During my preparation for a dance recital, I was careful with the foods I ate to avoid the unnecessary weight.
As shallow as that sounds, feeling good about the state of your body does make your overall mental state better too. One important thing to take note of is that your diet is catered to your own body. Following your friend’s or an influencer’s diet may not benefit you the same way it benefits them.
It is beneficial to eat foods that will provide the right nutrients to alleviate negative exhaustion.
Professional dancers in genres of ballet and contemporary are very demanding to the mind and body. A good diet for professional dancers depends on the type of dance you do. Different movements work different muscles. This is similar to how we eat different foods, to absorb different nutrients for their various functions.
“I should avoid fatty foods and carbs to lose weight so that I can look better in my costume.”
Professional dancers are highly criticized for their figures. This creates a sense of self-awareness of the kinds of food one eats or the diet one takes to prevent weight gain. Avoiding fatty foods completely seems like the easiest solution.
However, this can cause you to miss out on good fatty components like Omega 3 which are necessary for one’s health, muscle recovery, and more. Eating unhealthy fatty foods once in a while is alright, as long as it is in moderation.
As someone who dances, my diet makes a huge difference to the movements I make on stage. After a long practice session, I often just want to head to McDonald's, eat a good burger.
Of course, I regret it after. The next day, my body would feel heavier and my movements more sloppy. Because of that, my attitude towards the whole practice is affected. This happened countless times, so those who face the temptation of unhealthy foods, I feel you. It took willpower to stop myself and opt to just head home and rest.
Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are one of the most important things for a dancer. Typically, a dancer’s diet should contain an estimate of 55-60%, 65% during intense training.
Yes, carbohydrates can lead to an increase in unnecessary fat but that is in excessive amounts so there is no need to avoid carbs completely. Fats, in moderation, are actually needed for energy consumption. Carbs are a source of energy for muscles. Feeling drained halfway through rehearsing is probably due to the lack of carbs present in the body.
For carbs, I am not strict on the number of carbs I eat every day. I definitely do not over-eat and dancing helps burn it all away. I do enjoy a good plate of pasta and on most days, a bowl of brown rice.
“How does protein benefit me in dancing? Apart from lean meats, what alternate proteins are there?”
Proteins aid in repairing and building muscles while keeping the red blood cells healthy. The number of proteins consumed does change according to the individual’s daily activity. It also helps in keeping the brain active. Apart from lean meat, there are plenty of alternatives such as fish, beans, tofu, nuts, etc. Chickpeas are a good source of protein too!
“I am really picky about eating vegetables, what do you recommend?”
Do not restrict yourself to just a few types. Vegetables and fruits come in so many different colors and sizes. Each with its own benefit. It is good to change up the diet every once in a while to allow the body to absorb the different vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. A colorful plate looks better than a one-toned meal too.
I always make sure to have fruits and/or vegetables in my diet. I was never really picky about them except the occasional capsicum. Remember diets are supposed to benefit you, not harm your body. Eat those vegetables!
“Since I am on a diet, I am not allowed to snack.”
This is not true.
Practicing for a long-duration will make us hungry all the time! Professional dancers burn energy rapidly with high metabolisms and intense movements. Having the appropriate snacks will help keep your energy up while providing the body with the nutrients needed. You do not have to worry about gaining weight from these snacks!
Try snacking on fruits like bananas and apples which give additional energy to the body. Other foods like nuts, a mini-salad of vegetables with protein, yogurt, vegetable sticks, etc. also give us the carbohydrates and proteins needed to maintain our muscles.
I usually do not snack because I have a small appetite. Eating a snack affects my appetite for dinner. However, if I am really hungry in-between practice, I would go for light snacks like a banana.
Never skip meals. It is fine to eat meals later than the usual timing but it is not recommended to miss out on them. There is a good reason why we eat a minimum of 3 main meals a day. I had a friend who would skip dinner before practice to lose weight. It became obvious that she ran out of energy way before the rest of us, and that can be dangerous to the body. We need to replenish the energy we output.
Breakfast is always said to be the most important meal of the day. It gives us the energy to kick-start our day! As dancers, every meal is important to obtain the needed nutrients and energy. However, one should not overeat to prevent feeling heavy and tired just before practice. Eating too much and having little time to digest can also result in vomiting which we definitely want to avoid.
Having a small but nutritional breakfast such as yogurt, oatmeal or sugar-free cereal with fruits is a good way to begin a dancer’s day. Oats, muesli and granola provide dancers with the carbohydrates necessary for energy. At the same time, fruits like banana and apples provide the body with beneficial vitamins and nutrients.
I often have whole-meal bread with peanut butter and a glass of fruit juice to start my day. Never skip breakfast especially on an intense day. I did that once and I regretted it so badly.
We want to build up the protein and carbohydrates for muscle recovery and maintenance. For example, pasta with protein like nuts and chickpeas and a side of vegetables. Avocados and whole-grain bread can be a simple way to start too. Because we want to avoid heavy meals, multiple small meals in between breaks or practices are perfectly acceptable! It will help to replenish energy without going into a “food coma”. This can happen when one consumes too many carbohydrates at one go, so separating that portion can prevent that.
If I have practice after lunch, I normally go for a simple bowl of noodles, salad, or sandwiches. Something that is not too heavy but fills me enough to dance an hour or so later.
Dinner is a meal that ends off a long day of practice. It is crucial to eat foods that target muscle recovery and soreness. Similar to lunch, protein and carbohydrates are prioritized but in larger amounts. It is best to avoid takeaway meals and prep at home before practice if you have time. Preservatives are common in takeaway food, too much is unhealthy for the body. Sometimes, dancers still have practice after dinner. Be wary of the kind of activities you have after.
My dance practices usually take place after dinner so I would normally get a salad with protein and carbs. Sometimes, it would be pasta. I always ensure that I had sufficient time to eat and rest, dancing with a full stomach is never ideal.
Other things to take note of:
Hydration is very important! Be sure to drink lots of water every day. Water has tons of benefits for the mind and body.
Eating healthily does not mean completely saying no to sweets and fatty foods like chocolate and ice-cream. Of course not every day, but enjoying a bowl of ice cream every now and then will not harm you. Do not feel the need to be super strict about your diet. If the diet is not working out, it probably means there are things that need to be changed. Stress caused by dieting is wrong! It should make you feel good about yourself, not dreading the next meal.
Do not fall for quick and easy diets. They can and probably will backfire on your body. Good diets will benefit you in the long run, there is no easy way out. If you wish to take on some of these diet tips, do go into them gradually.
A sudden change in diet can disrupt the regulatory processes in your body, causing a chain of irregular and damaging consequences. Start by decreasing the amount of undesired food intake first, it is to help your body get used to the changes.
Dance America. (2020). ‘Healthy Diet for Dancers’. Available at: https://www.dance-america.com/healthy-diet-for-dancers-30.html
Dance Academy USA. (2014). ‘How to Eat Like a Professional Dancer. Available at: https://www.danceacademyusa.com/2014/09/11/how-to-eat-like-a-professional-dancer/
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