A Dancer’s Diet

Healthy, Nutritious Foods for the Non-Stop Dancer

Dancers often call the studio their second home. And it makes sense when you’re spending five, six, sometimes seven days a week there for hours on end, in technique classes and rehearsals. But no one can keep dancing at that rate without the proper nutrition to stay fueled and energized.

This week I spoke with two Cal Poly dancers and a Cal Poly nutrition professor to gain insight on best meals, snacks, and drinks to keep a dancer’s energy up for those long days at the studio.

Tiffany Davids is a freshman business major and Orchesis company member. She began her dance career as a “tapper” at age seven, adding jazz, ballet, and contemporary to her repertoire in the following years.

Orchesis is currently performing their annual showcase, Immersion, which consists of six shows over the course of two weeks. Preparation for the performances has required many hours of rehearsal, often late into the evening and on weekends. Tiffany knows first-hand how important it is to stay fueled during these long rehearsals.

Tiffany is a fan of trail mix full of nuts, raisins, and other dried fruits.

“It’s easy to just pop in those little morsels in your mouth between dances and you get a burst of energy.” -Tiffany Davids, Orchesis company member

Illustrated and Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

In addition to trail mix, Tiffany said baby carrots are a “go-to” snack. She also likes crackers as a source of carbohydrates.

Backstage at the Immersion shows, Orchesis dancers are provided with a “food table,” Tiffany said. On the table they have grapes, apples, mangos, blueberries, trail mix, pita chips and hummus, and acai berries covered in chocolate for something sweet but not sinful. And of course, tons of cases of water.

“I only drink water during rehearsal but afterwards I will sometimes drink Gatorade or PowerAde to regain some electrolytes.”

Alexa Dack is a sophomore architecture major and this is her second year on the Cal Poly Dance Team, which performs at Cal Poly sports events and competes nationally. With practice at least three days a week for two hours, plus game performances several times a week, she knows how to pick foods that will boost and sustain her energy.

“I like to have some kind of nuts, like almonds, for some protein. Peanut butter is also good.”

Like Tiffany, Alexa reaches for fruits such as apples, oranges, or bananas to refuel.

Illustrated and Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

“I don’t like to eat a lot before practice because it can make me feel sluggish. If I do eat something before dancing, it’s something light and healthy because I know those types of foods won’t slow me down.” -Alexa Dack, Cal Poly Dance Team

Cal Poly nutrition professor, Dr. Susan Swadener, recommends eating two to four hours prior to dancing because, as Alexa mentioned, eating a heavy meal before dancing can make you feel sluggish.

She also advises eating within 15 to 30 minutes after working out. Dr. Swadener said it is important to restore glycogen quickly. Glycogen holds starch, which holds water, so when you restore your glycogen, you also hydrate your body.

Whether it’s a pre or post-workout meal, she recommends having a meal that has low fat, high carbs, and moderate protein because it will help you to digest the food more quickly and it won’t weigh you down.

“I think carbohydrates are so important but we’ve become so carbohydrate-phobic today, with people saying that carbs are ‘bad,’ but muscles use carbohydrates for fuel and to help them rebuild when they break down.” -Dr. Susan Swadener, Cal Poly Nutrition Professor

Whole grains are the ideal carb and can be found in cereals and whole grain breads and pastas. They are also rich in vitamins and fiber, Dr. Swadener said.

Illustrated and Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

Protein is an important part of a dancer’s diet and Dr. Swadener’s recommendations are easy and delicious.

“I think yogurt can be a fantastic snack. Or string cheese is a great option. Have peanut butter and an apple, because you need some protein and fat to sustain you through those long hours of exercise.”

Illustrated and Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

Dr. Swadener said that protein bars are also good for refueling because they have a good mix of protein, carbs, and fat.

“I think smoothies are another good snack because you can throw in yogurt and you can throw in fruit. And if you’re nervous before a performance, sometimes a liquid is easier to digest and handle.” -Dr. Swadener

Another beneficial fluid: non-fat or low-fat milk.

“It’s fantastic because it’s high protein, it’s low fat, and it’s fluid, so you get your fluids in to be hydrated.”

Dr. Swadener is a believer in “everything in moderation” and said that sweets are okay to have, but she said to make them “fun foods.”

“Personally, I like frozen yogurt because it’s lower in fat, it’s sweet but it’s healthy because it’s got calcium and protein.”

Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

Lastly, in addition to refueling with food, dancers should never underestimate the importance of sleep. With that said, try to limit caffeine intake to about two cups of coffee a day, one in the morning and perhaps one mid-afternoon.

“Be careful with coffee and caffeine in the evening because then you’re jittery, can’t sleep, and you really need to get good rest as a dancer.”

A Quick Recap:

  • Trail Mix
  • Dried and Fresh fruits
  • Nuts
  • Carrots
  • Crackers
  • Pita chips and hummus
  • Whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals
  • Yogurt
  • String Cheese
  • Peanut Butter
  • Protein Bars
  • Smoothies
  • Milk
  • Frozen Yogurt

Want to learn more?

Check out this video: A Healthy Dancer’s Diet

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