Ask the Experts: What supplements are best for dancers?

Dancers can be bombarded with many performance enhancing supplements that claim to build strength and assist in recovery. Use of some supplements can be clouded by lack of true scientific support, side effects, and financial cost.

Like dancers have found for centuries, the quest for better performance can be a complicated process. Let’s see if we can simplify this search with 6 sensible supplement recommendations.

SUPPLEMENTS: THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP 

I can’t begin to tell you how sleep deprivation can derail even the best constructed training program. It doesn’t matter how good your instructor is, how tough you are, or the cutting-edge design of your training program. Lack is sleep is a momentum crusher. Sleep is probably the most under-rated and under-appreciated performance enhancing supplement. Don’t look at sleep as a punishment – nail your recovery by getting 8-9 hours of this important supplement. Skeletal muscle needs adequate recovery time to rebuild damaged fibers. Studies support needing this minimum of 8-9 hours of sleep a day. Insufficient sleep can also reduce mental alertness at school. Fewer hours of shut eye has also been associated with statistically higher risk of illness or injury.

TIPS TO ASSIST WITH SLEEP: 

 Establish a regular bedtime – do not change up more than ½ hour from your usual bedtime.  
 Naps can be helpful especially if limited to under one hour per day.  These short naps promote alertness and energy while adding to daily sleep amount and not affecting nighttime sleep.
 Stop any type of screen device use no later than one hour before bedtime.
 Keep screen devices out of the sleep area.  Pings, alerts and the temptation to check devices can reduce the amount and quality of sleep.

SUPPLEMENTS: APPROPRIATE SELECTION AND USE OF FLUIDS

Next to sleep, fluids are the next safest and most important nutritional supplement. Lack of enough fluid intake leading to just a one pound weight loss may reduce performance. Therefore, it is key to drink the appropriate amounts of fluid before dance and have appropriate access to fluids during classes, rehearsals and performances. Water is the best choice for all types and duration of dance. However, for dance lasting over an hour, there is an increased role for sports beverages to replace sugar (carbohydrate) and electrolytes (salts). For dancers who are salty sweaters (white salt rings on outfits, sweat has distinct salt taste), sports beverages can help replace salt losses.

TIPS TO ASSIST WITH FLUIDS:
Just like too little fluid intake can be a problem, too much intake can also cause issues. Thus, use thirst as a guide rather than drink on a forced schedule.
Here are suggestions from the American College of Sports Medicine:
 Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of water every 15- 20 minutes when dancing for less than 60 minutes depending on tolerance.
 Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of water or a sports beverage (5-8 percent carbohydrate with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes depending on tolerance when dancing greater than 60 minutes.
 Depending on tolerance: means use thirst as a guide and realize that the above recommendations are a guide rather than requirements for healthy dancers.
 Drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound lost after activity.

SUPPLEMENTS: THE TIMING AND AMOUNT OF PROTEIN

Protein is the necessary building block for repair and rebuilding of skeletal after dance. Just about every serious dancer knows this. However, do you know the best time to get the most protein boost to your workout? The best time for protein intake is within 30 minutes after completing dance activity. In fact, that post dance meal might just well be the most important meal of the day. An easy recommendation to remember: “30 for 30”: 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing dance class, rehearsal or performances. A total daily intake of 0.5-0.7 mg protein/pound of body weight is another solid recommendations. That can be divided over all meals, including that key post dance meal.

So, is it time to stock up on those tubs of protein powder? Well, I favor dairy or meat/bean/egg sources of protein as readily available and inexpensive protein sources. Furthermore, you’ll also get well-absorbed collateral benefits of calcium, Vitamin D, and iron with these whole food sources.

How about those specialized amino acid supplements? Proteins are made up from amino acids, and taking specific amino acids has been touted for weight loss and strength building. However, there is a lack of rigorous support for high amounts of individual amino acids. So it is best to stick with whole food protein sources.

