So far in the nutritional series, we have looked at the role of hydration and protein in maintaining energy and fitness. This week, we’re entering controversial territory. Often vilified and maligned, today we’re looking at the deeply misunderstood world of the carbohydrate. Love them or hate them, carbs are crucial for professional dancers. Let’s see why.
Carbs: What Are They?
Along with protein and fats, carbs are a macronutrient. This means that the body requires the nutrient in large amounts. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is a key fuel for the entire body. Carbs are required for:
- Powering cellular functions
- Brain function – the brain is 100% dependent upon carbs for its energy
- Preventing ketosis – a potentially fatal build-up of acids in the blood
Carbohydrates ensure that cells perform their required roles. According to doctors, this includes enabling proteins to carry out repairs, digestion, optimising the immune system, and simply providing the energy that keeps the heart pumping and organs functioning.
Why Did We Fall Out Of Love With Carbs?
This tale of hubris began in 1980s USA. Unsure why the population was gaining weight, the government decided to place the blame on fats. However, to widespread bafflement, waistlines kept expanding and population health kept declining.
Enter a new millennium, and a new theory. According to Dr Atkins, fats were innocent. The real villain, he claimed, was the carb. The claim would spark two decades of fear and confusion surrounding the nutritional value of carbohydrates.
Was Atkins Right?
Nope. At least, it’s a little more complex than that. The problem is the type of carbohydrates that the government-endorsed anti-fat craze generated. Seeking ways to reduce ‘harmful’ fat content, food producers began systematically stripping nutrient rich fats from their food and replacing them with low-nutrient sugars.
Those types of carbs – the ones that are highly processed and packed with sugar – are definitely not a good idea. The rest of the carb family are not only healthy, they are crucial for nutritional function.
So What’s The Difference Between ‘Good’ & ‘Bad’ Carbs?
When we talk about ‘good’ carbs we’re talking about carbohydrates that have a host of other bonuses, such as fibre, minerals, and vitamins. These are usually forms of nutrient-rich carbohydrate compounds, meaning they are chemically complex and take longer for the body to break down. By doing things gradually – as opposed to instigating a full-on sugar rush – the energy flow is well regulated and there are no harmful insulin spikes. These are the carbs you should seek out to support your training.
‘Bad’ carbs, on the other hand, have virtually no nutritional value. All they do is put pressure on your system by providing an energy burst. Over time, this repeated stress can lead to the development of conditions such as Type II Diabetes. While many dancers do indulge in an energy drink or ‘fitness bar’ before an intense session, this isn’t something to make a habit of.
Where can I find ‘good’ carbs, and how can I steer clear of the ‘bad’ ones?
Good carbohydrates are found in many food groups, including:
- Whole grains
- Vegetables – particularly potatoes
- Beans and pulses
‘Bad’ carbs are found in foods that are processed, refined or packed with sugar. These include:
- White bread
- Biscuits and desserts
- Fast food
Making a reasonable guess at which foods are likely to be on the ‘good’ end of the carb spectrum doesn’t require a degree in nutritional science. The only ambiguous area is when food has been processed and then enriched. This often happens with bread, which is stripped of its nutrients and then artificially pumped full of additives. While these types of food are not as healthy as natural whole foods, they are better than the alternatives.
How Many Carbs Does A Dancer Need?
This depends on variables such as age and exercise intensity. An average adult with a normal level of exercise should ensure that between 45% and 65% of their daily diet is formed of complex carbohydrates. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that works out as between 225g to 325g. This is nowhere near enough for a professional dancer, where daily calorie burn could be closer to 4,000 + on training days. For high-intensity exercise, more carbs are needed. The normal recommendation is:
Women: 40-50 calories per kilogram of body weight
Men: 50-55 calories per kilogram of body weight
Free online exercise carb counters can help to find the perfect amount for your weight, height, and age.
At Ray Rose, we are dedicated to helping the dance community achieve its full potential. High quality professional dance shoes perform best when paired with excellent nutrition. If you have ideas for healthy carbohydrate-rich meals for dancers, let us know in the comments below!