Last week’s successful ballet class was brought to you by REST and CARBS.

What?!

Let me explain…

The other day I went to ballet class. This was a huge deal for me, because I hadn’t been to one since September. When you think about it, ballet is a very unnatural art form. You are supposed to perform feats that challenge your strength, flexibility, and stamina, all while appearing relaxed, calm, and graceful AF. All of this is supposed to happen from a turned out position (externally rotated from the hips) which is the opposite of what MY body wants to do. I was pretty sure it that it was going to feel awful, but when I woke up that morning, something told me that I wanted to go anyway. I smirked when my teacher (an old mentor/friend) noticed me in class, and I told him go easy on me. Here we go…

Barre (the warm-up) felt pretty good. I was surprisingly focused and pleased to find out that my feet still pointed. Then we got to center and really started dancing. Again–I was surprised at how strong I felt. AND how good it felt to move to the music. My legs still went up to a reasonable height and so did my jumps. I don’t know what it actually looked like to the rest of the (at least a decade younger, professional) dancers in the class, but it definitely felt better than I remembered and was more fun too!

After class I started to think about why this might be the case. I hadn’t been to ballet in sooooo long. I like to attribute a lot of my physical ability to my yoga practice. And I’m sure that the strength training I do, and the occasional Crossfit class helped keep me ready for the rigors of ballet.

But the three surprising things that I actually think contributed to my success?

SLEEP.

CARBS.

and REST DAYS.

YUP.

When I was dancing professionally, I was really training hard. It was what I thought I needed to do to get ahead. A typically day might have look like this:

6:00am: Wake up at the crack of dawn and go for a run. Or the gym. Or maybe yoga.

8:00am-2:00pm: Shower and take 1-2 dance classes. And/or rehearse for 1-4 hours.

2:00-4:00 Caffeine break/drive to work.

4:00-9:00: Teach all night.

10:00pm-Midnight: Come home and try not to eat all the food in the house. Cave and eat peanut butter straight from the jar.

Midnight-6:00am: Sleep and repeat.

Somewhere in here I would eat, of course. In my earlier years it was exactly one measured portion of Special K cereal. Things like low fat yogurt, tiny turkey flatbread sandwiches, and fruit. Later, once I got over my fear of fat and decided that sugar and carbs were the enemy, it became bulletproof coffee in the morning. Hard boiled eggs, and my one “allowed” carb–baby carrots. So many that my hands looked orange. No joke.

But here’s the thing…all of those diet gurus who like to tell you exactly what to eat, failed to realize one important fact: Someone who is moving for 8+ hours a day really needs to be eating enough carbohydrates (and protein and fat). The general calorie recommendations for “regular people” don’t necessarily work the same for super active people/athletes. Most of the advice that is given to the general population (eat less, exercise more) doesn’t apply to people who are already working out a ton. I’d argue that it’s not even the best advice for the general population anyway.

And after I had this surprisingly successful ballet class as a 34 year old “retired” professional past her prime, I couldn’t help but wonder…

What kind of dancer might I have been (and still be) if I had taken a day off once in awhile?

Or at least once a week? How much better would I have functioned if I had given myself 8 hours of sleep every night, even if it meant skipping my morning run? How much more energy would I have had in rehearsal if I had eaten a breakfast appropriate for a grown and active woman, instead of a toddler sized bowl of cereal? I can’t go back and change that. But if you are in the midst of an intense training schedule like the one I was wrapped up in, I strongly encourage you to give rest (and sleep and carbs) a chance.

Whether you are a dancer, another sort of athlete, or even just someone who likes to keep their workout and eating regimen consistent, you might struggle with the holiday season, or vacation time in general. There are lots of disruptions this time of year that throw off your routine. Things like travel. Family time. Time off from work, school, or a company contract. Sometimes you travel to your hometown where they don’t have Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or (GASP!) raw cashews and organic strawberries at the grocery store. Your family’s recipes for Christmas cookies don’t include any gluten free options. Sometimes your only choice for a workout is the sort-of-broken treadmill in your parents’ basement (which you have jokingly nicknamed the bucking bronco). Things like this can feel like a relief AND invoke anxiety at the same time.

So how do you make the most of time off and give yourself permission to rest?

