With an abundance of information flooding our media feeds, it’s difficult to decipher truth from trends in regard to dance nutrition, dancer health, and dancer wellness. Dancers are not just artists, they’re also athletes. Therefore, trusting credentialed practitioners helps to maximize a dancer’s strength and endurance in a way that promotes sustainable habits without the risk of injury and burnout.
Food advice in the realms of meal timing, macronutrient analysis, nutrition assessment, and performance optimization should be provided by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. This article will dive into the various reasons why dancers should consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for nutrition coaching. We’ll also dive into the importance of building an interdisciplinary team for a dancer’s whole-body approach and what to look for when choosing various health practitioners.
Why I became a dietitian for dancers
In 2009, I was dancing full-time in preparation for company auditions. I was also a full-time college student balancing a schedule saturated with classes, rehearsals, and academic coursework. During this time, my interest in nutrition skyrocketed. What I didn’t know, however, was that my obsession with “health” stemmed from a place of disordered eating. I needed to figure things out.
While pursuing a professional dance career, I grew more and more passionate about nutrition and how to build sustainable habits while utilizing an all-foods-fit approach to food. I soon began my path toward attaining the necessary coursework needed to attain licensure as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN). Read more about my story here.
A registered dietitian nutritionist for dancers
As a pre-professional dancer, I experienced a plethora of individuals providing resources in the areas of mentorship, health coaching, and nutrition. It was at one particular summer intensive, however, when I experienced an incredible amount of support from the company’s affiliated dietitian. Actually, it was this dietitian who convinced me to consider a road toward the RD license. Here’s a blog post all about the road I took to gaining my license as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for dancers.
Fast forward and I could not be more thankful. My experience as both a dancer and a dietitian has enabled me to fuse my passions in the pursuit of redefining The Healthy Dancer®.
I already know how to eat healthfully…
Dancers are especially vulnerable to the development of disordered eating and eating disorders (three times more likely!). Individuals and coaches who identify as nutrition experts but don’t hold appropriate credentialing can easily share triggering content with those most vulnerable. A dancer’s nutritional needs are also comparable to those of an athlete. Thorough academic and clinical training is the backbone of nutrition education— especially as it relates to dancer health and wellness. It’s essential that dancers seek qualified advice for interventions that involve any of the following:
- Performance Nutrition
- Injury prevention
- Eating disorder recovery
- Disordered eating prevention
- Disease management
Why should dancers consult with a dietitian nutritionist?
It’s not easy to identify qualified nutrition advice and it’s even harder to decipher it from harmful nutrition advice. Many nutrition-related titles like “nutrition expert” and “nutritionist” are not regulated. This means that anyone can technically consider themself a nutrition professional. I discuss the differences here.
Similar to a dancer’s training inside the studio, dancers deserve a quality of care that supports the sustainability of their careers. Here are 4 reasons why dancers, whether pre-professional, professional, or retired, should rely on Registered Dietitian Nutritionists for food- and nutrition- advice.
1. Dietitians undergo extensive training
Similar to the rigorous training required of a dancer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists receive years of clinical training in medical nutrition therapy and nutrition research. For me, this meant over 6 years of academic education in areas of clinical nutrition, sports nutrition, life cycle nutrition, counseling, and more. Medical Nutrition Therapy is the root of food and nutrition intervention, especially for areas surrounding pre-performance meal planning, injury prevention, and injury recovery. And this was just to attain licensure. Years of continuing education are required to maintain professional licensure.
To become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, individuals must attain a Master’s degree. This new mandate takes effect in 2024 and further sets RD’s apart from other non-credentialed nutrition enthusiasts. Here’s an article that discusses the path toward dietetics licensure.
2. Dietitians must complete continuing education
As mentioned above, dietitians are required to complete continuing education throughout their professional practice. Since nutrition is an evolving science, continuing education ensures that dietitians remain up-to-date on nutrition research. Such training sets dietitians apart from other nutrition professionals like health coaches. Since acquiring my RD license, I continue to advance my practices in areas of Sports Nutrition, Intuitive Eating, Disordered Eating, and more. Advanced certifications in eating disorders and sports nutrition provide me with the tools needed to support the unique demands of a dancer. As a Counselor of Intuitive Eating, I’m trained in utilizing a non-diet approach to teach you how to have a healthy relationship with food and body.
3. Dietitians are proficient in nutrition research
As part of licensure, dietitians must exemplify proficiency in nutrition research. Dietitians are always turning to published research for evidence-based approaches to nutrition. This unique background enables dietitians to analyze qualitative research outcomes and accurately translate scientific jargon into accessible information. Here’s an article to expand your knowledge in nutrition research.
