From 8 am calculus exams to rigorous evening rehearsals, dancers require a lot of mental focus to get through the day. DS chatted with registered dietitian Marie Scioscia of The Ailey School for tips on what to eat to keep your brain running on all cylinders.
When it comes to immediate brainpower, there’s no single miracle food. “The key to sustained mental focus is a balance of carbohydrates and protein,” Scioscia says.
Fuel your mind with...antioxidant-rich foods, like blueberries, curry powder and dark chocolate (in moderation); monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil and avocados; foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna and walnuts; foods with vitamin E, like pumpkin seeds. (All photos courtesy Thinkstock)
Carbs increase your blood sugar, giving you a lift in mental energy. But be careful not to rely on simple sugars or concentrated natural sugars alone. While fruit juices or candy will give you an immediate boost of energy, they’ll have you crashing almost as fast. Complex carbs, like oatmeal and other whole grains, give you a steadier rise and fall in blood sugar, keeping you focused longer. They also increase your brain’s production of serotonin, which keeps you calm and happy—perfect for that stressful pop quiz!
Protein, which slows the digestion of both simple and complex carbs, provides even more protection from that dreaded crash. Plus, it increases your brain’s production of dopamine, a chemical that helps you concentrate.
If you want a long career, your body isn’t the only thing that needs to stay in shape. “Keep your mind sharper longer by eating a balanced, plant-based diet with enough protein and healthy fats,” Scioscia says. Why plant-based? Your brain needs oxygen and nutrients, which are carried by the blood. High-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains help keep your arteries clear so that nutrient-rich blood can reach your brain. Healthy fats—like fatty fish and walnuts—also enhance blood flow.
(Photos courtesy Thinkstock)
Brainpower breakfast: Try a scrambled egg on top of a whole-grain English muffin with a side of sliced strawberries for a breakfast that’s sure to power you through your morning.
(Photos courtesy Thinkstock)
Brainpower lunch: Mix a salad of canned tuna fish, olive oil–based mayonnaise, curry powder, raisins and walnuts on a whole-grain roll. Now that’s a lunch that’ll keep you sharp for hours!
(Photos courtesy Thinkstock)
Brainpower dinner: Brush a grilled chicken breast with rosemary olive oil and serve it alongside brown rice, with a sauté of kale, apples, garlic and olive oil. Of course, blueberries are for dessert!
Hey Hot Stuff: As dancers, we’re used to getting our sweat on in a full face of makeup—it’s part of being a performer. When it comes to the studio, though, makeup may not be our best friend. Hello, breakouts! But you don’t have to stop wearing makeup to class altogether. With a few simple steps, you can transition your face from school- to sweat-ready in a flash.
Tip #1: Pack face wipes in your dance bag so that you can remove your pore-clogging foundation before class, without smudging your eye makeup. Click here to read the rest of face-saving tips!
DS health and nutrition expert Caroline Lewis-Jones brings you tips for eating well during the winter months.
The weather is freezing each night when you drive home from rehearsal, so you’re probably craving warm, wintery foods before you go to bed. But instead of high-calorie, fat-filled comfort foods, try these healthier versions that will bring the same satisfaction.
Try: Vegetarian chili with beans and corn.
Beans are an excellent source of fiber and complex carbohydrates. If you want to add a meat protein, try some chopped rotisserie chicken or ground turkey breast, which have less saturated fat than beef. Use a scoop of plain low-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, and add avocado for a healthy fat rather than cheese.
Instead of: A baked potato with butter, cheese and sour cream
Try: A baked potato with marinara sauce and steamed veggies on top
Marinara sauce is loaded with lycopene (which lowers your risk for cancer), and steamed veggies are a great source of antioxidants.
Try: Vegetable, miso or black bean soup
Broth-based soups are lower in calories and saturated fat than creamy soups.
Instead of: Cheesecake, pie or brownies
Try: A low-fat, low-calorie ice cream treat if you’re craving something chocolaty. (Skinny Cow ice cream cones or soy ice cream with fresh or frozen berries on top are both good options.) Or just don’t eat the crust.
Try: Homemade mac and cheese with low-fat cheese, almond milk and an egg substitute like flax or chia seeds mixed with water. (For the equivalent of 2 eggs, boil 6 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons flax or chia seeds. Stir a few times and let simmer.
Instead of: Pumpkin bread
Try: A piece of whole-grain bread, like
Ezekiel Bread by Food For Life, with pumpkin or apple butter on top.
Pumpkin bread can be full of sugar—you want bread that’s high in fiber and made from sprouted grains.
Try: Steamed veggies or a baked sweet potato
Any time a food is fried, it’s loaded with calories and saturated and trans fats.
