As the big day approaches, dancer nutrition choices are very important. You need to make sure performers’ bodies are getting the right nutrition, so that they are healthy before, during, and after practice, and build muscle to come back better and stronger for the next rehearsal. On the day of recital, don’t make big changes to your eating habits! In this article we’ll talk about some best practices for dancer nutrition, especially in the 24 hours before a recital.
Eating For Performance Day: The Night Before
Staples of great dancer nutrition: lean protein, healthy carbohydrates, veggies, and PLENTY of water.
Several professional ballerinas were interviewed by Coveteur magazine, and they offered some of their favorite choices for meals and ingredients packed full of nutrients:
“Dance nutrition experts mostly agree that the best approach to performance day nutrition is eating small meals throughout the day, starting with a substantial breakfast to get your body and mind fueled and ready to go.”
They recommend a few breakfast choices like:
Oatmeal with fruit
Plain greek yogurt
Whole grain toast with peanut butter*
As far as small meals throughout the day go, it’s up to the individual dancer as to what foods they like and what kinds of foods can keep them feeling full.
Hardboiled egg or string cheese with 5-10 whole grain or rice crackers
Pre-made bar or oatrolls (see article for recipe) with fruit, dates, nuts and/or whole grains.*
(You can make a large batch of these and freeze them, then just put frozen oatrolls in his/her dance bag in the morning so by the afternoon they are thawed and yummy.)
Gluten-free or dairy free snack requirements?
Rice cakes with nut butter and a piece of fruit
Popcorn, pumpkin seeds, GF pretzels, and dried fruit trail mix
Coconut water, dark chocolate almond milk or coconut milk
*Author’s note: In past articles, readers have mentioned their concern about bringing nuts due to possible peanut or tree nut allergies among the dancers. Please be sure to consider those with nut allergies when deciding what to bring to the studio or to a performance, and remember that some severe allergies can be triggered by contact with very small amounts of the allergen.
It may seem as though you hear about a new “superfood” every week. Whether the buzz is about kale, quinoa or kefir, there are always people claiming they’ve found the next best thing since sliced bread. While some foods are heralded for the wrong reasons, there are a number of nutritious superfoods that can be beneficial to dancers. Performers are notoriously busy and expend a lot of energy each day, so it’s essential that they get optimal nutrients from the foods they’re eating. Whether you’re a dance student or instructor, try these choices – each a super food for dancers that will keep you fueled throughout your craziest days.
1. Almond butter
Peanut butter is a go-to for many athletes in need of an energy boost, but this related product is an even better option. Dance Spirit magazine explained that almond butter contains a lot of protein, monounsaturated fat and minerals. It trumps peanut butter with it’s 9 milligrams of iron and almost 700 mg of calcium per serving.
You can eat almond butter in the same ways you would any other nut butter. Spread it on a sandwich with fresh fruit preserves for a nutritious and energizing lunch, or dip slices of apples into it for a snack after rehearsal.
2. Sweet potatoes
Carbohydrates are one of the best sources of energy for athletes, but it’s important to choose complex foods that contain other vitamins and minerals as well as carbs. The Women’s Sports Foundation explained that sweet potatoes are a great option for dancers, as these orange spuds contain tons of vitamins A, C and B-6, as well as significant amounts of potassium and manganese.
One of the easiest ways to enjoy sweet potatoes is as a baked side dish. Scrub down your spuds, pierce them with a fork a few times, then bake them for 45-60 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This should leave you with tender, delicious potatoes that taste great alongside chicken, steak or another protein-packed entree.
Many athletes know that they lose electrolytes when they sweat, and if these nutrients aren’t replaced, it can lead to muscle spasms and cramps. You may be tempted to down an energy drink to get your fill of electrolytes, but celery is an all-natural option that provides the same benefits. These stalks contain plenty of potassium and sodium, as well as other important nutrients.
“Celery can help during long practices and rehearsals,” Ally Wagner, a nutritionist who works with the Cincinnati Ballet, explained to Dance magazine. “It’s also high in fiber and vitamin K and low in calories.”
Throw back to your childhood and create “ants on a log” with celery sticks, almond butter and raisins! It’s a fun, tasty and healthy snack that will help you power through practice.
4. Goji berries
You probably don’t have this ingredient in your pantry, but it’s worth picking up a package the next time you’re at the store. Goji berries are rich in vitamin A, C and iron. Dance Spirit magazine also noted that the tart berries contain betaine, which may help calm nerves and promote muscle growth. These properties are what make the ingredient popular for athletes.
Incorporate this superfood into your diet by eating goji berries mixed with Greek yogurt as a mid-afternoon snack. This makes for a well-balanced mini meal with plenty of calcium and protein. You can also find goji berries covered in chocolate, but opt for dark chocolate varieties, as this sweet covering contains beneficial antioxidants. Don’t overindulge in chocolaty berries, however, as too much sugar can lead to a mid-rehearsal slump.
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
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
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.