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Injured Dancer’s Diet

My daughter has injured her back and is off dancing at present (She is 15). She is terrified of putting on weight as she can’t exercise. What should she be eating when she is not training?”

If a dancer has an injury they must take special care of their diet, as good nutrition provides the building blocks for rebuilding muscle and other damaged tissues. A wide range of vitamins and minerals is also needed to help to boost immunity, especially in more chronic conditions. However this is often a time when dancers begin to severly restrict their food intake for fear of putting on weight. Restricting intake may in fact alter the rate of metabolic processes as the body moves into energy conservation mode, making it harder to moderate body weight in the future. Areas to make special note of include;
• A wide variety of protein sources is essential to provide all the amino acids that are needed to reconstruct the damaged tissues. Synthetic or isolated natural amino-acid products (avaliable from health stores) may be used to enhance recovery, but should not be used to replace natural sources. Use them more to ensure a comprehensive intake of all of the essential amino-acids each day. Take care that your daughter is eating small amounts of different types of protein, and consider increasing the protein to carbohydrate ratio.

• Care must be taken to alter quantities of food, especially carbohydrates, if the dancer is not maintaing her pre-injury level of activity. Reducing portion size, but maintaing frequency of meals will help keep all systems functioning at optimal levels.

• Note the Glycaemic Index (GI) and Glycaemic Load (GL) values of foods. Choose the lower value between two similar foods to reduce fluctuations in blood sugar levels, and therefore avoid sudden increases in insulin production.

• There is recent evidence that increased doses of Vitamin C and E can help with tissue regeneration. Vitamins C and E are Antioxidants that can help reduce the destructive effect of ‘free-radicals’ on muscle cells, to prevent injury and aid recovery.

• If the injury involves any fracture or irritation of the bone, make special note of Calcium intake and the things that affect this. Vitamins D and K can increase the uptake of calcium, and load bearing exercise is important to maintain bone density in the uninjured limbs. While caffeine has been has been shown to causes a slight and temporary rise in the level of calcium excretion, studies also show that adequate calcium consumption can offset the potential effect of caffeine on bone density. She must also look into other forms of exercise that can help her keep all the areas that are not injured in optimal condition, and recover the injured area as quickly as possible. Studio Pilates, specific physiotherapy exercises, gentle yoga, walking and swimming may all assist recovery.

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