Diet plan for dancers plays a vital role in the performance of any dancer. If you want to perform well on stage and stay healthy, then following a healthy diet plan is a must. This article provides you some easy and simple diet plans for dancers.
The Best Diet For Dancers
“Perfection,” in the context of food, can lead us down a path of unsustainable eating habits. In pursuit of perfecting performance, dancers are especially swayed by the illusion of a “perfect” or “clean” diet. The problem, however, is that labels like “good foods” and “bad foods” foster a negative experience while eating. The creation of food rules further leads to a cycle of guilt, anxiety, and stress surrounding all foods.
Not following food rules doesn’t mean that we’re not aiming for improvements in health and/or performance. We can utilize nutrition education in a non-obsessive way to make lifestyle changes that help us achieve our goals. To do this, we shift our intentions. Rather than aiming for perfection, we optimize our food choices to help with energy levels, higher jumps, mental clarity, and so forth. Let’s break down a few subtle changes you can make to optimize your plate (rather than perfect your plate) for performance.
What types of food should dancers eat?
To preface the types of foods recommended in a dancer’s diet, it’s important to address a dancer’s calorie needs. I don’t often focus on calories when working with clients, however, many dancers tend to underestimate their calorie needs. Calories provide the energy needed to not only perform but also to sustain basic metabolic functioning. Though calories are often feared in our diet-obsessed culture, calories are essential to a dancer’s active lifestyle. Eating too few calories risks injury and nutrient deficiencies. To learn more about how many calories a dancer needs in a day, .
Though calories are often feared in our diet-obsessed culture, calories are essential to a dancer’s active lifestyle. A balanced diet incorporates meals and snacks that balance all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. This ratio, or what I like to call the “nutrient mix,” is critical to a dancer’s menu.
Carbohydrates (goal: 55-60% of a dancer’s diet) are a dancer’s best source of energy. Complex carbs are found in plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains, such as oats, farro, bulgur, barley, and freekeh, are particularly high in energizing nutrients like iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Quinoa is technically a seed but is often eaten like a grain. Remember, non-starchy veggies (like leafy greens) should not replace grain-based carbs on your plate. Incorporate both as part of a balanced meal.
Protein (goal: 12-15% of a dancer’s diet) has long been considered the star macronutrient in our diet-drenched culture. While protein plays a key role in muscle building, the body also requires carbs and fats. Without these two macros, the body breaks down muscle (protein stores) for energy. Protein is found in both animal- and plant-based foods. Animal-based proteins like fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, milk, and yogurt are considered high in biological value. In other words, these proteins provide all essential amino acids for muscle building. Vegetarians and vegans can obtain all essential amino acids from plant-based diets, however, it requires proper planning. The good news? Today’s food landscape offers an abundance of plant-based high-quality proteins such as pseudo-cereals (quinoa and buckwheat) and ancient grains (farro and freekah). A diet rich in these foods as part of a variety mixed with veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes can provide all essential amino acids to working muscles.
Fat (goal: 30% of a dancer’s diet) is an essential nutrient for a dancer’s active body. Our society’s overwhelming fear of fat however often overshadows the vast health benefits surrounding this macronutrient. Adding fat to a meal promotes satisfaction, which keeps us full throughout the day. A dancer’s body undergoes a great deal of wear and tear from high levels of physical activity. Unsaturated fats predominantly found in oils (olive and canola), fatty fish (salmon, tuna), avocados, nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butter offer anti-inflammatory benefits that reduce inflammation and promote muscular repair.
The micronutrients are also essential and include vitamins and minerals like calcium, Vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, and zinc. To learn more about these nutrients, sign up for my 3-day nutrient crash course, which is specifically designed to outline a dancer’s micronutrient needs.
10 things that can happen when you choose a sustainable meal plan:
- You’ll feel empowered at meal times.
- You’ll have consistent energy in class,
- Feeling fo food guilt will lessen and ultimately disappear.
- You’ll feel more confident in your body.
- You’ll incorporate a variety of nutrients into your meals snacks, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, calcium, iron, and vitamin D.
- Your weight will stabilize in a way that best supports your hormonal health and overall wellbeing.
- You won’t feel restricted nor ravenous around food.
- You’ll be free of obsessive thoughts about food.
- You’ll experience enjoyment, rather than stress, at meal times.
- You’ll be better able to tune into fullness naturally control portions.
5 Healthy Diet Tips For Dancers
The average person’s body is made of 60% water. Replenishing daily losses is even more important for dancers, whose physical activity results in higher-than-normal fluid losses. But how much fluid should a dancer aim for in a day? Individual recommendations vary, but a starting point is three liters. You’ll need a bit more if you’re rehearsing for longer periods or dancing in hotter and more humid climates (such as during the summer intensive season).
Optimize Your Plate: For dancers struggling to meet their energy needs through food each day, adding calorically dense fluid to meals, like juice and/or milk, counts towards this hydration goal. When drinking water, optimize your hydration with a salty snack (like olives or pretzels) and easily digestible carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen and electrolytes. Eating an array of fruits and veggies throughout your week also helps to keep you hydrated.
#2: Don’t Restrict Carbohydrates
For dancers, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source. In other words, of the three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat), carbs are the easiest for your body to metabolize. Complex carbs are high in dietary fiber, which slows digestion for steadier energy levels. Simple carbs offer quicker energy (like that pick-me-up you might need before class ends). Read this article to learn more about the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates.
Optimize Your Plate: Incorporate plant-based foods such as whole grains like oats, barley, farro, bulgar, and brown rice in addition to starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, and squash. Fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds are also helpful options!
#3: Incorporate Protein
There are two sources of protein in the human diet: animal proteins and plant proteins. Animal proteins are often considered “high in biological value,” which means that they contain all essential amino acids necessary for muscle building. However, vegetarian and vegan dancers can obtain all essential amino acids from a well-planned plant-based diet.
