Nutrition for Dancers: What to Eat for Competitions
When you’re preparing for a big dance competition, your mind is probably filled with concerns about costumes, makeup, choreography and transportation. However, there’s another equally important consideration that often gets overlooked: What are your dancers going to eat? Most competitions are all-day affairs, and you can bet that your performers are going to get hungry throughout the day. If you want your students to perform their best, plan ahead and come to competitions prepared with food and beverages for your dancers. Use these tips to choose snacks packed with nutrition for dancers that will optimize energy and keep them on their toes.
The Night Before
While you won’t be there to ensure your performers are eating healthy meals the night before a competition, you can at least give them and their parents a little guidance on the best foods. Dance Comp Review recommended that dancers have a dinner with protein and complex carbohydrates the night before they perform.
Some goods options might be:
- Grilled chicken or fish
- Eggplant lasagna
- Leafy salad with nuts, berries, and feta
- Whole-wheat pasta or brown rice
Comfort foods that are rich in sugar and fat might seem tempting, but it’s better to choose a meal that packed with nutrients. This will help your body to fuel up on energy and get ready for a long, active day.
When you’re packing snacks for the team to munch on throughout the day, you’ll want to focus on small, healthy items. The Rockettes blog suggested bringing along trail mix that contains nuts* and seeds, as these will help keep dancers feeling satiated for longer. Fresh or dried fruits and vegetables are another good choice, as they contain natural sugars that will boost energy. Other options include:
- Whole-grain pretzels and crackers
- Rice cakes
- Nut butter*
- Sliced vegetables
Opt for Small Meals
You’ll probably spend a good portion of your day idling between performances, but that doesn’t mean your dancers should indulge in a big lunch or dinner. Experts agree that it’s best for performers to eat a number of smaller meals when they’re hungry.
“Eat when you’re hungry and find foods that leave you satisfied,” recommended Richard Gibbs, M.D., the supervising physicians of the San Francisco Ballet, in an interview with Dance magazine. “Eat smaller amounts and eat better. What often happens is that the dancer eats nothing all day, and at the end of the day pigs out on the wrong foods.”
Good options for competition-day food might be:
- Deli meat sandwiches on whole-grain bread
- Chicken soup with lots of vegetables
- Toasted bagel with peanut butter*
Skip the Soda
Be sure your students are drinking plenty of fluids with each meal they eat, and try to steer them towards water whenever possible. Dance magazine explained that drinking water with meals will help make food more digestible for the body and optimize nutrient intake.
Soda and other sugary drinks will likely be available at the competition, but these options aren’t so great for performers. Sugar crashes are all too real, so encourage dancers to focus on drinking water and leave the other beverages until after they perform.
*Editor’s note: Several readers have mentioned their concern about bringing nuts due to possible peanut or tree nut allergies among the dancers. Be sure to consider those with nut allergies when deciding what to bring, and remember that some severe allergies can be triggered by contact with very small amounts of the allergen.