Dance is a beautiful sport that takes a lot of energy to do well! Dancers should understand the basics of sports nutrition to help them perform at their best.
Dancers should eat mostly carbohydrates the closer they get to a performance. They should focus on foods that make them feel energized and that don’t upset their stomach or lead to discomfort. Dancers should never perform on an empty stomach; eating the right foods can make all the difference.
Coaches or other team members may advise skipping meals, but this is terrible advice. Not only will it reduce your energy levels for your performance, but it can lead to long-term negative consequences.
Read on for more information on what dancers should be eating, meal and snacks ideas, and hydration tips for dancers.
What to Eat to Dance Your Best
In order for dancers to perform at their best, they need to be fueling properly to support what they are doing! Dancers should include all three of the macronutrients in their diet: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each has a different and important role in the body!
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, so they are especially important for dancers. Carbohydrates are found in grains like rice, pasta, bread, tortillas, pretzels, and crackers, but they are also found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. The majority of food you eat in a day should come from carbohydrate sources!
Protein is often called the “building block of the body.” For dancers, getting enough protein is essential to help with muscle recovery, decrease soreness, and prevent injury. Protein is found in meat, poultry, fish, milk, greek yogurt, eggs, legumes, soy, and nuts. Choose lean meats, lower-fat dairy, and a variety of plant and animal based protein foods!
Fat is sometimes made out to be the bad guy, but it is actually extremely important for decreasing inflammation, absorbing important vitamins, and meeting energy needs. However, there are fats that are better than others. Limit your intake of saturated fats, and focus mostly on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Trans fats have been shown to be very harmful to our health and should be avoided as much as possible. If you see “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated oils” on the ingredient list, there might be trans fat in that food, even if the nutrition facts label says zero!
Carbohydrates, protein, and fat from a variety of foods are important for a healthy diet! Dancers should be eating meals and snacks regularly throughout the day and should not be skipping meals or going long periods of time without eating.
For the most part, snacks should be meals and snacks should have a balance of the macronutrients. One exception to this is right before exercise. The closer you get to a practice or performance, the more you will want to focus on carbohydrates.
Protein and fat slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, which is great, except when you want all of that energy to be available as soon as possible. Having a lot of protein and fat right before you dance might make you feel sluggish, bloated, or uncomfortable. When you start dancing, you want to have lots of available energy for your body to use right away.
After performing is one of the best times to eat a balanced snack. Carbohydrates will help to replenish your energy stores, while protein and fat aid in recovery. Dancers should eat something within an hour of exercise. If they can’t get a full meal that quickly, they should eat a snack and then follow it up with a meal as soon as they can!
Good Meal Ideas for Dancers
If you have trouble thinking of good meal ideas, here are a few that could work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Greek yogurt with berries and granola
- Scrambled eggs with toast and a fruit smoothie
- Hard boiled eggs with a bagel and an apple
- Oatmeal with peanut butter, nuts, and berries, and chocolate milk
- Cereal with milk and a greek yogurt
- Breakfast burrito with eggs, black beans, salsa, and potatoes. Fruit on the side.
- Pancakes with eggs, and 100% fruit juice
- Quesadilla with cheese and chicken. Salsa, lettuce, and cream cheese. Fruit smoothie
- Leftovers from dinner with fruit
- Crackers, grapes, cheese, carrots and hummus
- Sandwich with chips, fruit, and a vegetable
- Cottage cheese, pita chips, vegetable, dried fruit
- Wrap with lettuce, tomato, and ham. Fruit on the side
- Fish, baked potatoes, and asparagus
- Chicken and rice casserole with broccoli
- Breakfast for dinner: protein pancakes and a green smoothie
- Salad with grilled chicken, tomato soup, and a roll
- Rice bowls with shrimp, lettuce, tomato, cheese, black beans, onion, corn, cilantro
- Individual pizzas on pita bread with a side salad
- Macaroni with tuna and a side of green beans
- Tacos with ground turkey, black beans, cheese, salsa, tomatoes, onion, sour cream and avocado
Healthy Snack Ideas for Dancers
Snacks are a great way to sustain your energy throughout the day. With busy dance schedules, teens might not be able to sit down for meals when they would like to, or they might have to go long periods of time between meals. Healthy, balanced snacks can be a great way to deal with less than ideal eating situations.
