I often discuss the importance of abundance and variety throughout a dancer’s day. Three balanced meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) help to build the basic framework for any dancer’s fueling plan, and most often, adding 1, 2, or even 3 snacks to the mix is essential to sustain a dancer’s energy for busier days. However, busy schedules filled with classes and back-to-back rehearsals can make this an impractical goal.
And while I encourage dancers to optimize each eating opportunity as a chance to fuel for performance, many hesitate on the idea of “snacking.” This is especially true for those misinformed, often striving to limit food intake or daily calories in the pursuit of weight loss. Realize, however, that this form of deprivation eventually backfires. Excessive hunger, cravings, and emotional eating are just some of the consequences encountered when we follow a “less-is-more” mindset around food.
The inability to eat a full meal, for example, lunch, is common with a dancer’s busy schedule. To combat this, dancers should optimize their snack game, considering timing, convenience, and balance. Smaller nutrient-dense options that incorporate all three macronutrients (proteins, unsaturated fats, and complex carbs) is the goal and can replace the need for a full meal. Turning lunch into two smaller snacks each containing this “nutrient mix” is an example. These smaller options also make for easier consumption during quick changes and on-the-go schedules.
Smart Snacking, But How?
A dancer’s training is considered interval training as it involves recurrent starts and stops within the span of a few hours. Think about your rehearsal: much of your time might be spent standing and waiting for your cast to rehearse while other times might be spent actively executing the steps. Slow-digesting fibrous carbohydrates, like those found in whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur, whole-grain barley, and freekah), are optimal to sustain your energy during this type of training. Incorporate protein into the mix to help you feel full until your next eating opportunity. Eggs, cottage cheese, and yogurt supply a hefty dose of muscle-building amino acids. Plant sources of protein like quinoa, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds are also beneficial. Fat is the last part of the equation. Omega-3s in particular help to lessen the natural inflammation that arises from intense activity (like dancing!). Incorporate plant-based sources of these fats into your snacks. Examples include avocadoes, nuts, chia seeds, and flax. Fatty fish (salmon, tuna) are additional sources that can be prepped ahead of time (my favorite? tuna salad with whole-grain crackers!)
TTP Favorites: Balanced Snacks
- Fruit and nut bars such as LARA and KIND.
- Homemade tuna salad made with Greek yogurt and avocado served with whole-grain crackers.
- Greek yogurt with granola and chopped nuts (or seeds).
- Baby carrots and sliced bell peppers with hummus.
- Homemade trail mix (dried fruit, dried coconut flakes, nuts, pretzels, or whole-grain cereal) portioned into baggies.
- Whole-grain crackers and string cheese.
- Fresh Fruit such as bananas, tangerines, and apple slices paired with a nut or seed butter, which can be portioned into a make-your-own squeeze baggie.
- Turkey roll-ups served with sliced avocado, bell peppers, and a piece of fruit.
- AB & B Sandwich: Wheat bread is often easier to digest than heartier grain bread. Spread peanut butter, almond butter, (or if you’re allergic sunflower seed butter), and top with sliced bananas.
But What About Timing?
If your snack falls within 30-60 minutes prior to dancing, then consider an easily digestible carbohydrate. to top glycogen stores as a way to maintain your physical stamina. These snacks should be lower in fiber. Pretzels and/or fresh fruit (such as a banana, clementine, or an apple) are examples of smaller, easily digestible carbs that shouldn’t leave you feeling sluggish. Additional examples include:
- Applesauce or a fruit smoothie pack
- Dried fruit (or fresh fruit)
- Homemade “energy balls” made with dates, oats, flax, and honey
- A fruit-based bar (such as LARA bars)
Hydration is also key during times of dancing. Aside from plain water, pairing your snacks with unsweetened coconut water helps to replenish lost electrolytes and prevent mental fatigue. The added potassium also alleviates cramping, which is especially common humid days when you’re sweating more than usual.
What About Afterwards?
Pairing these carbohydrates with a protein source, such as string cheese or hard-boiled eggs, is ideal within the 30-minutes after dancing in order to promote muscle rebuilding and replenish depleted glycogen stores. If time permits, a protein smoothie made with Greek yogurt, kefir, frozen berries, flax and/or chia seeds is a great option. Additional convenient recovery snacks include:
- Low-fat chocolate milk.
- Whole-grain crackers with string cheese or 2 hard-boiled eggs.
- Chopped almonds or walnuts in yogurt.
- Fresh fruit with nut- or seed- butter.
Do you have any favorite snacks? Share in the comments below!