Organic almond milk and almonds.
Photographer: Rawpixel.com

TIPS TO ASSIST WITH PROTEIN INTAKE:

 8-12 ounces of chocolate milk within 30 minutes of exercise. Chocolate milk is a sensible recovery drink that has a good blend of carbohydrate and protein allowing increased protein transport to recovering muscles.

 Other good post dance or snack protein sources include Greek yogurt, peanut butter, hard boiled eggs, and trail mix.

SUPPLEMENTS: WHAT ABOUT CREATINE?

Have you heard about creatine? Do you know what it is? Creatine is found in muscle tissue and helps replace short-acting energy sources that fuel skeletal muscle contractions. Increased creatine in working muscles can potentially contribute to more intense workouts and faster recovery between dance sessions. Positive results have included increased speed and leaping/jumping.
Unfortunately, common possible side-effects include water retention, bloating, and muscle cramping. In addition, kidney injury has been reported. Take note that many United States-based sports medicine organizations do not endorse creatine supplementation in children under 18.
The best studied creatine supplements are either liquid or powder forms of creatine monohydrate. Some dosing programs include higher loading doses for the first few days, followed by lower daily maintenance doses. Other dosing regimens include medium daily doses without any higher loading amount.
So, do I have a preference on type and dosing schedule? Indeed – the whole food sources of creatine on a regular basis rather than powders or liquids.

TIPS ON CREATINE USE:  

If using any supplement, ensure that you are getting exactly what is on the container and not anything extra (see below).
 Good whole food sources of creatine include wild game meats or wild-caught fish. You will also get collateral benefits of protein, calcium and iron.
 Domestic meats and fish (especially free-range meats) still have reasonable amounts of creatine.

SUPPLEMENTS: ARE PRE-WORKOUT OR ENERGY DRINKS SAFE AND DO
THEY WORK
?

Let’s switch topics to other types of liquid supplements commonly used by young dancers – advertised pre-workout supplements or “energy drinks” reported to enhance dance performance. These drinks routinely contain multiple components, the most common being caffeine, guarana, taurine and a lot of sugar. All of these compounds are stimulants which can possibly increase energy and help with weight control, which might be desired by many dancers.

It is best to balance these potential benefits with real big-time risks, especially in younger dancers, such as faster heart rates, vomiting, dizziness, and potential muscle damage. Those side effects alone
aren’t worth experimenting with energy drinks.

Remember- the best pre-workout supplement is that 8-9 hours of sleep you get right before starting dance!

TIPS ON PRE-WORKOUT SUPPLEMENTS:

 Read the labels! Adding pre-workout supplements or an energy drink to usual caffeinated beverage of choice might give an enormous caffeine/stimulant load.  
 Even without mixing in other caffeine sources, the possible dangers of these drinks can definitely outweigh possible benefits.

SUPPLEMENTS: WHAT’S THE GENERAL LOWDOWN?

It is not hard to find supplements that are advertised to increase dance performance. Some of these products will work – no doubt about it. However, the gross majority do not have rigorous scientific support.
There is also a higher risk of health side effects from both known and potentially unreported elements, not to mention the risks to your bank account. Many exercise supplements are fairly expensive and you might be paying a lot of money for something that ultimately may cause more harm than good. What is on the label of many products may not the same as what is in the actual container.

Photographer: jamie mink

TIPS ON SUPPLEMENTS:

 A significant number of supplements have additional, unreported elements that are potentially dangerous.
 Suffering real and possibly long-term health consequences is not worth the potential short-term gains in strength, endurance or weight control. The bottom line is that it is more important to invest your time and money into more sensible whole food options, appropriate fluid choices, and getting that all-important sleep! These key supplements will enhance your dance performance and boost your workouts more than any over-the-counter supplement.

Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. He is a team physician for USA Volleyball (including participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics), the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Network, Cal State Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics, Chapman University Dance Department, and Orange Lutheran High School. He offers a comprehensive blend of general pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach to each patient and family. Please visit activekidmd.com or follow him on Twitter (@dockoutures).

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