Dietitians are trained to work with dancers at the individual and institutional levels. I’ve previously discussed how dietitians can support dance schools and companies, and why it matters to vet your nutrition advice. But what exactly can a dietitian do for dancers at the individual level?
The role of a dietitian for dancers
In their work with dancers, dietitians like myself are trained to listen to your story, make space for your narrative, explore your readiness for change, and help you identify specific goals in order to tailor evidence-based approaches for your personal journey.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) can support dancers in a variety of ways, including:
- Performance optimization to enhance energy and support strength
- Assessment of personal nutrition needs
- Meal and snack guidance
- Screening for injury risk and reducing contributing factors
- Identifying and reversing nutrient deficiencies
- Disease management (i.e., PCOS, heart health, blood sugar management, gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, IBD, and Crohn’s)
- Navigation of food allergies and intolerances
- Identification of and interventions for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S)
- Body image healing
Through this work, dietitians prioritize several goals when working specifically with dancers.
Nutrition goals for dancers
#1: To improve your performance potential
This involves supporting both your energy levels and your recovery needs from strenuous training. A dietitian can help to optimize your meal, snack, and hydration plans to further enhance endurance and support strength gains.
Dietitians are trained in the area of dietary supplements— including when these might be helpful and and how you can avoid the risks associated with them. Additional performance-limiting concerns that a dancer may address with their dietitian include chronic fatigue, hydration concerns, vegan or vegetarian meal planning, food allergies, and overall physical discomfort after eating.
#2: To improve your relationship with food
If you have a history of dieting or restrictive eating, then a dietitian can help you build a more supportive path. This is often one of my primary goals for dancers, especially given their increased vulnerability to disordered eating.
Working with a dietitian can help to clear the noise surrounding confusing nutrition advice. This might involve:
- Intervening upon contributing factors of “over”-eating or binge eating.
- Challenging restrictive food rules and diets that continue to fail you.
- The ability to enjoy your favorite foods without worrying about losing control.
- (Re)-learning how to build memories and experiences around food— those that bring you joy, not stress.
- Giving up the dieting mentality and swapping restrictions with permission.
#3: To reduce your risk to acute and chronic injury
Screening for injury risk factors is an important way in which a dietitian can support you. This might involve the identification of:
- Calorie deficits
- Nutrient inadequacies
- Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport
- Secondary Amenorrhea
But a dietitian’s role in injury prevention doesn’t end here. Dietitians work in tandem with dancers to intervene upon these risk factors— utilizing techniques that support overall nutrient adequacy. This might involve a deeper assessment of individual nutrient utilization — including interventions to support the reversal of deficiencies like vitamin D, B12, and iron.
#4: To support your body goals (and mainly, your body image)
Dancers might look for help when it comes to their bodies— whether this involves changes in weight or body composition. However, dancers should understand that using food as a tool to push weight loss is likely to lead to unsupportive and restrictive eating habits.
But dancers should not hesitate to connect with a dietitian if weight loss is a goal— a dietitian can help to address these internalized desires, uncovering their roots and challenging their complexities among a culture inundated with harmful body ideals. Here’s an article that discusses weight loss for dancers,
Body image support is incredibly important for dancers whether they struggle with body dissatisfaction or not. Building confidence that lasts a lifetime can be challenging in the dance industry. Here’s more on this topic.
#5: To support disease management
For some dancers with preexisting conditions like PCOS, diabetes, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, eating disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders, among others, dietitians can be an elemental part of your medical team. This involves working alongside other medical practitioners likes physicians and mental health therapists to support the management of illness and disease.
How can dancers start working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?
As a former professional dancer, I get it. I’ve been there: the stress of placement classes, the gut-wrenching feeling of audition decisions, and the pre-performance anxiety! On top of it, we balance the high demands of our art with industry pressures that promote unrealistic ideals around food, body, and work ethic. My experiences in both pre-professional and professional dance life provide me with a deep insight into your lifestyle and your performance goals.
The Healthy Dancer® offers free and paid resources that can help dancers build sustainable habits. Start your journey here with a 7-day free trial that dives into your nutrient needs as an artistic athlete. You can also find free downloadable guides covering topics like Dancing In College, Emotional Eating, Injury Recovery, and Healthy Snacking.
For continued support with a budget-friendly price tag, move through The Healthy Dancer® Survival Guide, a series of downloadable ebooks. Choose from a variety of versions, including:
To take it a step further, consider The Healthy Dancer® and choose between a self-study track or one with coaching support. Group coaching opportunities are provided to all dancers within The Healthy Dancer® and one-on-one coaching sessions can be added at any point along your journey. For dancers well into their journey, Nourish The Healthy Dancer® is a supplemental self-study series that dives deeper into specific topics like:
Additional programming is held throughout the year, including The Healthy Dancer® Summer Intensive and The Healthy Dancer® Winter Intensive. Dance parents and educators can also access educational opportunities from The Healthy Dancer® Mastermind Series.
Because Rachel was a serious dancer, she brings a wealth of knowledge from the ballet world combined with diet and nutrition that other dietitians cannot. She is a dietitian, not a nutritionist; there is a difference. Rachel is incredibly knowledgeable in her field. She was also able to establish a connection with my daughter early on and is very easy to work with.Meg S, mom to a Pre-Professional dancer