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By Hannah Maria Hayes
Laura Di Orio gets a boost of energy whenever she drinks a bottle of kombucha. “I feel my eyes open wider,” says the freelance New York City dancer. “Coffee leaves me jittery before a show and I don’t always want to eat when I’m about to perform, so I like to sip some in my dressing room.”
Kombucha is a tangy beverage made by fermenting green or black tea and sugar with a solid, live yeast and bacteria culture. As the culture consumes the sugars, it produces enzymes, antioxidant polyphenols, and amino acids. Kombucha can be purchased commercially—popular brands include Synergy and Kombucha Wonder Drink—or made at home. The drink has been used for centuries as a health tonic, with fans claiming it boosts energy and aids in joint recovery, not to mention increasing appetite control and contributing to healthier skin and hair.
Kombucha has a following among dancers, though little scientific evidence supports claims that the drink promotes good health or prevents ailments. The National Institutes of Health opted not to list kombucha in its database of dietary supplements, says Emily C. Harrison, a dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles, which is affiliated with Atlanta Ballet. Kombucha also has potential side effects, she notes. Unwanted mold can grow while kombucha is fermenting. Consuming a brew that has mold can result in an upset stomach and allergic reactions.
Harrison recommends that clients rely on other sources for a quick boost. “Dancers are always looking for a way to get more energy for fewer calories or less cost,” she says. “Since kombucha does have caffeine, yes, you may feel more awake after drinking it, but it is not fuel for working muscles. Dancers would be much better off having a meal or snack.”
Ideal energy snacks contain mainly carbohydrates, plus a little protein and fat to slow down their absorption and release calories more gradually. Harrison recommends half of a whole wheat bagel with one to two teaspoons of peanut or almond butter; a handful of carrot sticks with two tablespoons of hummus and half a pita; or a handful of blueberries and granola. All are about 150-250 calories, enough to provide energy for class or rehearsal.
Harrison is most concerned when dancers rely on kombucha to replace a meal. While she doubts the drink’s health benefits, she does not caution against using it, particularly if you eat something more substantial with it. “If dancers are having a commercial kombucha beverage and add a reasonable meal or snack,” she says, “it should be no problem.”
Hannah Maria Hayes is a freelance writer with an MA in dance education from NYU.
White tea has a more delicate taste than other teas. It is the least processed type of tea and contains less caffeine than other tea varieties, according to the Tea Association of the USA.
White tea’s high concentration of L-theanine, an amino acid, stimulates brain waves to boost alertness and energy while producing a calming effect. It also has high levels of antioxidants, according to a 2009 study from Kingston University in London.
Tea experts recommend using loose-leaf white tea and brewing it for three to five minutes in very hot (but not boiling) water. To stretch your supply, resteep the leaves once or twice to extract all the nutrients. When reusing leaves, brew for several minutes longer than the first steeping. —HMH
Body Boost: Bow Pose
Yogis believe that back bending invigorates the central nervous system by squeezing the adrenal glands. One exercise that’s great for energizing the body is “bow pose.” Start by lying down on your stomach, then bend your knees, drawing the heels into your sitz bones, and grab onto your outer ankles. On an inhale, expand the chest and lift up your shoulders and knees, so the only parts of your body on the floor are your hip bones and stomach. Be sure to flex your feet and keep your knees parallel. Hold for a few breaths, then return to start. —Jenny Stahl
From top: Photo from istock; Photo from istock; Photo by Nathan Sayers.