just as nutrition is important when you are practicing or training for an event, nutrition is just as, if not more crucial and difficult to manage, while you are at a competition. Many of you who have experienced a ballroom competition either as a student, teacher, amateur, or a professional competitor know that the traveling, long days of early mornings and/or very late nights, significant energy expenditures mentally and physically on the floor take you outside of your normal routine and require slightly different management tips to ensure you are consuming adequate nutrition to, not just make it through the competition, but feel your best at the event and especially on the floor. In this week’s blog post we will provide you with nutrition tips and facts to help you feel your best throughout the competition and be at your absolute best on the floor.
1. General Tips:
a. Pack Snacks- Depending on whether the competition you are going to is in your “backyard” or whether you have to travel by car or by plane your access to bringing food with you may vary. I recommended, especially if you are traveling by plane, packing non-perishable snacks that are well balanced in both carbohydrates and protein and that you know don’t cause you any stomach upset/bloating. Some simple ideas are lower added sugar protein bars such lara, rx, or orgain bars; nut butter packets with fruit or rice cakes; hummus and pretzel snack packs; or dried fruit and nuts. If you are driving to the competition and have a cooler and/or have a refrigerator in your room and can stop at a store and buy some perishable snacks, options such as cheese (vegan or dairy) and crackers, Greek yogurt and fruit, or chia pudding with coconut flakes are all great options of balanced snacks to have available. If you are competing throughout the day, have some snacks available in the ballroom and make sure to have something every 3-4 hours. If you are only competing for a shorter time frame, light snack options can be used closer to competing to keep your energy levels up while minimizing heaviness or bloating.
b. Meal Time- Meals can be a bit more tricky at competitions. If you are on a meal package, this can alleviate many issues, but if you are an am-am or professional competitor or are not on a package, meals are dependent on access to restaurants in the nearby area or the hotel restaurants which, in both situations, can lead to limited food choices as well as limited hours of availability. This being said, planning ahead and knowing the area and what is available/when is crucial- make sure the meals on package can provide you with what you need or that the hotel restaurant or a restaurant near by with delivery capabilities are available. The last meal before you compete, I recommend consuming within 2-3 hours of dancing (if this isn’t possible and you are going to go longer than 4 hours, make sure you have a snack available). This meal should consist of a lean protein: e.g. chicken, fish, tofu, or beans (if you don’t have an issue digesting them/with bloating); a moderate to low fiber carbohydrate such as a plain pasta, white rice, potatoes (baked or sautéed, not fried), or toast; Fat: if additional fat is consumed during the meal prior to competing, keep it to a light, easily digestible option such as avocado, light oil/dressing, or a small serving of nut butter. Keep in mind, every one is different, but for those who are prone to bloating or stomach upset while competing stick to the recommendations above and avoid gaseous and hard to digest foods: e.g. veggies such a broccoli and cauliflower or bulky salads, fried foods/high fat meals (covered in cheese or heavy sauces); garlic and onions (those foods that make your breathe smell) types of food you have never tried before- these can cause unknown responses and should be avoided until after you are done competing or at least a full day prior to competing. For meals before or after your dancing (if you don’t have a sensitive stomach) or on off days at the competition feel free to have slightly higher fiber meals with a greater variety of vegetables and flavors, while still following a similar structure. Overall, especially if you have long days at the competition, make sure to get at least 2 if not 3 meals and ensure you supplement snacks between meals or for missed meals.
c. Hydration- Consuming water throughout the day is a must! Dehydration can lead to fainting, low energy, headaches and an inability to focus on the floor. If you are dancing a lot throughout the day ensure that you are consuming small amounts of whatever when you are off the floor between dances as well as supplementing with electrolytes (either diluted Gatorade, Pedialyte, or electrolyte drops) can help you maintain your energy and performance without muscle cramps. This should also be taken into account for dancers who sweat significantly or are competing multiple rounds over a short period of time. A minimum of 64 oz of water and up to approximately 128 oz of water (with at least half of the liquid consumed during long or intense stents of dancing fortified with electrolytes) should be consumed throughout the day. Make sure are also drinking water in small sips and not gulping large amounts at once to avoid stomach cramps. Avoid sodas, more than 2 cups of coffee/caffeinated drinks, and alcohol while competing as these can promote dehydration and minimize water consumption (if sodas or alcohol are going to be consumed, keep consumption to 1-2 drinks after competing or on a day off to avoid risk of dehydration).