When is the right time for a dancer to consult with a dietitian nutritionist?
It’s never too late to build a connection between your relationship with food and your dance performance. I work with dancers throughout the life cycle— from as young as 9 to retired dancers in their late 60s. If you’re unsure about whether a dietitian can support you, consider the following:
1. You’re ready to optimize your performance
Dietitians offer goal-oriented approaches to educate you on the specific foods and habits needed to level up your training. Whether you strive to improve your energy levels, sharpen your mental clarity, reduce your risk for injury, or you’re looking to improve your relationship with food and body, working with an RD can help you achieve these goals.
2. You’re looking for confidence in your food choices
When it comes to adequate fueling, dancers benefit from convenience, balance, flexibility, and variety. Speaking with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist that understands the mechanics of hormonal balance, digestion, and metabolism allows dancers to make more educated choices that will fuel their bodies and lead to greater success both in and out of the studio.
3. Your relationship with food feels strained
Dancer diet culture normalizes disordered eating behaviors. Whether you’re avoiding one specific food group, striving for “clean eating,” or eliminating whole macronutrients (such as carbs) you may be headed down a road of unsustainable eating habits. Dancers can seek a dietitian with additional certification as a Counselor of Intuitive Eating to learn more about the benefits of rejecting the diet mentality and building a sustainable non-restrictive approach to eating.
4. You’re unsure about foods that are “good” and “bad”
From “All Natural” and “Organic” to “Dairy-Free,” “Clean,” and “Gluten-Free,” an endless array of options depict a confusing story. Speak with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to sift through the data and decipher options that support your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
5. You’re feeling unwell after meals, physically and mentally
Food should be an enjoyable experience. From stomach discomfort to preconceived guilt or that “I shouldn’t be eating this” mindset, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you heal your mind-body connection. We’ll work together to construct a whole-body approach that supports sustainable performance and lifestyle goals.
6. You’re confused about meal planning
Busy schedules and below-average pay rates make it tough for dancers to prioritize their food choices throughout a hectic day. From convenient snacks to menu ordering, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists teach you how to navigate busy times, tight budgets, and on-the-go routines.
How can dancers get started with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?
Virtual nutrition coaching and HIPPA-compliant telehealth make it easy to receive qualified nutrition services for even the busiest of dancers. While some may question the virtual approach, the accessibility and convenience of telehealth allow dancers to work with board-certified nutrition professionals despite an over-booked schedule. If you prefer an in-person experience over virtual work, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides tools to help dancers find a dietitian in their area. Click here to learn more about my role as a registered dietitian nutritionist for dancers.
I’m worried that this won’t be a good fit for me
While the title of dietitian can help to filter much of the mess surrounding nutrition education, licensure alone doesn’t necessarily translate to nutrition advice that is safe for consumption (a topic I dive into here). Additional credentials, such as specialties in eating disorders (CEDS) and certification in Intuitive Eating are beneficial for dancers who suspect that they’re struggling with disordered eating or who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. A Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics can also be helpful for dancers needing to support active training routines and performance schedules
A team approach
An interdisciplinary team is a technique used to coordinate care between various health practitioners. These practitioners work together to construct a specific plan for you. Oftentimes, an interdisciplinary team is encouraged for dancers needing a higher level of care, such as during eating disorder recovery, and may consist of a dietitian, a mental health therapist, a medical doctor (like a pediatrician), and in some cases, endocrinologists and gastroenterologist.
When working alongside dietitians, mental health practitioners, doctors, health coaches, fitness trainers, and dance educators can support a dancer’s career tremendously. Health coaches and other wellness enthusiasts can be useful in offering career support, mentorship, and acting as an overall cheerleader for a dancer. This is especially true if these individuals have a deep understanding of the dance industry. But in regard to food and nutrition advice, unless one holds licensure as a dietitian, it is outside of their scope of practice to prescribe nutrition plans, offer nutrition interventions, or conduct nutrition-focused assessments. Adopting an interdisciplinary team can result in a more thorough, personalized, and tailored approach to a dancer’s needs and goals. To begin forming your team, reach out!
I’m reassured working with a dietitian. I saw Rachel’s name in an article for Dance Magazine and felt compelled to connect. Rachel’s personal background as a dancer makes our work together relatable and enjoyable. For dancers, it’s not easy finding a medical professional who just gets it. I now have insight into my body and its needs as a dancer. I feel stronger in class and more confident on stage.Ashley, dancer with New York City Ballet