Jess is a former professional ballet dancer turned Health Coach and founder of The Whole Dancer Blog. She supports dancers in reaching their body goals through one-on-one Elite Best Body Coaching and her online course, The Dancers’ Best Body Program.
Being that she focuses on helping dancers learn more about nutrition and health, I could not think of a better person to interview for my Leap Program senior project!
(Plus, it’s also fun to be the interviewer instead of the interviewee every now and then :P)
N: What kinds of foods are best for dancers if their goal is to improve their energy levels?
J: Most often what’s missing is a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Dancers often struggle to get in lots of dark leafy greens because it can feel a little overwhelming digestively to eat those things around classes or rehearsals. It helps to have greens blended in smoothies and loading up on veggies at night and even in the form of soups during the day.
Can’t discount the benefits of water and sleep for energy.
And complex carbs are essential as well: brown rice, sweet potato, oatmeal, etc. And these are more easily digested than the dark leafy’s and can therefore work throughout the day.
N: What foods/drinks should dancers try to have in moderation/limit?
J: All athletes (and people for that matter) should limit processed foods, sugar, and excess caffeine. Moving those foods through your body and digesting them can rob your body of nutrients and energy. So it’s not just that they’re “empty calories” but that they’re taking away from your body’s needs and optimal health.
N: How can a dancer still enjoy foods they love while maintaining their physique?
J: The key is to EAT the foods you love without set rules or restrictions but to put a focus on creating nutrient-dense meals that are also super satisfying and enjoyed at the same level. This looks different for each dancer. Some will have a small dessert every day and that works best. Others will skip dessert (just using dessert as the example of a food that might at times be restricted) most days and have a piece of cake when they’re out at a restaurant or event.
The biggest mistake dancers make is to label foods as “bad” or “off-limits” and to avoid them 99% of the time and then to tell themselves that they can only eat something on this one day or this one time and that can lead to binge eating habits.
N: What are some good meal/snack ideas for dancers?
J: Dancers should prioritize whole foods, as close to their original form as possible most of the time. Some animal protein or small amounts of dairy could work. Raw, unpasteurized dairy is a better option than super processed, store-bought, factory-farmed options. Dancers should stay mindful of the sourcing and production of their food. I love a “buddha bowl” meal for dancers using grains, vegetables, and some protein (if it’s meat, think of it as a condiment) topped with a healthy fat-based sauce. Snacks – again focus on whole foods: hummus and veggies, fruits + nut butters, trail mix, a packaged bar here or there (reading ingredients and picking minimally processed low sugar options).
N: Do you think it is better to eat smaller, more frequent meals or fewer larger meals?
J: This often has to do with the person and the schedule. A lot of dancers end up eating several snacks over the course of a company class/rehearsal day. When that’s the case, I think it can help to start the day with a bigger breakfast and end the day with a lighter dinner. Again, this needs to be adjusted to each dancers’ schedule, personal preferences (some are not into a big breakfast) and needs.
J: Keep it simple. We tend to overcomplicate food. Eat whole foods but spice them up with sauces and seasonings so you love eating them. Don’t cut back on macronutrients – listen to your body’s cues and you’ll crave what you need (protein, carbs, or fat). Allow indulgences but have super high standards for the sweets and treats you choose. The quality of ingredients makes a difference in satisfaction. Work on the mental piece and remind yourself that you can eat whatever you want, however, most of the time you’re choosing the healthiest food available because that’s what fuels your body for dance AND satisfies your needs. Finally, become an expert on your body. There’s lots of advice out there and some of it conflicts. It also doesn’t matter what works for any other dancer. The most important thing to pay attention to is how different foods or food recommendations work for you.
For more on Jess or The Whole Dancer visit thewholedancer.com