Balanced Snack Ideas
- Cottage cheese with crackers
- Cheese stick and fruit
- Trail mix
- Chocolate milk
- Protein bar and fruit
- Jerky and pretzels
- Fruit and nuts
- Apple slices and peanut butter
- Fruit smoothie with greek yogurt
- Rolls with ham and cheese
High Carbohydrate Snacks for Pre-Exercise
- Dried fruit
- Fresh fruit
- Toast with jam
- Sports drinks
- Fruit snacks
- Fruit leather
Hydration Tips for Dancers
Below is a table that shows the baseline water recommendations for teenagers. This is generally how much water teenagers need each day to stay well-hydrated. However, keep in mind that this is for teens that are just moderately active, so dancers will need more than this!
Fluid needs are very different person-to-person and depend on the weather, intensity of exercise, the heaviness/breathability of the uniform or costume you have to wear, and more!
There are a few simple methods of estimating fluid needs for dancers and other athletes.
- Pay attention to urine color. I know it sounds kind of gross, but it is honestly one of the best ways to figure out if you are well-hydrated. Urine should be a pale yellow. A darker yellow often means you are dehydrated, while urine that is almost clear often means you are overhydrating.
- Estimate your calorie needs and use that number to estimate fluid needs. Each calorie burned means 1 mL of fluid should be consumed. For example, if a dancer burns 3,000 calories, they should drink 3,000 mL of fluid (or 3 L).
- You can actually figure out how much fluid you are losing through sweat by measuring body weight before and after exercise. About 3 cups of fluid should be consumed for every pound of weight lost during exercise.
Dancers should be drinking consistently throughout the day, including during practices and performances. Your body will function much better if you are getting in fluid regularly throughout the day rather than trying to chug all of it at the same time.
Sports drinks can also be a good source of fluids that can also replenish carbohydrate and electrolyte stores. Sports drinks usually are not necessary to drink regularly throughout the day, but if dancers use them appropriately they can be a great tool to improve your performance!
What Foods Should Dancers Avoid
Good news- there aren’t really any foods that dancers should avoid. Yep, you heard me right, all foods can fit in a healthy eating plan! Obviously, some foods will make you feel better than others, or give you more energy than others, but no food is really off limits!
Putting strict restrictions on different foods, especially on foods that you like, will likely result in overindulgence later. It is like if someone tells you not to think about a purple elephant. What do you think about? A purple elephant!
The same goes for foods that you tell yourself you cannot have. If a certain food is “off limits,” it often makes your brain think about those foods even more and create even stronger cravings for them!
A better approach to healthy eating is to focus on what foods you can add, rather than what you need to take out. For example, maybe you can add more fruits and vegetables to your meals, or substituting white bread for a whole wheat bread, or maybe some healthy fats would make your meals more enjoyable and satisfying.
Healthy Tips for Dancers
Here are a few tips for dancers that can help with performance!
- Get enough sleep! Teenagers usually need at least 9 hours of sleep each night, but many don’t get that much.
- Eat balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. Include carbohydrates, protein, and fat at each eating occasion.
- Eat something every few hours. Dancers have higher energy needs and they need that energy regularly throughout the day.
- Find ways of managing stress. This might mean meditating, journaling, or talk therapy.
- Eat mindfully. Listen to your body cues and eat when you feel hungry! Don’t ignore hunger signals, even if you think you shouldn’t be hungry yet.
- Don’t focus on your weight. The number on the scale doesn’t tell you anything about your worth as a dancer or as a human being! Develop healthy habits and take care of your body and you will be much happier than fixating on weight.
- Practice body respect. Recognize how amazing your body is for allowing you to dance! It is ok if you don’t love your body all the time, but you can always respect it and take care of it.
As dancers use nutrition to fuel their bodies, they will feel their best and be able to perform at their best! Remember that other things like sleep, stress control, hydration, and body respect will also affect your ability to perform, so take an inventory of what areas need some improvement!
Your body is amazing and allows you to move and dance. Show gratitude to your body for all it can do and give it the foods it needs to do those things!
Halson SH. Sleep and athletes. Gssiweb.org. Published July 2017.
Mangieri H. Healthy hydration for young athletes. Nata.org. Published July 2018.
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