Optimize Your Plate: If you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, incorporate animal proteins like whole eggs, milk, yogurt, chicken, cheese, and meat. If plant-based, aim for abundance and variety. Professional resources are available to help plan your plant-based diet. You can also learn more from this article. Calcium-containing foods are essential for a dancer’s bone health. Additionally, Vitamin D aids with calcium absorption and bone metabolism. Proactively incorporate calcium- and vitamin D-containing foods like yogurt, cheese, and milk. Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, fortified orange juice and milk products, mushrooms, and egg yolks. Aim for at least 3-servings of calcium- and vitamin D-containing foods daily.
#4: Always Include A Source of Fat!
Fat is an essential macronutrient, especially for active dancers. Adding fat to meals and snacks promotes satisfaction, helping you to feel full, satisfied, and NOT hangry! Fat also aids in hormonal balance, enhances vitamin absorption, and even helps to reduce levels of inflammation, which occurs naturally from dancing.
Optimize Your Plate: Heart-healthy fats like olive and canola oil, nuts and nut butter, avocados, and wild fish are beneficial to the body. Other sources of fat like butter, coconut oil, and whole-milk dairy can be extremely satisfying options when included in moderate amounts.
#5: Don’t Forget About Fun Foods
Spoiler: this is the most important part of optimizing your plate. Your performance as a dancer is a product of three factors: your physical health, your mental health, and your emotional health. Focusing too much on “perfecting your plate for performance” is not the goal. Make space for ALL foods to fit into your day. Utilize an intuitive approach to choose foods that satisfy you and bring happiness to your plate. Refer to the following articles as resources for balancing performance nutrition and intuitive nutrition.
Fine and Minno agree that dancers’ tendency is to under-fuel rather than over-fuel. “You need to plan ahead to get your body the right nutrients for energy and peak performance,” Minno says. “If you eat too little, you might not have the calories you need.” Aim for a full meal rich in complex carbohydrates (aka vegetables and whole grains), protein, and a little bit of fat three to four hours before hitting the studio.
As you get closer to start time, simplify—as in, focus on simple carbohydrates, like fruit and refined grains. “Simpler carbohydrates digest faster and provide you with quick energy,” Fine says. “Pair them with protein to help the effect last.” Steer clear of creamy, fried, greasy, or otherwise high-fat foods in the two hours leading up to class. These, along with fiber-rich complex carbs, can weigh you down if consumed right before you set foot in the studio.
Throughout the day, have at least a little something every two to four hours—but avoid eating or chugging water within the hour before dance time.
One word: HYDRATE. “You’re sweating throughout class because you’re working hard, so sip water regularly to replenish any fluids you might be losing,” says Minno. She suggests about six ounces of water for every 15 to 30 minutes of activity. Fine recommends buying a one-liter water bottle and aiming to fill it two or three times daily.
Pack your dance bag with snacks you can easily nosh between class and rehearsal, in case you feel foggy or need a pick-me-up. Fine suggests fruit-and-nut bars, or pretzels and a cheese stick (which have the added benefit of replacing sodium lost through sweat).
The goal for any post-dance snack or meal is to help your body recover without preventing it from resting properly. Steer clear of things that are harder to digest, like spicy or high-fat foods, since they might keep you awake later. But don’t skip food entirely. “Dancers’ muscles constantly undergo wear and tear, so it’s important to provide nutrients that support the body’s rebuilding of muscles,” Fine says. Simple foods with a bit of protein, like Greek yogurt, are good options.
Allow your body at least an hour to digest your dinner (and your post-dance hydration!) before you hit the sack. “Make sure your body has time to fulfill those processes of digestion,” Minno says. “If you go to bed right away, you might have interrupted sleep because of getting up to go to the bathroom.”
A Sample Meal Plan
We had our two nutrition experts combine forces to come up with a sample menu for a typical day in the life of a growing dancer. But, advises Minno, use it as a guideline, not a rule: “Though there are general nutritional rules of thumb, what works for you might not work for your partner or classmate. Focus on what makes you feel fueled and energized.”
Wake up, 6 am.
Start your hydration routine right away.
Breakfast, 6:15 am.
Protein, complex carbs, and fat will keep you full until lunchtime. Think Greek yogurt and a slice of whole-grain toast with PB and banana. If you’re not really a breakfast person, you can stick to a smaller snack, like fruit and nut butter—but plan a bigger lunch.
Academic classes, 7:30 to 11:30 am
. Keep a water bottle in your backpack so staying hydrated is easy.
Lunch, 11:30 am to 12 pm.
This is a good time to focus on vegetables, since you have several hours to digest the fiber before class. Pack a sandwich (on whole-grain bread, with protein like grilled chicken) plus a variety of your favorite raw or cooked veggies. Don’t forget water!
More academics, 12 to 2 pm.
Since you don’t want to load up on water right before dance, keep sipping through the afternoon.
“Early dinner” at home, 2:45 pm.
You have about two hours before class—time to fuel up, but not so much that you’re uncomfortably full. Good options include a rice bowl with veggies and protein, or a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with apple slices on the side. 17 to 20 ounces of water, too!
Technique class, 4:30 to 6 pm.
You’ll want to drink about 18 ounces of water during class.
Rehearsal, 6 to 9 pm.
Pack a snack made up of simple carbs (dried fruit or a granola bar are good options) in case you have a minute between class and rehearsal. Make sure you’re getting in about 36 ounces of water over the course of rehearsal.
Bedtime snack at home, 9:30 pm.
Eat something easy to digest that won’t keep you up: Greek yogurt with berries, or hummus with veggies and crackers. And don’t forget to hydrate!