By Kate Smith
When one thinks of a dancer and all of the things they need to do to continue to improve their craft, many things come to mind – stretching, taking technique classes and practicing frequently are a few. But one thing that is not as obvious from the outside is nutrition. Improving nutrition can help dancers gain more endurance, strength and improve their overall health and dance performance.
The first thing to keep in mind is hydration. Dancers must always stay hydrated, and it can be difficult during an intense practice and performance schedule. However, the importance of fluid intake is not to be overlooked. According to Suzanne Martin’s Dance Magazine April 2003 article, “ Health and fitness for life,” “ a loss of as little as 2 percent of body fluid can imbalance a dancer’s brain chemistry to the point of creating mental confusion and loss of coordination and balance.” Martin suggests drinking an eight-ounce glass of water at the beginning of each day to help maintain hydration.
When it comes to diet, eating foods that maintain the dancer’s energy level are crucial. The Dance Today! June 2004 article, “Getting through the Day: A Dancer’s Guide to Eating on the Move,” recommends eating carbohydrates such as grains and pasta in addition to breakfast each day.
“I always recommend a sensible diet, including lots of carbohydrates and avoiding too much fat. Dancers don’t need different fuel from other people — they just need more of it because they use more energy,” former Royal Ballet dancer Deborah Bull states in the article.
Bally Total Fitness personal trainer and fitness director Matt Ledbetter also stresses the importance of carbohydrates in a dancer’s diet.
“Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen in the body, and the amount of glycogen stored in the body affects stamina and endurance,” he explains. “ Training and eating properly, with particular attention to carbohydrates, can increase and maintain glycogen stores, which is particularly important for endurance athletes, like dancers!”
Ledbetter says that protein and fat are also important for keeping up energy.
“When fats are eaten as part of healthful foods, they provide an important energy source for athletes in training. Good choices include the fats from nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and avocados.”
So taking in lots of fluids and energy-providing foods are important for a dancer’s everyday nutrition. What about performance season? Eating several small meals each day can be the trick to keeping the dancer’s energy level up during a busy performance season, according to the Dance Magazine March 2006 article, “ Eating and drinking for energy: what–and when–to eat and drink before performing.”
The article states that dance nutritionists advise dancers to eat six small meals a day during performance season, including one two hours before performing and one right after performing. Suggested foods to keep one’s body fueled include protein shakes, sandwiches, bananas, and bagels.
Peak Performance Pasta
For a tasty energizing meal, try Dance Magazine’s “Peak Performance Pasta”
1/2 pound whole-wheat pasta
1 small onion, chopped
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes to taste
2-3 cups bite-size pre-washed spinach and/or any combination of fresh or frozen vegetables
1 15-oz. can white, black, or red beans drained, or 1 7-.oz. can white tuna in water, drained
Fresh or dried herbs to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon juice or Parmesan cheese (optional)
Prepare pasta according to package directions. While pasta is boiling, pour enough oil into large skillet to make a thin film on bottom. Heat over medium-high heat. Add onions and stir until just soft. Add hot pepper flakes and toss. Add spinach and cook until slightly wilted (cook other vegetables until barely soft). Stir in beans or tuna and herbs. Toss until heated. Mix into drained pasta. Season, squeeze in a touch of lemon juice, and add cheese if desired. Makes 2-3 servings.
For an Asian variation, use a mixture of peanut and sesame oil. Instead of herbs, add a pinch of ginger. Sprinkle with sesame seeds instead of Parmesan cheese.