Dancers expect their bodies to give 100 percent, year-round—and with no time to feel tired, sick or sore, vitamins can seem like a magical way to prevent all ailments. When carefully incorporated into a healthy diet, vitamins can help boost your body's health and performance. But blindly consuming an alphabet soup of daily supplements can do more harm than good. The key is to be thoughtful about which vitamins you choose, how much you take and when you take them. Don't know where to start? Get the scoop on smart supplementing from our four specialists.
Carbohydrates, proteins, fats and water are the fab four in the nutrition hall of fame, but if you want to feel your best everyday, make sure you get the recommended daily doses of vitamins and minerals. These micronutrients help your body to process the carbs, proteins, fats and water contained in the foods you eat. Not only do they reduce the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, they also fight the fatigue and soreness of long dancing days.
Finding a Multi
If you consume less than 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, follow a plant-based diet, experience heavy menstrual periods, take multiple medications or have limited sunlight exposure or wear an SPF of 8 or greater (both limit the synthesis of the sunshine vitamin known as vitamin D), then you should take a daily supplement.
Forgo mega multis—they cost more and because of high concentrations of vitamins and minerals, can cause uncomfortable side effects such as nausea or stomach upset. (You’re less likely to overdose on vitamins ingested from regular food than from supplements.) If you consume more water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, than your body needs, excess amounts are excreted through the urine. Fat-soluble vitamins, such as sodium, on the other hand, can lead to toxicity, because they’re stored in fatty tissue, but only if you take them in a concentrated supplement over long periods of time.
In general, Americans consume too much sodium from diets heavy in processed, refined and convenience foods. Fluoride, on the other hand, is becoming a common deficiency as more people are drinking bottled water, which doesn’t contain the tooth-decay fighting mineral that tap water does.
- Before choosing a supplement, make sure that your diet contains a variety of foods such as whole grain breads, cereals and pasta, plenty of colorful fruits and veggies, legumes, low-fat milk and yogurt, lean meats, eggs, nuts, seeds and heart-healthy plant-based oils such as olive, canola and flaxseed oils. A multi alone will be insufficient in giving you the essential nutrients your body craves, while the combination of supplements and a healthy diet will ensure you get what you need. Supplements should never be used as meal replacements.
- Since your body can’t tell the difference between vitamins and minerals that occur naturally in plants and those that are synthetic (made through chemical processes in a lab), choose the multi that is least expensive. Don’t be fooled by marketing and advertising gimmicks. Generic brands are just as effective as name brands, especially those sold by major drug stores. Never spend more than five dollars per month on your supplements.
- Once you commit to a multi, take one every day, not just when you’re feeling sick, so your body can adjust to a concentrated daily dose. Always take your multi with a meal to enhance absorption and minimize stomach upset.
- Before purchasing a multi and to assure full potency, make sure you’ll finish the bottle before the expiration date.
- Store your supplement in a cool, dry place. Chronic heat and moisture can cause decomposition.
- Not all multis can be absorbed by your body. To tell if yours will: Soak one pill in vinegar. If it breaks up, your body will be able to process it.
A multi should be sufficient for most dancers, but there are four micronutrients that deserve special mention: calcium, folate, iron and vitamin D. These are vital for maintaining strong bones and energy-rich blood. Review the chart at left and evaluate your personal daily intake. If you’re not meeting the daily dose, it’s time to make some dietary changes and begin taking supplements.