Eating for Performance

Eating for Performance

Early on in ballet, we hear the dreaded word ‘diet’. We are expected to stay at our thinnest as ballet dancers and this can be quite a feat for some. Many start their dancing very young. When we begin to grow into women, we oftentimes begin our weight issues. It is very important that the developed body be embraced and not punished.   Dieting isn’t going to make hipbones go away! We need to stay sensible and healthy instead of obsessed. It is very easy to get into the mean cycle of diet obsession. It leads to nothing more then a variety of weight problems. We need to feed our bodies for maximum performance, not maximum thinness! We will automatically be at our best when we think nutrition rather than dieting.A body that is malnourished, or under fed, especially in intervals, is not a body that can hold up to the demands of dance. Crash dieting is especially dangerous and counter-productive; it leads to a slowed metabolism, which in turn causes weight gain. When your body is starved, the metabolism slows down and it goes into a panic mode. This panic mode is a natural defense mechanism that tells the body to hold onto fat for energy reserves. So starving yourself will only make you gain weight.

Instead of resorting to short lived victories and long lived defeat, resort to a change of mindset when it comes to eating. You are eating to fuel your body, you need to put in exactly what your body needs to function, in this demanding way, and this sometimes means eating more. And by this I don’t mean more pizza… Dancers need to eat more often, sometimes up to 6 times a day. The key is content and portion control. Here’s an example of a healthy dancer’s day of eating:

  • 7:00am – Heavy fiber cereal and berries
  • 10:00am – One banana and a teaspoon of peanut butter
  • 12:30pm – Spinach salad with a small, grilled, all white meat chicken breast, and raisins topped with vinaigrette (low fat).
  • 3:00pm – Cup of plain yogurt
  • 6:00pm – Red, yellow and orange sautéed peppers in a wheat pita, one small Salmon fillet sautéed in olive oil and topped with fresh grated parmesan cheese

The only liquid a dancer should be drinking, and drinking a lot of, is water. We need to drink more than the average person does since we sweat more than the average person. Always have a bottle of water next to you during class. Drink one before and during, then one after each class, and keep replenishing throughout the day. An occasional orange juice or pomegranate juice is ok but should be thought of as a snack rather than a simple drink.

No matter how much you’re tempted to take short cuts to dieting, food intake should be consistent and nutritional. Eat healthy and eat enough, your dance performance relies on it. We work out so hard that our hearts can be taxed if we aren’t very careful about our diet choices. A weakened heart and an underfed body can lead to injury and possible death. So do yourself a favor and nourish your body daily, don’t diet!