Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of living a healthy lifestyle as a dance student. Dancers place a lot of stress on their muscles, joints and bones which furthers their need for proper nutritional habits to care for their bodies by improving their diet to help them recover and perform at their very best. Having good eating habits can improve recovery from strains on the body as well as assist with lean muscle growth and soft tissue repair. The following points will address the importance of proper nutritional habits to take care of your body as you prepare for a life as a professional dancer.
1. Calorie Needs
Dancers need to be well fueled for classes, rehearsals and performances. As a dancer, it can be challenging to consume an adequate amount of food to meet their energy needs and the demand that dance has on their body. Consuming too little calories may compromise a dancer’s energy availability and may hinder the artist’s performance. In addition, low-calorie diets come with a lack of macronutrients that alter growth, performance and overall health. Every individual has a different caloric need based on a variety of different factors but should always aim to consume enough macronutrients daily for proper nutrition and a long-lasting professional dance career.
One of the greatest and quickest sources of energy for a dancer is by consumption of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates break down into glucose to quickly fuel muscles. Without glucose, funded by consumption of carbohydrates, a dancer’s skills and strength would be compromised and muscle fatigue would take over their performance. A diet rich in whole grains and complex carbohydrates help a dancer last through prolonged periods of training.
In addition to meals, dancers should also incorporate some form of carbohydrates into their diet before, during and after classes, rehearsals or performances. Before and during training, dancers should ingest quick energy carbohydrates (simple carbohydrates) such as fruit, and after rehearsal they should focus on refueling their energy stores with healthy sources of carbohydrates like rice, beans and whole-grain pasta. Carbohydrates are essential for a dancer to perform at their very best, and without proper intake of carbohydrates, dancers may experience fatigue in their pursuit of a professional dance career.
When people hear the word “fats” they automatically assume that those foods are bad for you. However, fats are essential in a dancer’s diet. Fat provides structure for our cells, insulates our nerves, and are the base of many of our hormones. Muscles and adipose (fat) tissue store fats as triglycerides and when dancing, these fat stores are broken down into different fatty acids that produce energy for our bodies. Healthy fats are needed to fuel the muscles for energy as well as for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. In endurance activities like dance, fats become a very important part of our diet to provide us lasting energy. Some healthy fats that dancers can incorporate into their diet are nuts, olive oil and avocados.
For all dancers, developing dancers most importantly, protein is vital whether the goal is to build muscle or not. Without protein, our muscles would not be able to support our goals of increased performance and a prolonged professional dance career. Our muscles are constantly being used in dance, therefore, protein is needed for building and repairing muscle tissue. Some healthy sources of protein include chicken, fish, turkey, beans, quinoa, rice and tofu. Protein is essential to maintain and build strength as dancers, therefore it is important to consume an adequate amount of protein every day to help ensure a long, healthy dance career.
Sometimes, dancers become so infatuated with making sure they get in the essential macronutrients that they forget how micronutrients are just as important in the healthy lifestyle of an artist. The two micronutrients necessary for human functioning are vitamins and minerals. B vitamins play a huge role in energy production and while they do not directly supply energy for the body, they are used in the body to help make carbohydrates, fats, proteins and red blood cells. Other vitamins essential for health are vitamins A, C, E, D and K that help repair damaged muscles that are overstressed/overused and play key roles in bone metabolism. Two of the most essential minerals for a dancer are calcium and iron. Calcium is needed for bone growth, especially in the first 30 years of life as dancer’s bones are developing, and to decrease the risk for stress fractures. Iron is what dancer’s bodies use to carry oxygen to the blood and is needed to help our bodies produce energy! Without proper consumption of micronutrients in a dancer’s diet, their performance could be compromised and could play a huge factor in the development of their body at a young age which will hinder their professional dance dreams.
Starting to pay attention to proper nutrition as an adolescent is important in sustaining a long and healthy professional dance career. Without proper nutrition, you are putting your body at risk for injury, lack of strength and nutrient deficiencies as dance is a very demanding art form on the body. As a dancer, you need to focus on calorie needs, macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, protein), and the micronutrients needed to support a well-rounded and sufficient diet for the intense training schedules dancers endure. Focus on creating a well-balanced diet and honoring when your body needs fuel so you can perform at your absolute best!
Do you want to start off a dance education? Check out Grand Canyon University’s College of Arts and Media which offers a BA in Dance and a BA in Dance Education. To learn more, click on the Request Info button at the top of your screen.
1 Verywellfit, The Importance of Nutrition for Dancers in March 2022
2 Dance Nutrition, Nutrition for Dancers in March 2022
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.