Dancers need a healthy and varied diet to maintain health, well being and achieve optimum performance in training, rehearsal and performance. Dance is a physically demanding activity the body requires energy produced from food. Healthy eating can be an emotive subject for dancers as dancers can be preoccupied with the effect of weight, shape or body fat on performance rather than the adequacy of their diet, therefore may be at greater risk of nutritional deficiency.
Dancers’ nutritional requirements include:
1 Eat Plenty of Complex CarbohydratesThis is the most important food type for you as a dancer as it provides and maintains your energy levels for the high physical demands required for dance. Glycogen is the main source of fuel used by the muscles to enable you to undertake both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Consequences if you train with low glycogen stores:
- constantly tired
- prone to illness
- more prone to injury
- your performance will be lower
Note: Carbohydrates should make up the main part of your diet, it is suggested that you eat at least five servings of carbohydrates a day.
Complex carbohydrates or starches are found in:
- Breads and grains
- Pasta and rice
- Beans and legumes
- Vegetables and fruit
2 Eat a Small Amount of ProteinProteins are essential to growth and repair of muscle and other body tissues however, there is no benefit in eating excessive amounts as proteins are not a primary source of energy and take several hours to digest. Low to moderate amounts of protein is sufficient.
Note: It is recommended to include some protein with carbohydrates after intensive exercise.
The main sources of protein include:
- Fish and meat
- Eggs, milk and dairy products
- Cereals, nuts and pulses
- Beans and soya products
3 Eat Small Amounts of FatWe all need fat in our diets as fat provides protection to vital organs, assists in forming cell walls and carries fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K. Also, fat is one source of energy but is not readily available as the body releases it slowly. Higher levels of oxygen are needed to release the energy from fats.
Fats come from two sources:
- Unsaturated Fat - known as healthy fats, can be found in: oils such as, sunflower, corn and soya.
- Saturated Fat - known as unhealthy fats, can be found in: butter, lard, cheese, suet and fatty meats.
4 Eat at Least Five Servings of Fruit and Vegetables a DayEating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables will provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need. Water and fat soluble vitamins play equally important roles in chemical processes in the body while minerals (inorganic elements that occur in the body) are critical to normal functioning. The fruit and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or as a juice.
5 Eat FibreFibre is indigestible but essential to the health of our digestive system. Dietary fibre is found mainly in cereal foods, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables including: beans, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bread, whole grain products, oats and pulses.
6 Keep HydratedWater is essential to normal body function as the human body is made up of approximately 70% water. Aim to drink at least six generously sized glasses of water a day. Water is also the best drink to re-hydrate you. Drink fluids before you start a physical exercise. See the additional article for more on how to stay hydrated.
7 Avoid Too Much SugarEating sugary snacks before or during exercise is not recommended as it can rapidly deplete glycogen stores which induces muscle fatigue, tiredness and promotes dehydration.
8 Eat a Wide Variety of FoodsMost people tend to limit the range of food they eat. Eating a wide variety of foods will ensure you have all the nutrients your body requires. Like fuel for a car, the energy we need has to be blended.
A general guideline for the blend that we require is:
- 50 - 60% Carbohydrates (10% or less from simple sugars)
- 25 - 30% Fats (10% or less of saturated fat)
- 10 - 15% Protein
9 Staying Fuelled Frequently for DanceThe right food and fluid intake will improve endurance. Eat little and often is a great idea, especially for dancers who have an extremely hectic schedule. This does depend on personal preference but if you eat the right foods and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day, you should be able to keep your energy levels constant. Do not forget to take time to enjoy the pleasure of sitting and eating a meal.
10 Guidelines for Eating for Dance Training or PerformanceDancers can create a general healthy eating plan for their nutritional requirements and also create a performance eating plan to allow time to refuel allowing for hectic or erratic performance schedules especially when on tour.
- Eat approximately three hours before your class, rehearsal or performance
- Individual preferences may vary as we all digest food at different rates
- Eating too close to physical workout may cause stomach problems such as nausea or stomach cramps
- When preparing for a performance, it is not a good idea to introduce new foods and beverages into your diet
- Refuelling immediately after exercise is essential, eat complex carbohydrate rich foods to replenish and maximise your glycogen stores
- Attempt to eat within an hour after a hard workout, to facilitate recovery e.g. a banana or smoothie
- This is especially important if you're doing more than one class, rehearsal or performance a day
Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.