Dancers are vulnerable to disordered eating habits given the art form’s emphasis on body physique. Licensed professionals, such as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, work with dancers to craft meal plans that optimize performance potential.
Dance nutrition applies the fundamentals of Sports Nutrition, such as those set forth by the American College of Sports Medicine. Nutritious meals fuel a dancer’s performance and reduce the risk of injury.
Calories are essential to a dancer’s active lifestyle. Calories provide the energy needed to not only perform but also to sustain basic metabolic functioning. Eating too few calories risks injury and nutrient deficiencies. Read more about a dancer’s calorie needs here and a dancer’s nutritional needs here.
A dancer’s diet should include a balance of the three macronutrients. Carbohydrates are a dancer’s primary fuel source. Complex carbohydrates from foods like whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, and legumes provide dancers with sustainable energy. Protein helps to rebuild active muscles and unsaturated “healthy” fats (from sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil) provide anti-inflammatory benefits to repair working muscles.
Protein plays a key role in muscle building and should be part of a dancer’s meal plan. Dancers should pair sources of protein with sources of carbohydrates and fats to optimize energy and rebuild muscles. Read more about a dancer’s nutritional needs here.
Carbohydrates are a dancer’s best source of energy. Complex carbs are found in plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains are particularly high in energizing nutrients like iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Read more about a dancer’s nutritional needs here.
Fat is an essential nutrient for the body. Fat promotes satisfaction at meals and keeps us feeling full for longer. Unsaturated fats are particularly beneficial to a dancer’s body, which undergoes a great deal of wear-and-tear from high levels of physical activity. Read more about a dancer’s nutritional needs here.
Dancers should create balanced snacks that incorporate a source of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Pair a serving of nuts with a fruit or top yogurt (or dairy alternative) with chopped nuts, dried fruit, and ground flax. The Dance Nutritionist™ offers free resources to help dancers build balanced meals and snacks.
Hydration needs are dependent on the individual. It’s recommended that you consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to determine your needs. Generally, dancers can aim for at least 3 liters of water daily. Daily fluid needs may be higher if dancing for longer than 60 minutes and/or in hot and humid environments. Add a salty snack (like pretzels) and a simple carbohydrate (like fruit) to replenish electrolytes and muscle glycogen.
Dancers should strive for a lifestyle where all foods, even those more indulgent options, can fit into a balanced meal plan. Avoiding any one type of food (such sweets/desserts) or food group (such as bread) results in a restrictive and unsustainable lifestyle. Opt out of food rules and enjoy food as an experience, whether that experience is a balanced salad or a brownie sundae!