What supports the framework for a healthy dancer? Strong bones.
Our bone density is determined by the amount of minerals available within our bones. Those like calcium make up much of our bone mass, and the more of it we have, the stronger our bones are. From our teenage years and well into our late 20s, we're in the driver's seat of our peak bone-building years. By the time we hit 30, that tissue has reached its maximum strength and density.
However, dancers following a calorically restrictive diet can end up with osteopenia, or low bone mass, even at a young age. When not corrected, this condition can progress into osteoporosis, or brittle bones, later on. If dancers don't make a conscious effort to build strong bones, they're more likely to suffer from both stress and acute fractures throughout their career—and possibly even afterwards.
Although the jumping you do every day in class has been shown to support bone strength, diet also plays a major role. Add these foods to your daily meal plan to strengthen your skeleton.
Milk, Yogurt and Cheese
Dairy and fortified dairy alternatives are packed with calcium. While calcium is a major structural component of our bones, it also plays a role in our circulatory and nervous systems. Since our bones are the body's main reservoir for calcium, if calcium is lacking in our diet, then the body leaches it from our skeleton. Dairy and dairy alternatives are also abundant in vitamin D and phosphorus, both of which act alongside calcium to support the strength and mineralization of bone tissue.
A one-ounce serving of chia provides nearly 20 percent of your daily calcium needs. Chia seeds are a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into recipes like smoothies, yogurt bowls and overnight oats. Chia is also a great source of omega-3 fats, which, in combination with calcium, has been shown to promote improvements in bone mass.
Vitamin D, a major bone-building nutrient that enhances calcium absorption, is considered a fat-soluble vitamin. Without adequate amounts of fat in your diet, the body's ability to absorb fat-soluble nutrients is limited. In addition to being a source of healthy, unsaturated fats, nuts are also abundant in magnesium, which is required for vitamin D metabolism.
Green Leafy Veggies
Collard greens, kale and bok choy are great plant-based sources of calcium. They're also abundant in vitamin C and vitamin K, both of which contribute to the production of collagen—a protein that acts as a primary structural component of connective tissue and bone. Enjoy your greens sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil, which will not only enhance flavor, but also increase vitamin absorption.
The Final Ingredient
While incorporating an abundance of bonebuilding nutrients from whole foods is essential, dancers also need to eat enough food throughout the day. Low-calorie dieting can impede the body's hormonal balance, reducing estrogen production in women and testosterone production in men. Our bodies require optimal hormone production to maintain strong bones.