Higher. Faster. More. Stronger. Better. Those are the words we use when asking our bodies to dance - higher battements, faster shuffles, more pirouettes, stronger arms, better focus. 15 competition dances? No problem. 21 credit hours, 18 of which are dance? Sure, I got this. We ask so much of our bodies, and often, we neglect to give them the proper fuel to achieve the results we’re looking for. Dancers lead a rigorous life, whether going between school and the studio, or rehearsal and performance. It’s incredibly important to nourish our bodies with food that will sustain our activities and expectations. IDA judges and professional dancers Colin Shea Denniston, Rachel Perlman, and Miranda Zimmerman share their advice for a healthy relationship with food and nutrition, plus some easy suggestions for on the go snacks!
As dancers, there are a lot of things we can’t control - casting decisions, costume choices, level placement, for example. But how we feed our bodies is something we can make a conscious, personal decision about. Colin Shea says, “Think of your body like a car. If you want your car to perform well for a full-day, cross-country road trip, would you fill it with a mix of chemicals, cheap imitation gasoline and other words you can't pronounce? NO! You would fill it with the best fuel to get you to your final destination safely and successfully. Same goes for our bodies. If we put good in, we will get good out. Giving your body (and brain) the appropriate fuel helps you to perform better, execute dances better, and retain choreography better.” As dancers, we are always striving to hit the next achievement - properly sustaining our bodies is one of the easiest ways to help reach our goals.
“‘Balance’ is the key word when it comes to nutrition. It’s so important that we take care of our bodies, first and foremost, so that we are happy and healthy humans, and secondly, so we are happy and healthy dancers,” adds Rachel. “Your body will respond, perform, and feel one hundred times better after eating the healthier snack rather than the bag of candy.”
“It’s important to practice moderation, especially from a young age,” Miranda agrees. “So many times I see students eat "quick fixes" such as a Starbucks drink, or a snack from a vending machine. When you think about the nutrient quality in each of those options and how it will, in turn, fuel your body, the repercussions are pretty negative. Eating healthy as a dancer should be a lifestyle and not an "every other day/week/month" idea. By preparing your body in advance and fueling it correctly, your body will be more inclined to work the way you want it to.” Long days of rehearsal, convention or competition are already exhausting and high stress, so packing healthy food in advance can alleviate some of that stress!
If you aren’t the person responsible for the grocery shopping in your house, ask to tag along and be a part of the decision-making about what food to buy. Miranda says, “Having family discussions about what works best for the family as a whole is a great place to start, as it gives every person a chance to look at what their everyday diet is like and how it is helping their life goals. When a family works as a team to help one another, it becomes easier to stick to your goals.”
A healthy habit that the whole family can get involved in is meal prep for the week. Rachel suggests doing meal prep on Sundays, making “snack boxes” that are ready to go, packed with healthy food to sustain you on busy days. “I store them in Tupperware containers so that I can either keep them refrigerated or microwave them if needed, when snack or lunch time comes. This planning and preparing ahead of time also ensures that I can choose and have healthy food options at hand, so I’m not stuck in a situation where all there is to eat is whatever is in the vending machine.”
For dancers in college and beyond, the food choices you make also impact your budget! By choosing to grocery shop rather than eat out, Colin says, “You will save money, know what you are putting in your body, and be in control of your diet and how it affects your body and your dancing. Take the extra 10 minutes to make your salad or grain bowl at home and save the $10!” It can be tempting to sleep in and run out the door to grab a coffee and a bagel on the way to class, but in the long run, and especially when you’re on a budget, packing food yourself can help towards saving money and keeping you healthy!
Here are some great suggestions for healthy, grab-and-go options that you can pack yourself for long days:
*Celery/carrots/sliced bell peppers with hummus
*Fruit smoothie (add chia seeds for an extra boost of energy!)
*Rice cakes with peanut butter/almond butter
*Hard boiled egg and sliced apple
*Low fat cheese and crackers
*Spinach or kale salad with veggies + protein (fish, chicken, tofu)
*Banana and peanut butter/almond butter
*Greek yogurt with raspberries/blueberries/strawberries
*Mixed nuts and dried fruit
Rachel’s No Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Energy Balls:
Super easy, no bake recipe for you to make and have on hand for when you need a quick snack or energy boost! All you need is these ingredients, a bowl, and your own two hands!
1 packet Quaker Original Oatmeal (microwave packet) or ½ cup Old Fashioned Oats
2 TBSP peanut or almond butter
2 TBSP honey
1 scoop protein powder of your choice (I like unflavored, chocolate, vanilla, or peanut butter flavored for this recipe!)
*OPTIONAL: 1 serving of mini or sugar free chocolate chips, OR any other ingredient you’d like (raisins, shredded unsweetened coconut, craisins)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl - mix with hands until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
Add a small splash (1-2 TBSP) of water or almond milk to the mixture so it reaches a dough-like consistency.
Refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow dough to set.
Use a tablespoon to scoop dough and roll into small balls with your hands (be sure to wash your hands before and after, as it can get a little sticky!)
Mixture should make between 8-10 tablespoon-sized balls of wholesome and nutritious deliciousness that will give you energy to dance the day away!
Store in Tupperware container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
*Keep in mind - the advice in this article is not meant to take the place of a licensed physician or nutritionist. Before making any dramatic changes to your diet or lifestyle, be sure to consult your doctor.