Name: Kate Langan, RD, MAN
Bio: Kate is a Registered Dietitian based in the Cambridge/Guelph area. Kate was a competitive athlete in soccer and volleyball growing up, giving her first-hand experience with the impact of sport nutrition. Through her Instagram, @ThatSassyDietitian, Kate shares her passion for communicating nutrition science, and provides simple, healthy recipes for her followers. Kate is a self-proclaimed foodie; her favourite snacks on competition day are Greek lentil salad and overnight oats.
Nutrition and Dance
Eating nutritious foods is important for our population as a whole in order to achieve and maintain good health. Athletes need to prioritize their nutrition as the physical demands of sport require our bodies to use more energy (calories!). Dance specifically requires endurance and strength, among other skills. With proper nutrition, you can support your body as it meets the demands of dance, while also aiding in the prevention of long-term wear and tear on the body. Fuelling yourself accordingly will allow your body to perform at its highest potential.
In teen athletes, under-eating is unfortunately common. To encourage eating enough in this population, it’s helpful to understand why we eat the foods we do, and how this pattern of eating benefits athletes specifically.
What should we eat?
Any meal that is not directly related to competition should mimic Canada’s newly updated Food Guide plate structure: half of your plate coming from veggies, a quarter of your plate filled with a protein source (i.e. meat, dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc.), and a quarter of your plate filled with a carbohydrate source (i.e. breads, pastas, fruits, starchy vegetables, rice, etc.).
During exercise, the body’s first and favourite source of energy is stored carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide a fast boost of energy to fuel competition, and in recovery they are effective in replenishing muscle energy stores. Protein is needed within the diet to promote building and maintaining lean muscle mass. For athletes, adequate protein consumed throughout the day helps ensure that muscles are being repaired between practices/competition. Fat is the least prioritized nutrient to include when preparing or participating in sports because fat takes a long time to digest. Still, fat is important to include within the diet on a regular basis due to the role it plays in reducing inflammation, and in enhancing vitamin absorption and hormonal health.
Before Activity (practice or competition)
Before activity, choosing foods that are rich in carbs, moderate protein, and low in fat will result in your body using those nutrients optimally, allowing you to perform at the highest level. Portion sizes are dictated by how close your eating period is to your activity period – the longer you have to digest, the larger the portion could be. If you’re pressed for time with only a half hour – hour window before your sport, choosing a light snack or smoothie may sit better than a full meal. Other factors to consider include choosing foods you are familiar with, avoiding spicy foods that may irritate the stomach, limiting high fibre foods that may stimulate bowels, and limiting high-sugar foods that may cause a short-term spike (and subsequent crash) in energy.
During Activity (competition days)
During activity, choose foods again that are: rich in carbs, moderate in protein, and low in fat. Everyone’s digestion is unique, but consuming small, frequent meals typically sits well and continuously provides the body with the fuel it needs. If there is a buffet style of food available, I suggest grabbing a plate and adding food to it instead of grazing – as that can lead to over-eating or under-eating, both of which could alter performance.
Recipe ideas that are rich in carbs and moderate in protein include: overnight oats, chickpea or lentil salad, yogurt parfaits, pasta salad, fruit salad, black bean tacos. Head over to my Instagram for more snack ideas @ThatSassyDietitian!
After Activity (practice or competition)
After activity, habits can return back to a healthy normal, so long as carbohydrates and protein are present to support with the recovery process. I encourage drinking plenty of fluids to replace what is lost. I also suggest including some salty foods and potassium-rich foods (bananas, melons, spinach, potatoes, etc.) to replace the electrolytes that are lost when we sweat! Having a good sleep following activity can aid in recovery also.
Hints on Hydration
Even a very mild state of dehydration can negatively affect performance. You’ve probably heard the saying – if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. For this reason, I encourage athletes to drink water on a schedule, rather than waiting for thirst cues. Hydration begins before competition, so start a habit of sipping water throughout your day by carrying a reusable bottle. Prioritize water (or milk) as a drink of choice as drinks with added sugars may lead to a “crash” in energy levels later on. Sport drinks may be appropriate if lots of sweating is involved (more than 1 hour of physical activity) as the purpose of that drink is to supplement what is lost in our sweat. Continue to drink water alongside your sport drink to rehydrate.
Working with a dietitian 1-on-1
One-on-one care from a dietitian can provide additional insight into other factors that affect what foods we eat, including cost, convenience, traditions, schedules, and personal preferences. Eating is a lifelong journey and nutrition does not have to come with rigid rules to experience success/health. Every time you eat is simply an opportunity to fuel yourself to your highest potential. Reach out if you’d like to meet and discuss what personalized care looks like with me as your dietitian.