Words to avoid:
crispy, fried, panko-crusted, creamy,
mayonnaise, gravy, buttered, pan-fried
Words to look for:
steamed, poached, grilled, sautéed, roasted, baked, broth-based
Caroline Says: Here are some of the most nutritious (and in-season) foods to eat this winter: pomegranates, apples, Brussels sprouts,
kiwifruits, leeks, oranges, beets and kale. Try my recipe for baked kale chips—they’re delicious and healthy!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
• 1 to 2 bunches of kale
(a pre-cut bag from the grocery store works, too)
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• sea salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Remove the kale from its stalk, leaving the greens in large pieces, and put them in a zip-close bag. Pour the olive oil, salt and pepper into the bag and shake. Place the kale on a baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes. Turn the kale over after 5 minutes and bake with the other side up. Do this a couple of times. Remove and serve.
Caroline says: “Every weekend at conventions, I see dancers eating fast food, pizza and entire boxes of cereal. Come on dancers: Do yourself a favor and bring a cooler! You need to fuel your body and mind with nutrient-dense, whole foods for optimum energy. Here are some of the foods I love to pack before heading to convention.”
- Baked sweet potatoes (Cook them Thursday night, and then pack them for the weekend.)
- Plain, low-fat Greek yogurt with almonds, flax seeds and berries
- A sandwich-sized bag filled with whole-grain cereal (I love Kashi GOLEAN Crunch.)
- Whole-wheat pasta tossed with some of your favorite veggies and marinara sauce (It tastes good cold!)
- Whole-grain bread with almond or peanut butter and sliced bananas or apples on top (Sprinkle on some cinnamon for extra sweetness.)
- A whole-wheat tortilla wrap filled with hummus, veggies and black beans
- Raw almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios mixed with dried fruit
- Single-serve hummus and pretzel packs (I love Sabra) and a bag of raw veggies for dipping
- A container filled with your favorite fruits
Choose to Snooze
According to a recent study at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, not getting enough sleep during your adolescent years does more than make you groggy. Researchers found that consistent sleep deprivation during your teen years may have long-lasting negative effects on the wiring of your brain. Yikes! According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens (ages 10–17) should be sleeping 8.5 to 9.25 hours each night. The next time you have an early morning rehearsal, get to bed early the night before and give your body the rest it needs. Your brain will thank you. —Michael Anne Bailey
It’s January, you have a performance coming up and you’re feeling pale and pasty.
The solution? Sunless tanning lotion—not the tanning salon. We’ve said it once (OK, maybe 10 times) and we’ll say it again: tanning beds = danger. A new study published in
the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that tanning beds might be causing even more harm than researchers originally thought. UVA1 rays (the kind most commonly used in tanning beds) penetrate a deeper layer of skin, making it more susceptible to the changes that cause skin cancer. Don’t chance it. —MAB
Having a hard time remembering corrections from all of your various dance classes? Keep a dance journal. After each class, jot down any critiques your teacher gave you and review them before you take the class again.
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Prepping Your Face for Stage Makeup
If you have a weeklong run of performances, you’ll be applying a lot of makeup—and without the right preparations, it could lead to a major breakout. But don’t fret! We asked Karen Armand, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s specialty makeup supervisor, how to save your face from the havoc heavy makeup application can cause. —Stephanie Falkowski
Step one: Use a cleanser. Start with a clean slate by removing dead skin cells, excess oil and dirt from the skin.
Armand’s pick: Aveeno’s Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser. It’s hypoallergenic and soy-based, so it soothes the skin.
Step two: Apply a moisturizer. Lotion serves as a barrier between your skin and the makeup, keeping in moisture and minimizing irritation from any allergic reactions you may have to the foundation. If you’re using a cream foundation, slather on a heavier moisturizer, but for a water-based foundation, use a lighter moisturizer. Moisturizer will make makeup removal much easier, too.
Armand’s pick: Dr. Hauschka’s Quince Day Cream for heavy moisturizing and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer for lighter moisturizing.
Step three: Use powder to help keep the makeup set. With a flat powder puff—not a brush— press the powder directly onto your face in a blotting motion, so there’s no smearing.
Armand’s pick: MAC Blot Powder
Tip: The makeup-removal process is just as important as the prep because it keeps your pores from clogging. Huggies Natural Care Baby Wipes are perfect for quickly taking off makeup and sweat.
Do a trial run! Every dancer’s skin is unique, so test several different products to find what works best for you.
Did You Know?
Visualization can help you eat healthier. In a recent study at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, researchers discovered that people
who visualized the steps they were going to take to change their diets found themselves eating healthier than ever before. So, take a seat, close your eyes and ask yourself: “What healthy foods am I going to buy? Where am I going to buy them? How am I going to prepare them?” Then, put your plan into action. —Michael Anne Bailey
Dying to have a facial but can’t afford the hefty salon price tag? Try Armand’s easy at-home steam facial to help soothe skin irritation from stage makeup. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Place the pot on a sturdy table, then sit in front of it. Drape a large towel over your head and the pot and steam for 5–10 minutes. Be careful not to get too close—steam burns can be serious! Always keep at least six inches to one foot between your face and the pot. —SF
Quick Tip: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, your risk for melanoma doubles if you have more than five sunburns in your lifetime—yikes! So if you’re planning a little fun in the sun, be sure to slather on the sunscreen first.