d. Sleep- Getting enough sleep while getting ready to compete, competing long hours, or competing late at night or early in the morning can be very difficult. If you can get to bed early the night before you compete or sleep in the day you can compete is ideal if you have a late night the day before. If at all possible, getting 8 hours of sleep (a minimum of 6 hours) will help improve your ability to handle competition stress and put your full energy and excitement into your day. If you can’t get enough sleep, make sure you take the time to relax when you have the moments to: stretching, close your eyes while you are getting hair and make up done, take some time to yourself in the ballroom or take a breathe of fresh air outside when you have a big break.
e. Feeling and Looking Good- These nutrition and sleep tips are to help ensure you can feel your best in your outfit/dress and have the energy and clarity to do your best on the floor. It is important to remember that, no matter how much you take care of your body, you also have to be confident in your own skin. Put on your dress, tail suit or latin shirt, look at yourself in the mirror and know that you look sexy (or classy) and feel confident about how you look at that moment and your dancing- don’t let self-doubt throw you off your game!
2. Bonus Specialty Tips:
a. Professional Competitors: The general tips above apply to you! The main difference is that many times as a professional competitor you fly in and leave relatively quickly so you may not require quite as much prep. This being said, despite how minimal your time is on the floor compared to many pro-am competitors, I highly recommend still balancing your meals throughout the day with easily digestible options and staying hydrated throughout the day (minus some of the electrolyte supplementation) is wise to ensure that you can put the energy on the floor necessary to perform at a high level.
b. Pro-AM student and Teachers- If you are competing a significant amount of entries, making sure you are properly nourished and energized is ideal to perform your best as a student and to do your best for your student as a teacher. Many times when you are in either of these roles you are competing on multiple days throughout the competition. While it is nice to treat yourself to fancy meals, tasty cocktails, and enjoy the city, keep moderation in mind! To make sure you enjoy the competition at all levels, consider enjoying the city or a fancy meal and cocktails if you arrive early to the competition, have a full day off in between styles, or after you are done competing. Planning these activities accordingly, you can enjoy your trip while not wearing yourself out for your dancing. Additionally, really ensuring a focus on packing snacks and hydration is a benefit for all of you doing a significant number of entries. Teacher’s: if you help promote these practices for your students, many times this can improve their focus, their mood, their energy, and overall performance to ensure they are able to put all the great dancing you have worked on with them out on the floor!
3. After you Finish your Dancing at The Competition:
a. After you are done competing for the weekend, it is easy to go crazy and splurge on both food and alcohol. While it is tempting to throw all control to the wind and enjoy/celebrate your successful weekend, consider applying some degree and moderation to your choices. I do recommend enjoying yourself and am definitely a supporter of enjoying a slightly less healthy food choice and/or a cocktail or two. It is okay to treat yourself and not feel guilty about it! I do put that caveat on this statement though that having some degree of moderation allows this treat to be more enjoyable and not have the negative side effects of hangovers or food comas. You can manage these activities by setting a limit to the number of drinks you have eg a 2 drink maximum and by moderating the portion sizes you are having of your less healthy food choices!
Many of these tips from each category can cross over been different types of competitive ballroom dancers based on your competition schedule and frequency, your age, and your overall health. Keep in mind as well that everyone is different and the exact needs and requirements from person to person can vary. Therefore, if you are struggling to maintain your energy levels and/or mood while competing, are not feeling confident in your body image on the floor, or just feel like you need more guidance on your health or nutrition please contact me or another registered dietitian to help develop recommendations personalized to you as an individual and help you perform at your optimal potential on the competition floor.
I hope you enjoyed these tips and would love to hear your questions, feedback, or any other nutrition tips that you have found useful to keep you going at a competition!
Keep an eye out in the next week or two for Part 3 of our Nutrition for the Competitive Ballroom dancer blog post discussing nutrition tips for after you return from a competition, are traveling and on a break from training, or are in a phase where you are still dancing, but are not training for a specific event!
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Wishing you a week filled with dance, passion, health, and wellness,
-Ricci-Lee Hotz, MS, RDN
Denver’s Dancing Dietitian
A Taste of Health, LLC
“Improving Quality of life one bite at a time”