Dancers spend most of their time training- this involves dancing consistently over longer periods (weeks/months). Some dancers train 4-5 hours a week while others can be found in the studio for up to 30 hours a week!
And a dancer’s training doesn’t only involve dance. Dancers are often encouraged to participate in other exercises to challenge their endurance and enhance their strength. Cross-training is a topic that I’ve previously discussed here.
What are the differences between a dancer’s training diet and their performance diet?
Dancers can include nutrition as part of their training routine to support patterns and habits over time. This differs from the specifics of performance nutrition, which involves a more focused approach and the periodization of food to support a specific dance schedule.
Important Considerations for a Dancer’s Performance Diet
Performance nutrition involves pre-performance planning for the 1-4 hours prior to dancing (learn more here). It also involves post-performance nutrition to optimize the 60-minute recovery window after intense dancing. Last, performance nutrition considers dietary adjustments for the foreseeable future, including:
- Foods to eat when traveling for shows.
- Foods that can be eaten in costume (no staining allowed!)
In most (but not all) instances, performance nutrition might prioritize accessibility and convenience. For example, processed snack foods become practical sources of energy for the stage, and for some dancers, overcoming food rules and fears about processed foods is a must. Packaged options are both shelf-stable and easily digestible. They can be eaten hot or cold backstage and offer immediate energy to support the class, rehearsal, or performance ahead. The same holds true for pre-made shakes, sports drinks, and fruit pouches- all of which can help to meet a dancer’s nutritional needs without exacerbating performance anxiety.
8 important considerations for a dancer’s training diet
In regard to nutrition for training, there’s less periodization and more focus on overall patterns that add up to major outcomes. Here are 7 considerations for dancers looking to maximize their training despite not having performances in their foreseeable future.
1. Prioritize Meal And Snack Consistency.
Start with a general framework that includes three meals and two snacks per day. But remember: this will vary depending on your personal needs and schedule. To determine what works for you, consider your overall energy levels and your appetite. Sharp appetite surges (like feeling OVERLY hungry and then OVERLY full) might be a sign that you’d benefit from more consistent meals and snacks.
2. Eat Before And After Class.
If you’re going to class, make sure to eat a meal (or snack) that is balanced among the three macronutrients. You can learn more about this here. Don’t fear calories and prioritize complex carbohydrates and unsaturated fats. Complex carbohydrates are rich in fiber, which helps to promote digestive regularity over time. If not accustomed to fibrous foods, stomach discomfort can persist. So, it’s especially important to consider these options when NOT planning for performance. Unsaturated fats alleviate inflammation and muscle soreness.
3. Don’t Skip Meals.
Skipping meals can cause you to feel tired and sluggish, which makes it harder to focus on your dancing. Even if not dancing at the same extremes as you dance during performance season, you still want to utilize this time to prepare your body for intense dancing.
4. Drink Water.
Drinking water is essential to maintaining good health. In fact, drinking enough water each day will improve your energy levels, support digestion, and immunity, and even help your skin, hair, and nails.
5. Be Mindful of Alcohol.
In the short-term, excessive alcohol consumption is both hazardous and impairs judgment. In the long term, excessive consumption can leave you dehydrated. Being hydrated when dancing helps to maintain normal blood flow, which is essential for the movement of oxygen and nutrients to and from our working muscles.
6. Make Choices to Support Your Hormones.
If you’re missing a period for three or more consecutive months, then you’ll need to consider tailoring your meal plan to support the return of regular menstruation (learn more here). Menstruation and bone health go hand-in-hand. Hormonal health is also important for male dancers. Eating enough fat throughout the day is key for hormonal balance- this even includes your appetite hormones. Vegetable oils, ground flax, avocado, tuna, butter, and full-fat yogurt are examples of foods that can help.
Bottom line: under-fueling while training will create a landscape vulnerable to bone injury. If time constraints are preventing you from eating enough each day, then it will be important to adjust your schedule accordingly.
7. Get enough sleep!
Dancers need to give their bodies time to rest- and sleep plays a major role! Click here to learn how much sleep dancers should aim for and what foods might impact sleep quality.
8. Work on A Healthy Relationship With Food.
It’s what we talk most about in the realm of dance nutrition: your relationship with food matters A LOT. Dancers are three times more likely to struggle with disordered eating. Therefore, overcoming restrictive food rules is key to your training diet. For a step-by-step approach, grab a pen and read this article.
Generally, a dancer’s nutritional needs will vary throughout the year depending on the point at which they are in the season. For example, summer intensives will require more intentional practices when compared to layoffs or scheduled holiday breaks. A dancer’s training diet will even change if an injury occurs (with rest and recovery being a priority). Your training will benefit from nutrition support and working with a licensed dance dietitian can help to formulate strategies that work. Overall patterns matter most and small habits can build lasting improvements to your dancing.