A day or weekend of competition is mentally and physically exhausting for dancers, but they can prepare their body days, weeks and even months before competition to improve their strength, balance, performance, endurance, recovery and injury prevention.
Healthy Eating for Athletes and Dancers
Dancers are athletes and their training begins months before they step on the stage, so should their nutrition habits. The best nutrition for dancers comes from whole foods. These are essential for dancers to stay healthy, especially after extreme training and performing, include protein, healthy fats, complex carbs and micronutrients.
Protein helps build muscle and creates a foundation for a strong body and even stronger dancer. The more muscle you have the higher the jumps and bigger the leaps.
- Think eggs, chicken, yogurt, nuts, cheese, tofu and even fish
Healthy Fats can decrease inflammation to help dancers recover faster and get back to training sooner. These energy boosters will even help hair and nails grow plus support a healthy brain and heart.
- Coconut oil on toast, nuts, seeds, avocado and olives are convenient snacks to pack on the go.
Complex carbohydrates are ESSENTIAL when discussing nutrition for dancers and for long lasting energy! While protein builds muscles, complex carbohydrates fill the muscles with fuel so they can explode from the floor, lift a dance partner and perform with intensity.
- Experiment with oatmeal, whole grain toast, rice and quinoa
Micronutrients like fruits and vegetables are vital for energy, digestion and of course supplying a dancer’s body with vitamins and minerals. The most important benefits are the antioxidants that can reduce physical and mental stress, which we all know dancers are surrounded by. Choose a variety of colors to make sure the nutrition benefits are well rounded.
Pre Competition Nutrition
The night before a competition take the time pack healthy snacks that include a mix of carbs, fats, protein, fruits and vegetables. My go to packing list is below. There isn’t any research that supports “carb loading” so pre competition nutrition for dancers can include a dinner with lean protein like chicken or fish, brown rice, steamed vegetables and toss the vegetables in full fat butter. Don’t eat meat? Swap in tofu and quinoa for a high protein punch.
The morning of competition focus on carbohydrates. The goal is to fill your muscles with fuel so they’re ready to perform. The best foods to focus on are fruit, whole grain toast, rice cakes and oatmeal. One of my go to breakfasts before I dance is an English muffin with peanut butter and some pineapple or grapes on the side. The peanut butter is full of healthy fats and protein to keep me full and the English muffin pumps up my muscles and starts to boost my energy right away. Avoid sugary cereals that can lead to an energy crash later in the day.
Throughout competition day focus on fueling up often. It’s important to snack every couple of hours to keep energy high, even if it’s just a bite of fruit or a cheese stick and crackers. If you have a nervous stomach or know someone who does, a protein shake is the perfect way to get all of the essential nutrients needed for the day. Check out the recipe below!
30 minutes before performing get pumped.
Shortly before performing it’s beneficial to have a piece of dark chocolate or fruit jam. This way, the body doesn’t use up all of its energy stores and it will be able to save some for later performances. The body can use the jelly or chocolate for a short term burst of energy to make it through your routine.
Post competition nutrition focus on protein.
One of the biggest goals surrounding post competition nutrition for dancers is recovery, so the body can repair its muscles, reduce soreness and grow lean muscle mass. The best way to do this is combining protein and carbohydrates like chocolate milk, a smoothie or an apple with peanut butter. Eating within 40 minutes of activity will allow recovery to begin and increase muscle growth for dancers.
Rules for Packing Snacks
Competition venues are getting better about offering healthy options to dancers but eating from vending machines and concessions can get expensive. Packing healthy snacks allows you to control your health, your energy and have a better outcome on stage. Purchase a medium sized cooler, some plastic bags and ice packs that will last all day long. Some of my favorite snacks to pack are:
- Peanut butter & honey on toast
- Fruit and yogurt smoothie
- Oatmeal with almonds + milk + banana
- cottage cheese + apple butter + crackers + fresh grapes
- Deli turkey, carrots + yogurt-fruit parfait
- Turkey and Swiss sandwich + fruit
- 3 hard boiled eggs, 2 handfuls of broccoli or brown rice and a handful of nuts
For teachers and coaches who want to provide healthy snacks for your whole dance team or studio, break down your team alphabetically and assign snacks to pack. For example, dancers with the last name A – D bring fruit to share, E- H bring bagels or English muffins etc.
Rethink Your Drink
Keeping energy high throughout the whole day is the ultimate goal, so be sure to avoid coffee, soda and sugary athletic drinks. These drinks are filled with added sugar, chemicals and artificial colors that cause more harm than good and will leave you feeling exhausted before you step on stage.
Add fruit to water and stock up on coconut water for a healthy alternative that gives your body energy naturally and is filled with electrolytes for hydration and recovery.