Friday, August 3, 2012

Dance Nutrition

   Do you get burned out during performance season? Do you feel like you do not have enough energy?  Believe it or not you can help beat your fatigue with proper nutrition.
     So what are the nutrients you need as a dancer?  Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water are all needed to sustain a balance in energy.

     Many dancers avoid eating carbohydrates because they think it will make them gain weight.  It is true that eating an excess amount of any nutrient can cause weight gain, however the answer is not ignoring the nutrient.  Carbohydrates are very important for supplying your muscles and brain with energy.  Without it dancers will be fatigue due to the lack of fuel.   It is recommended that dancers intake 55-65% of their diet from carbohydrates.  Dancers who work hard are more likely to eat amounts close to the 65% requirement.  Try eating complex carbs that are high in fiber such as brown rice, rye bread, and oatmeal.  These will help sustain your energy level because they enter your blood stream slowly.  Avoid eating too many simple carbohydrates which will spike your blood sugar and cause insulin to convert it into fat.  You don’t have to ignore them completely though.  Simple sugars are a good option for when you need fast energy before or during class.  Limit sugar to 10% or less of your diet.

     Many dancers avoid eating protein because they think that it will make them too big.  It is recommended that dancers intake 10-20% of their diet from proteins.  Proteins are important in muscle building and repair and for the formation of enzymes that are used in metabolism.  Vegetarian dancers need to make sure they are getting adequate protein in their diet (see chart on next page for options).

     Fats tend to get a bad name for being the culprits of excess weight gain.   Not all fats are bad for you.  In fact unsaturated fats are actually good for you and can help you lose weight.  Dancers should consume 20-30% of their diet from fats.  Fats are important for making hormones in your body, insulating your nerves, and for the storage of some vitamins.  Fat is a very important energy source.  Once your body uses up carbohydrates it will turn to fat deposits for energy.  In fact some professional dancers who rehearse many long hours eat as much as 50% of their diet from fat in order to sustain their energy needs.  Try to avoid saturated and trans fats such as fried foods and fatty meats.  Eat fats from plant and fish sources.

Vitamins and Minerals
     Vitamins and minerals are very important in a dancer’s diet.  A diet with low amounts of vitamins and minerals will impair the dancer’s performance.  B vitamins are important for our body’s metabolism.  Vitamins A, C, and E help with muscle and tissue repair and are great antioxidants.  Vitamin D and calcium are important for bone formation.  Calcium is also important in muscle contraction and nerve impulses.  Iron is needed for transporting oxygen in the blood.  Zinc and vitamin C helps are immune system.  Magnesium helps our muscles relax and potassium helps with muscle formation and contraction.  Vitamins and minerals are found in all types of foods, especially in fruits and vegetables, however many dancers still do not get the adequate amounts.  Having a varied diet is very helpful in meeting these goals.  Taking multivitamin supplements help reach daily intake requirements, however this should not be an alternative to eating a healthy diet. 

 Recommended Foods
Carbs: whole grains, oatmeal, pasta, fruits,and vegetables.
Protien: eggs, fish, poultry, beans, tofu, nuts, dairy
Fat: vegetable oils, fish oils, avacados
Vitamin A: Leafy green veggies,  orange, red, or yellow veggies or fruit,
B Complex: Enriched grains, whole grains, meats and dairy products
Vitamin C:  Fruits, brocolli
Vitamin D:  Sunshine, milk
Vitamin E: vegetable oils, nuts, leafy green veggies
Calcium: dairy, green veggies
Iron: meats, green veggies, eggs, whole grains
Zinc: meats, poultry whole grains dairy
Magnesium:  Nuts, whole grains, avacados, green veggies
Potassium:  brocolli, peas, fish, tomatoes, apples, bananas, leafy greens

     Water is very important to prevent dehydration.  When dancers do not drink enough water they become nauseas, fatigue, vomit, cramp, and lose concentration.  Most dancers need 11-16 cups of water a day, however this varies due to the amount you perspire and how humid your environment is.  The best way to determine if you are hydrated is by the color of your urine.  Urine should be a pale yellow color.  Darker colors indicate you need to drink more water.

     Many people think dancers do not eat a lot of food, however depending on the program some individuals eat anywhere between 1,000 to 4,000 calories a day.  Children age 4-6 intake 46 calories per pound of body weight, and children ages 7-10 intake 32 calories per pound.  Adult females intake between 17-20 calories per pound, and males 18-24 calories per pound.  So an adult female dancer who weighs 100 lbs. will need between 1,700-2,000 calories per day.

Performance Day Eating
     Just like athletes, dancers must eat certain foods in preparation for their performance.  There are certain foods that should be consumed and others that should be avoided.  It is recommended for dancers to eat small meals every 3-4 hours during the day; however the timing of these meals in relation to the performance is important.  Your meal should already pass through the stomach into the small intestines by the time you start performing.  It is best for dancers to consume carbohydrates on the day of performance, and avoid eating excess fat and protein because they tend to stay in the stomach longer.  
     Some of the foods you should eat before performance include pasta, yogurt, fruit, cereal, whole grains, trail mix, nuts, and peanut butter.  Avoid eating a lot of protein, fat, high salty foods, fiber, and any other foods that can produce bloating and gas.  These foods can make your stomach look bigger before performance and may cause gastric problems during performance.   Examples of foods to avoid include raw vegetables, beans, soup, bran, beef, soft drinks, juice, and fast food. 
     Many girls try to look extra skinny before they perform and not eat.  It is recommended that you do not fast right before or on the day of your performance.  The lack of nutrients will affect your dancing dramatically. 
      It is important to replenish your body after a performance or an extraneous rehearsal.  Milk contains even more electrolytes then many sports drinks.

     A varied diet of carbohydrates, protein, and fats is essential to maintain energy. With adequate nutrition dancers will be able to reach the performance potential. For more information on how to improve your health make an appointment with your local dietician.


Chmelar R, Fitt S. Diet for Dancers. Hightstown: Princeton, 1990.

Hamilton L. The Dancer’s Way. New York: St. Martin, 2008.

Minden, E.  The Ballet Companion. New York: Fireside, 2005.

Wadler G, Lydon K, Rasminsky A, Holmes K. The Healthy Dancer: ABT Guidelines for Dancer Health. New York: Ballet Theater Foundation, 2008.