One of the main reasons why I got into nutrition is because I love how there is not a right or wrong answer on what is the “best diet” or what foods are the “healthiest.” I learned that this is because people have different body types, family history/backgrounds, and lifestyles so thus their diets and eating habits have a wide range as well. That being said, my biggest struggle has been trying to not become too overwhelmed by the infinite amount of information on the topic of food, health, and nutrition you should “avoid” or “limit.”
So, without further ado, in this blog post, I will be sharing what I typically eat in a day on a six-hour rehearsal day, a double-performance day (pre-Covid). To start with, in general, I do not eat three meals a day, unlike what the typical American mindset has drilled into our minds. I have found much more success in listening to my “hunger cues” (as mentioned in my previous blog post) and choose to only eat when I am hungry. Regardless of what my day is like I always start with a cup of hot lemon water to wake up my digestive system first thing in the morning. Lemon is beneficial in so many ways including being a great source of vitamin C, helping with digestive health, weight management, is a natural diuretic, and is also fantastic for your skin. About twenty minutes after having my hot lemon water, I will drink a cup of coffee (I usually make an oat milk latte using a Nespresso pod and a few splashes of oat milk.) Typically, I intermittent fast most days (meaning I don’t eat anything until noon, only liquids) because I generally am not hungry in the morning. But, if I do get hungry, I will have a hard-boiled egg to at least give me energy for our morning ballet class.
During my workday since I usually only get five minutes in between rehearsals and an hour for lunch, I typically choose to eat lots of small meals/snacks throughout the day since it’s much easier on my digestive system. The reason why I do this is that I need food to eat for energy, but I also don’t want to be too full nor bloated so that I can’t dance. Some examples of things I like to snack on throughout the day include fruit (berries, oranges, apples, bananas, etc.), homemade trail mix (I like to make a mix with unsalted nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, and sometimes dried roasted edamame), another hard-boiled egg, dairy-free tuna salad with cucumber to dip, quinoa mixed with steamed spinach, or veggies with hummus.
Because I mostly just snack throughout the day, once I get home after a long day of rehearsals, I eat a little bit more than I do during the day since I need to refuel my muscles to help with recovery and improve my performance for the next day. Plus, since I do not have to dance once I get home, I don’t worry about bloating as much. Additionally, the dinners I make also depend on the season, being that they may have cold or warm food. However, regardless of the weather/season, my dinners always include lots of vegetables, a lean protein source, and a little bit of healthy fat. Some examples of typical dinners I like to make include salmon with roasted or air-fried vegetables (salmon and asparagus are one of my favorite meal combinations), shrimp with “zoodles” (zucchini noodles), a big leafy salad with tuna, a vegetable stir fry with tofu, or gluten-free pasta made from chickpeas, red lentils, or edamame flour.
After dinner, I usually like to end my night with either a cup of peppermint or ginger tea to help aid in digestion. I also usually like to have my dinners on the earlier side (well before I go to bed) for best digestion and to have a restful night’s sleep. I notice if I have dinner too late in the day or too close to bedtime I do not sleep as well and wake up bloated in the morning.
Thus, what I hope people keep in mind is that I am not suggesting that how I eat is the best way to eat, I am just simply showing what I typically eat in my workday because it is what makes me feel my best. Some people may be able to function better by eating fewer but bigger meals throughout the day and there is nothing wrong with that! This is just what works for me right now and who knows, it may be completely different in a year or in five years! It takes a whole lot of trial and error, patience, and experimentation to figure out what style of eating works for you as well as figuring what foods make you feel your best.
One thing worth mentioning is that I always try to eat “seasonally” when I can, which means I eat based on what produce is in season. I do this because when the fruit and/or vegetable is “in season” you are able to reap the most benefits and absorb the vitamins and nutrients much more. (Plus, they taste better when they are in their peak harvest season.)
Furthermore, I also adjust the number of carbohydrates and fat I eat based on how physical I am throughout the day. For example, I tend to eat more carbohydrates and less fat on heavy dancing days because I have read that carbohydrates are a great source of primary fuel and can be used for energy right away. Fats, on the other hand, do not digest as easily nor as quickly as carbohydrates so are harder to use for an immediate energy source.
However, on my day off when I am not dancing or being as physically active, I eat more fats and fewer carbs since I do not need fuel (from carbohydrates) if I’m more sedentary throughout the day. Also, because fats are generally more satiating than carbohydrates, I get fuller faster so therefore do not need to eat as much.
2 thoughts on “Importance of Nutrition for Dancers: What I Eat in A Day as a Professional Ballet Dancer”
Really loved this read Natasha, its amazing to hear your observations and also i love how you pointed out that you eat and observe what makes you feel better. I think thats something I also learned very late in life, and this would help younger kids too to show how what you eat also can affect what you feel physically and mentally!
Thank you so much! I also agree that with you in that I wish I also learned these things in my earlier dancing days. Have to fuel the body well in order for it to perform it’s best after all!
Glad you enjoyed my post :^)