Eating healthy fats and a bounty of fruits and vegetables is smart. But what about cutting carbs? Photo by Brooke Lark/Unsplash

Is the Ketogenic Diet Safe for Dancers?

Although the ketogenic diet has been around since the 1920s as an epilepsy treatment for children, it's experiencing a new wave of popularity. Thanks in part to social media, where "healthy" keto-friendly recipe videos are going viral, the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is gaining ground. But is it safe for dancers?

We checked in with Rachel Fine, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of To The Pointe Nutrition, to see what eating keto means for dancers.


"Carbohydrates Are Like Gas Is to a Car."

Carbs are the most efficient fuel source. Photo by Eaters Collective/Unsplash

"If dancers are not supplying their body with carbs," says, Fine, "they're not giving it the most efficient fuel source in terms of a performance standpoint and getting through the technical and physical aspects of dance." The body also needs energy for basic functions like sleeping, walking and talking.

Fine says there's a misconception that someone's metabolism would drastically flip like a light switch as soon as they reduce their carbohydrate intake. Not so. "Our body is physiologically designed to burn carbohydrates." The body has to work harder to burn fat and protein and convert it into energy.

Disrupting the Balance

Your body breaks down healthy fats, like nuts, for essential functions. Photo by Remi Yuan/Unsplash.

When fat, which breaks down into ketones, and protein, which breaks down into amino acids, are recruited for energy, their ability to do their regular jobs suffer. Fat serves many functions, like insulating the body, helping to transport vitamins, and working as an anti-inflammatory, while protein helps build and repair muscles.

Negative Effects for Dancers

Unless you've been advised to eat a ketogenic diet for medical reasons and are under the close supervision of a doctor and dietitian, keto is not recommended for dancers. Fine mentions a host of effects that can negatively impact your dancing:

Sluggishness

Photo by Caju Gomes/Unsplash

Without enough carbohydrates, dancers may feel fatigued because the body won't be as efficient at producing energy.


Your Instagram Feed Is Not a Dietitian

Though you may be tempted by beautifully curated food photos promoted by celebrities or friends who want to get into shape, think twice before blindly following their advice. "I can't tell you how many dancers I see that are going through their Instagram feeds and just learning the wrong information," says Fine. Remember: Anyone can post a recipe and say it's healthy, but that doesn't mean they're a nutrition expert. Fine warns that many keto-friendly recipes online may have high levels of saturated fats due to large amounts of butter, sour cream, whole milk and animal products. While these are okay in moderation, you should aim to incorporate heart-healthy fats, like nuts, seeds and avocado, into your diet.

It's okay to use recipes sourced from social media as inspiration, but you may need to tweak them. Instead of filling half an avocado with an egg (as a keto-friendly dish might call for), Fine recommends stuffing the avocado with quinoa or a grain. "The bottom line is that recipes need to be balanced."

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

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December 2020