Dance nutrition maximizes a dancer’s capabilities both in the studio and on the stage. Dancers learn how to supply calories that fuel movement, support endurance, and build strength. Dance nutrition is key to a strong, successful, and sustainable dance career.
But while nutrition for dancers is an important topic, it might need to take a backseat to a dancer’s need to heal their relationship with food and body. A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in nutrition for dancers can help to assess the degree to which your lifestyle is supporting your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Once in a good place, you can therefore utilize the principles of gentle nutrition in a non-obsessive way to build a proactive approach to fueling for performance. This article will review how dancers can balance their plates in a way that best supports your performance both on the stage and off.
How Can Dancers Build A Balanced Eating Plan?
Whether it’s a meal or a snack, include the three major macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Each macronutrient has a specific role in the body.
Carbohydrates (also known as carbs) provide the necessary sugars that your body needs for energy. Carbohydrates are a dancer’s most efficient source of energy. Various foods can act as either complex carbs or simple carbs. Complex carbs are found in many plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, veggies, and fruit. Complex carbs are high in fiber, which helps to slow digestion and subsequent absorption of the sugars. This will give your body a steady flow of energy throughout long days. To learn more about carbohydrates and their role in a dancer’s diet, check out this article.
The next addition to your balanced plate is protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, which the body uses as building blocks for metabolic growth. Protein helps to repair and rebuild torn muscles. Example sources include dairy products, eggs, legumes, beans, ancient grains (like farro), and pseudo-cereals (like quinoa). For plant-based dancers, focus on a variety of different protein sources to ensure that you’re obtaining all essential amino acids. Click here to learn more about the importance of variety.
The last macronutrient for your balanced plate is fat. While fats often get a bad rep, they’re essential to your body! Adding fat to your meal enhances vitamin absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat also promotes hormonal functioning and keeps you feeling satisfied. Unsaturated fats like nuts, nut butter, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, olives, avocados, and fatty fish are anti-inflammatory. Animal fats, like those found in butter, whole-milk dairy, cheese, meat, and eggs can help construct satisfying meals and should not be feared despite common food myths surrounding these sources. Click here to learn more about this macronutrient and its importance on your plate.
Build A Personalized Plan
One of the biggest parts of The Healthy Dancer® program is building a personalized nutrition plan that supports YOUR goals and YOUR needs. Considering your likes, dislikes, and food preferences, we work together to construct balanced options that are realistic for your schedule. Throughout this work, you will begin to identify how food makes you feel. For example, you’ll begin to assess your energy levels in class. You’ll become attuned to the various systems of your body including your hormone health and digestive health.
Trust Qualified Sources
Anyone can consider themselves an “expert” in nutrition. However, not all “experts” are licensed to provide adequate nutrition information. This is especially true for a population highly vulnerable to the development of disordered eating behaviors. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) are a dancer’s ideal source for nutrition information. Similar to the rigorous training required of a dancer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists must complete over five years of clinical training in medical nutrition therapy and in nutrition research. This unique background enables dietitians to accurately translate scientific jargon into accessible information.
Because dietitians must maintain professional licensure, they are required to complete continuing education throughout their professional practice. Since nutrition is an evolving science, this continued education ensures that dietitians remain up-to-date on nutrition research. Such training sets dietitians apart from “nutritionists” and “certified holistic health coaches.” Be wary: if you are instructed to count calories, track macros, and keep concise meal logs, then you’ll want to reassess and consider working with a dietitian for dancers.
Now that you’re ready to create a balanced plate, check out some of my favorites:
- Top your favorite yogurt with chopped nuts (I love almonds!) and sprinkle with ground flaxseeds and chia seeds. Drizzle some honey and enjoy!
- Spread mashed avocado on whole grain bread and top with slices of a soft-boiled egg. Not into the egg? Sprinkle shelled hemp seeds for a protein boost.
- Create a grain bowl using wild rice or cooked quinoa as your base. Mix in veggies of your liking and top with grilled chicken. Dress with a simple vinaigrette (my current go-to?) Primal Kitchen’s avocado oil-based Lemon Turmeric dressing.
Interested in learning more about nutrition for dancers? Here are a few additional helpful articles and resources:
- The Importance of Nutrition for Dancers
- [Free] Self-Study Course: Nutrients for Dancers
- The Healthy Dancer® Self-Study Program