Regardless of who you are, it takes a lot of energy to keep jetés soaring and kicks high-flying, but it takes even more fuel if you’re a teenage male. Between the ages of 13 and 17, boys gain roughly 37 pounds, mostly in muscle. (Teenage girls experience growth spurts, too, but most of their weight gain is in essential body fat, with some muscle.) In order to sustain the high metabolism required for this growth, not to mention long days in the studio, what should an adolescent male dancer eat to stay healthy and strong?
The Food Guide Pyramid, found on most food labels, is a great way to shape eating habits, but is based on a 2,200-calorie diet. The average teenage boy needs upwards of 2,700-3,000 calories, so male dancers should eat much more than the recommended daily servings.
If a dancer’s protein intake is too low, growth rate will slow, energy will drop and the immune system will weaken. (Low levels of iron, found abundantly in protein, make the body less able to deliver oxygen to cells.) Male dancers don’t need to add powders and supplements to their diets if they eat protein with every meal and snack. The best iron sources are meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts and soy, but iron can also be found in dried fruit,
fortified cereals and spinach.
During adolescence, 45 percent of the body’s skeletal mass is developed, requiring 1,200-1,500 milligrams of calcium per day. The best source is non- or low-fat dairy, such as milk or yogurt, which both have 300 milligrams in a single cup. Other calcium sources: broccoli, almonds, tofu and calcium-fortified orange juice. Note: Soda and salt interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Essential for growth and sexual maturation, zinc is found in fortified cereals, wheat germ, nuts, beans and lean meats such as roast beef or turkey. While low levels of zinc can worsen acne, too much zinc can depress the immune system and lead to copper deficiency, which raises cholesterol and affects heart function. Note: No one should consume more than 30 milligrams of zinc per day.
Teenagers need significant amounts of thiamin, riboflavin and niacin to accommodate higher energy levels. Other B vitamins, such as B6, B12 and folate, aid in tissue building; vitamin D helps skeletal growth; and vitamins A, C and E promote new cell growth. All of these will be consumed in adequate quantities simply by eating a well-balanced diet.
Fat should not be eliminated from a teen diet, though high-fat meats and cheeses should be consumed sparingly and fried foods avoided altogether because they are too high in saturated fat. The best fat sources are avocados, nuts, fish and olive oil; they won’t raise cholesterol and are good for reducing inflammation. (For more on fat, see “The Skinny On Fats” in DS January 2005.)
Adolescents are at a high risk for dehydration because they heat up quickly. Active male dancers should drink between 10 and 12 eight-ounce glasses per day, regardless of thirst.