Nutritionist Glenn Cardwell referred to a couple of studies conducted on children’s mental performance in his blog post “Water for the Brain”. In these studies children who were given water 20 minutes before cognitive tests out-scored those who were not given water proving “watering” enhances mental performance. Glenn also notes that adult cognitive function begins to decline when they are 1% or more dehydrated (that’s a 70kg adult losing 700 mL of sweat).
As dancers we are often concerned with our physical abilities and endurance but we forget that it is our cognitive functioning (motor control, co-ordination, decision making and concentration) that keeps us performing to the best of our abilities.
It was during my experience working with dancers on SYTYCDA that I realized just how much of the competition (and of a dancers’ life in general) is about the ability to pick up steps quickly, master complicated co-ordination, make the body understand pathways it has never encountered before and stay focused and fully engaged over long periods of time under physical duress. How fascinating to then apply the above information on cognitive functioning and hydration to a dancer’s progress in the studio!
Attention to lifestyle
People assume dancers lead healthy lifestyles abstaining from booze and cigarettes – hmmmm!
Okay, there are some who control their intake of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other substances – but many do not. And dancers wonder why they are frequently moody and exhausted! Is it our artistic temperaments or could it be a combination of poor nutrition and dehydration on top of a physically and emotionally demanding job?
A lot of it is, indeed, artistic temperament, but a proportion is mental and physical fatigue related to poorly managed diet. Naturally it doesn’t all come down to hydration but it is certainly worth bearing in mind.
While sports people are constantly monitoring what they consume and are watched closely by their coaches, dancers tend only to obsess when they think they are piling on the pounds – and then it is about taking away the calories not about keeping up the fluids.
What can lead to dehydration?
Drinking too much alcohol, or even a little alcohol, can lead to mild dehydration. Being a diuretic, alcohol encourages the body to lose more water than it takes on by halting the production of the body’s anti-diuretic hormone, vasopressin. Without this hormone you feel the urge to pee excessively and therefore lose fluid.
On top of this we often don’t realize quite how much fluid our bodies’ are losing to the air-conditioned atmospheres in which we work and through our physical exertion. Even if we are not sweating profusely, we are still active enough to lose water through heat and evaporation.
On top of the loss of cognitive functions, dehydration brings on irritability, headaches, faintness and fatigue none of which are conducive to the best performance in the studio and on the stage.
So how best to hydrate?
For a start, remember alcohol consumption the night before won’t help.
The Australian Institute of Sport reports that fluid uptake is enhanced when beverages are cool, flavoured and contain sodium. Most sports drinks are therefore an ideal choice during physical activity, although they are pricey.
Juice, cordial and soft drinks are also good although when the carbohydrate content of the drink increases, gastric emptying is slowed which can cause discomfort and lessen the uptake.
Of course water is a perfectly good option– it simply does not stimulate fluid uptake to the same degree as sports drinks. It is most definitely the best choice when sitting around and relaxing.
Funnily enough, and contrary to the belief of many, tea and coffee do add to your daily fluid intake. The caffeine only induces mild diuresis; a cup of tea may encourage 50mL pee production but you still have 200mL of fluid on board.
The Australian Institute of Sport has a comprehensive article on their website, “Fluid – Who Needs It?” with more research in this area. Glenn Cardwell’s blog post called The Dehydration Myth is also worth a read for further illumination!