Nutrition for Dancers: Nutcracker Season
The holiday season is especially busy for dancers. Add Nutcracker to the list and you’ve got what feels like an overwhelming month-long marathon. This article will discuss common pitfalls when fueling for Nutcracker and help dancers formulate a meal plan that supports the high-energy demands of this extreme (and busy) performance season.
Nutcracker Season: 10 Common Nutrition Pitfalls
- You’re under-eating. Whether intentionally cutting calories or unintentionally skipping snacks thanks to a busy afternoon (I’m looking at your Party Scene and Snow rehearsals), eating too few calories starves your body of the energy it needs to function. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: instead of counting calories, learn how to assess your dancing body’s needs with these tips.
- You’re swapping favorite foods with “lighter” options. Physical fullness does not necessarily equate to meeting your body’s energy needs. Opting for a big ol’ kale salad will likely leave you feeling physically full, but chances are, you’ll be hit with fatigue (and a bloated tummy) later on. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: choose foods that satisfy! Learn more about it here.
- You’re skimping on fat. Cutting out fat can wreak serious havoc on your body’s hormonal balance, leaving you at risk for stress fractures later in the season. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: don’t fear fat! Learn more about the important role of fat in your diet here.
- You’re cutting carbs. Carbs replenish your body’s primary fuel source (glycogen). Not eating enough of this energizing nutrient will leave you sluggish and at risk for early-onset fatigue. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: add a source (or two) to every meal and snack you eat! Learn more about carbohydrates for dancers here.
- You’re letting late nights sacrifice post-performance recovery. Despite late-night performances, your body needs a nourishing plate for recovery. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: whether a full meal or a smaller snack, take advantage of your post-performance recovery window. You can learn more about it here.
- You’re dehydrated. Drinking fluids is tough between performances so you’ll want to proactively hydrate in the hours leading up to and after the show. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: consider high-water foods like cucumbers and bell peppers. You can add these to sandwiches and wraps or pair them with crackers and hummus.
- You’re obsessing over hydration. While we want to stay hydrated, drinking too many fluids through rehearsals can mask hunger and sacrifice opportunities to fuel. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: pack non-perishable snacks in your dance bag for quick changes and intermissions. Here are some ideas.
- You’re not planning ahead. In the week leading up to the show, stock non-perishable options that can keep in your dance bag and/or theatre locker. Bars, crackers, nuts, and trail mix are a few options.
- You think processed foods aren’t “clean” enough. Spoiler: clean eating could be a mask for disordered eating. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: Read more about the importance of considering convenience for building a healthy and practical meal plan.
- You’re not getting enough rest. I know firsthand how busy this performance season gets, and with weekends often taken by rehearsals, we need to proactively map a recovery plan. Nutrition for Nutcracker Meal Planning Tip: prioritize sleep when possible and check out these tips for a better night of ZzZ.
Build A Meal Plan for Nutcracker Season
Start With Breakfast
Generally, eat breakfast within the hour after waking. Not feeling hungry? This is common when we’re experiencing a mix of emotions, high levels of adrenaline, and a busy performance schedule. Rather than thinking about the size of your meal, focus on integrating each of the three macronutrients (carbs/protein/fats) as part of a satisfying eating experience
For non-plant-based dancers, eggs are a powerhouse of nutrients. In addition to being packed with protein, which can keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, egg yolks contain an array of nutrients like choline (critical for brain health) and omega-3 fatty acids (which help to reduce inflammation). For my plant-based dancers, consider incorporating a mix of chia and flax into your meal plan. Chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber, which helps to maintain blood sugar and support sustainable energy. Flax is a rich source of lignans, a powerful phytochemical with anti-oxidative characteristics.
Non-perishable options are best for storing in your dance bag. These come in handy for busy rehearsals and tech days. Don’t fear processed foods! Packaged options are often easily digestible and helpful energy re-boosters. Planning ahead is also helpful with snacks and on-the-go meals. Here is a list of helpful ingredients to consider when meal prepping:
- Edamame beans are an excellent source of iron and calcium and make for a great between-meal snack or pre-dinner appetizer.
- Grains like farro and rice provide a hefty dose of complex carbs, B vitamins, and minerals, all of which support a working metabolism.
- Dried pumpkin seeds are best known for their magnesium, but they’re also a rich source of protein.
- Chickpeas are a great source of iron, phosphate, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and vitamin K, which all contribute to the maintenance of healthy bones.
- Almonds also make a great snack because they’re high in vitamin E, copper, and magnesium.
For more guidance on performance snacks, check out these helpful articles:
Don’t Skip Dinner
Despite a late night, you’ll want to take full advantage of your post-performance recovery window. Creating a balanced meal that incorporates a carb source, along with a protein and a fat source, is key. Carbohydrates stimulate the production of insulin, which promotes increased absorption of glycogen-replenishing sugars and muscle-building protein.
Not up for making a full meal? Frozen foods can be helpful. If you have a day (or afternoon) available, consider meal prep. No need to worry about those Pinterest-perfect pictures, batch-cook your favorite proteins and grains or make a big pot of chili to serve throughout the week. For more dancer meal prep hacks, check out this article.
Have a long commute home? Chocolate milk is an easy recovery choice with a specific protein-to-carbohydrate ratio that makes it ideal for muscle recovery. Not into chocolate milk? Build a smoothie with cherries, yogurt, almond butter, and bananas for a vitamin-rich recovery shake that helps to reduce inflammation, alleviate muscle soreness, and promote active recovery.
Need more help? The Healthy Dancer® Survival Guide: Nutcracker Edition is available for purchase. Grab your copy today!