That’s what you’re probably asking. Here are a few ways that you make good use of time off, while keeping guilt and anxiety at bay. And some reasons that taking some time off from your usual activities can actually help you come back stronger.

Make Sleep your new BFF

Sleep is your best friend when it comes to recovering from your training faster. This is the time when your body repairs and restores itself. Getting a few extra hours of sleep can help you heal injuries more quickly. More sleep also equals better memory and focus–which means when you do go back to class, practice, rehearsal, the gym, or just the grind of adulting, you’ll be better able to pay attention, remember things, and just do a better job in general.

Know That Rest Days Are Your Friend too

Rest days are also key to healing from injuries and just managing things like muscle soreness. When you work out really hard and feel sore from it, this is essentially tissue damage. When you give your muscles time to repair that damage, THAT is when they become stronger, not when you are actually doing the exercise. If you work out #everydamnday without a break in routine, you never give them that chance to build back up. So if taking a day off gives you major anxiety, remind yourself that doing so is likely helping you avoid a bigger injury that might bench you for even longer.

Use Active recovery as an alternative

If you honestly have a hard time doing NOTHING, I feel your pain! This is something that I grapple with to this day. Active recovery might be a good option to satisfy that itch to move. Do a little foam rolling or using a ball to release muscle tension. If you are traveling, and left your toys at home, you may have to get creative. The dog’s tennis ball or mom’s rolling pin will do just fine. 😉 You can also do some light stretching, or try yoga nidra or a short guided meditation. Maybe you get a massage, try cryotherapy, or sit in a hot tub or epsom salt bath. Or if you are feeling really antsy, do your physical therapy exercises if you have some from an old injury. They are usually the things that help you stay on your game the most–and often the first thing to go when you are starting to feel better.

Give Yourself a mental Health Day

Embrace the opportunity to get your mind off the daily grind and get re-inspired. Doing the same grueling routine day-in and day out is a recipe for burnout. Enjoy the time off to read a book or watch a movie about something new and interesting to you. Drink a glass of Pino Grigio at noon because you can. Make plans with family or friends you haven’t seen in awhile and have an actual conversation (so rare these days)! Enjoy the fact that you aren’t on as tight of a time schedule, and notice the world around you. There is inspiration to be found everywhere when you slow down and look for it.

work in a different way

It’s totally fine to sit and do nothing on a vacation or break. But, it’s also a great opportunity to mix things up. Try a new class. Take a walk and explore if you are traveling. Do something you have always wanted to try but never had the time because it didn’t fit into your regimen. Go to yoga. (I’m talking to you, all my #girlswholift.) Do anything that involves working in parallel. (For my ballerinas.) Do some Pilates. (That’s for me, mostly.) We all get very set in our ways, especially when it comes to our workout routines. But sometimes the best breakthroughs can come from changing your perspective. I actually learned the best ways to release my calves to help my dancing from a Crossfit coach, of all people!

take some steps towards a better relationship with food

Eat all the things! I say this as I take the last bite of my airport lounge mac and cheese. I haven’t had mac and cheese that good (or much mac and cheese at all) in years. Well played, Delta Sky Club! If you’re like me, your relationship with food might fall under the category “it’s complicated”. But one of the first steps to repairing that is letting your guard down a little, if you can. I’m not saying to go all-in if you’ve got legit food allergies or serious digestive issues. But if it’s just a fear of what pasta will do to your hips, now’s as good of a time as ever to step out of your comfort zone. When you’re on a break, whether that’s a vacation or just the holidays, opportunities to break your self-imposed food rules are everywhere. Sometimes’s they’re unavoidable. Repeat after me: It will be ok. 

I hope that helps!

If your holiday anxiety has more to do with how you’re going to squeeze a workout in than getting all your shopping done, know that you’re not alone. This stress can be compounded when your career is wrapped up in your physical performance and/or appearance. If you’re prone to dealing with guilt and shame when you take a day off or eat too many cookies, come back to these ideas. A change in routine can be just want you needed to re-energize and re-inspire yourself. And if you decide to pass on that questionable treadmill in your parents’ basement, know that things like rest, sleep, and cheesy noodles might just be the secret ingredients you needed all along.

Did you ever wonder why you are doing everything “right” in terms of your health and fitness but just not seeing the results you want? I’ve got a list of 10 good reasons that you may not have considered. Want it?