Ballet dancers often establish high standards for themselves and as a result, struggle to experience personal success as they strive to perfect an imperfect art. When these high standards are translated into food and body, dancers become vulnerable to the detrimental costs of disordered eating and poor body image.
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Why do ballet dancers struggle with food and nutrition?
When the physical demands of ballet are combined with antiquated body ideals, pressure to achieve an unsustainable lifestyle ensues. Perfectionism may drive motivation, but for ballet dancers, perfectionism can orchestrate a journey towards psychological burnout and physical injury. Here are a few articles that discuss why dancers struggle with food and body image:
- The Impact of Diet Culture on Dancers
- Why Dancers Fear Weight Gain
- What’s The Deal with Height and Weight Charts?
What is a healthy diet for a ballet dancer?
Eating “healthfully” is a broad topic and one that can be daunting for ballet dancers who can ultimately benefit from using food as a tool to support their physical, mental, and emotional performance. This often means finding a middle ground between what is “healthy” and what is “too healthy,” especially as misinformation and “clean” eating lifestyles flood the studio. Click here to learn more about the dangers of clean eating lifestyles.
There are some key priorities that ballet dancers can consider when building their diets for performance. Let’s break them down.
First, eat enough.
For ballet dancers, the main goal is that your meal plan provides enough energy to support your body dancing at peak levels. This is your first line of defense in the prevention of injuries like stress fractures. But how can you assess whether or not you’re eating enough? Here is a complete guide. You’ll want to review why calories are important and what signs might identify a need for
Then, ditch the food rules (they’re not scientifically sound).
As a practicing dietitian, I continue to see lots of hype around fad diets and trendy “clean” or “whole” food meal plans. Whether you’re restricting carbs, overdoing the protein, avoiding dairy, or limiting any other food group- I can assure you that these food rules will do more harm than good. Side note: I’ve previously debunked why dairy-free and gluten-free diets are inappropriate for dancers (unless a medically diagnosed allergy exists).
The best diet for ballet dancers? Here are 10 Steps
Without further adieu, here are 10 actionable tips for ballet dancers to consider for healthy eating:
- Eat regularly with meals and snacks planned throughout your day. Priorities may shift depending on your schedule. For most of the year, you’ll want to support your dance training using the tips offered in this article. If you entering performance season, then bookmark this article.
- Don’t fear carbs—they fuel your movement. On the cellular level, your body prefers to burn carbs for energy, especially during times of intense movement. If we deprive our body of that fuel, it will turn to other sources—like breaking down muscle. Complex carbohydrates from plant-based sources like oatmeal, quinoa, faro, and grain-based bread can increase meals staying power. These complex carbohydrates allow for a more stabilized energy release, keeping your blood sugar and fuel levels burning for longer periods—in other words… you won’t feel drained after one rehearsal! Click here to learn more about carbohydrates for dancers.
- Include fats. The specific unsaturated fats found in avocadoes, nuts, and oils reduce the inflammation that your body endures from dance. Seeds are a great source of zinc, which acts as a structural component of cells helping to protect against oxidative stress. Furthermore, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax, and natural nut butter are great sources of vitamin E. Click here to learn more about healthy fats for dancers.
- Add colorful produce! As your rehearsal schedule picks up in momentum, your body’s metabolic rate will naturally increase. This coincides with a natural build-up of stress and inflammation throughout your body. Counteract this exercise-induced stress by including a variety of fruits. Fruit contains antioxidative compounds like vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, which help to counter inflammatory damage.
- Prioritize realistic goals and remember that restrictive rules are unsustainable. If performance is your goal, then fuel before the show.
- Honor cravings. Personal enjoyment is key to long-lasting healthy habits. If you’re craving cookies, consider a balanced meal before the show and enjoy cookies as a post-show snack. Click here to download a free guide for 20+ healthy snacks (specifically for dancers).
- Grant yourself full permission to enjoy all foods that you enjoy. Click here to learn more about what it means to have permission to eat.
Quick Snacks to Optimize A Ballerina’s Diet
- Tuna Sandwich: Create a protein-packed tuna salad by mixing a 3-oz serving of tuna with mayo or a dollop of whole milk yogurt. Add chopped celery and dill. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, and spread on 2 slices of toasted whole grain bread.
- Build a snack box with whole grain crackers and hummus or guacamole. But add cherry tomatoes and other freshly cut veggies!
- Pack a bar to keep hunger and energy levels stable. Suggested favorites include LARA bars and KIND bars.