Eating healthy for a ballet dancer involves not only what and how much you eat, but when you eat. Below are sections where you learn what to eat and when to eat so you can perform your best.

Eating Healthy for Dancers

Dancers need constant energy to keep up with training. In order to obtain and keep energy, a dancer has to have a healthy diet. A dancer is also different than an average person in that they require a unique recommendation of a healthy diet, formulated specifically for their lifestyle (Clarkson, 2005; Gower-Winter, 2008). As noted previously, it is recommended that dancers have about 50-65% of their diet coming from carbohydrates, 20-30% fats and 12-30% from proteins, with water consumption and a healthy amount of vitamins and minerals added to their daily diet (Bedinghaus, 2003; Clarkson, 2005; Gower-Winter, 2008; Rada, n.d.).

The amount of complex carbohydrates, which include breads, pastas and potatoes in a dancer’s diet, is the highest because complex carbohydrates are a very good source of energy. Fats are good for the dancers body because they are a source that insulates the nerves and fuels the muscles. A dancer should choose healthy fats such as nuts or dairy products. Proteins are necessary because they help build and repair muscles. Sources of proteins include meat, poultry, fish and dairy products (Clarkson, 2005; Gower-Winter, 2008; Minden, 2005; Rada, n.d.).


Dancers are especially vulnerable to dehydration because of the constant physical work being done on the body (Clarkson, 2005; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008; Rada, n.d.). It is important to stay away from caffeinated and alcoholic drinks because they dehydrate the body and to also stay away from juice drinks because of the high calories (Body Effects: Dehydration, 2008; Dehydration, 2005; Is Caffeine a Diuretic?, 2009; Rada, n.d.; Snell, 2007; Zeratsky, 2009). Water consumption is the best option for a dancer in staying hydrated because it promotes energy, weight management and peak performance (Nutrition for Dancers, 2008; Snell, 2007).


A dancer needs to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet in order to have enough energy and strength in their training (Bedinghaus, 2003; Clarkson, 2005; Gower-Winter, 2008; Minden, 2005). Dancers need to be keenly aware of their body’s needs, such as when they need to drink water or what vitamins they lack and how they can supplement it (Bedinghaus, 2003; Minden, 2005; Snell, 2007). Recognizing what the body needs to obtain energy and strength as well as what to avoid consuming is necessary for a dancer to be successful (Clarkson, 2005; Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008, Jan.; Snell, 2007).

Your Metabolism and When to Eat

Dancers not only need to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet in order to have enough energy and strength in their training. They also need to be aware of when and how much they eat. A dancer needs to be aware of when they eat according to their training and performance schedule in order to keep their energy levels high (Clarkson, 2005; Gower-Winter, 2008; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008).

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because of what it does to your body. Breakfast or, “break-fast”, is breaking the fast from the hours spent between your last meal and the time of your sleep (Nutrition for Dancers, 2008). Breakfast is important because it also helps start your metabolism. This is important for a dancer for weight management (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2007, Oct.; Rondinelli, 2008).

Metabolism is what controls your energy level and how quickly you digest your food. Metabolism is a chemical reaction in the body’s cells that converts the fuel from food you eat into energy you need in order to function properly. Metabolism converts the fuel into energy to do even the simplest things such as thinking to the most complex such as learning and performing a new ballet move (Bouchez, 2006; Mayo Clinic Staff, 2007, Oct.; Metabolism, 2009). So, the sooner the metabolic process is started, the sooner a dancer will be able to move and think more clearly. And the more efficient the metabolism is, the better this will assist in keeping a dancer’s body stay fit and healthy (Bouchez, 2006; Stoke Your Metabolism, 2005).

Having an efficient metabolism may make one want to eat more and can make you hungry more often. But having an efficient or faster than the metabolism once was does not mean a dancer will gain weight. If you have an efficient metabolism, the calories eaten will be burned off at a faster rate. And having an efficient metabolism is a sign that a dancer is healthy and concerned about their diet. The objective however is not to gain a faster metabolism, only to maintain one that is healthy and functions normally. Having a metabolism that functions on a healthy level will help the dancer maintain their physically fit body (Bouchez, 2006; Mayo Clinic Staff, 2007, Oct.).


A dancer is also an athlete. Dancers are constantly pushing their body to the limit, pushing it in ways most average people cannot (DiNubile, n.d.; Gilltrap, 2009; Kinetz, 2005; The Dancer as Athlete, 2002). As such, a dancer should be eating more than an average person their age. A dancer’s body needs the extra food as extra fuel to be able to train and perform with more energy (Bedinghaus, 2003). So, it is essential that dancers start their day eating a healthy breakfast to help keep them well balanced (Cleveland Clinic, 2006; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008).

Not just what a dancer eats, but when they eat is important for keeping a well-balanced diet. When a dancer eats affects how much they will eat throughout the day (Gower-Winter, 2008; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008). It is also important to know when a dancer should eat in accordance with their workout schedule. As a dancer, the workout is the dancing in both training and performing. Dancing takes a lot of energy and with that, dancers need to know when they should eat to get the most out of their training (Clarkson, 2005; Gower-Winter, 2008).


As a general guideline, eating breakfast needs to be a top priority. This is because the fast that has been placed since the dinner eaten the night before has caused your body to be low on energy. Your body is depleting because during your sleep, you have already burned hundreds of calories (Nutrition for Dancers, 2008). So, to gain back that energy and not feel depleted, breakfast needs to be eaten. Also, as discussed earlier, eating breakfast helps start your metabolism (Heaner, 2009e; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008; Rondinelli, 2008).

Once breakfast is eaten, a healthy snack such as a medium-sized banana should follow within 2-3 hours or 1-2 hours before class. Snacks do not need to be large, but eating small and frequently assists in keeping the metabolism at an efficient rate and prevents one from overeating at the next meal. For example, after breakfast and mid-morning snack, lunch should include a healthy-sized meal such as a grilled chicken or a turkey sandwich with fresh fruit and water. Within a few hours after lunch, another small snack should follow, along with plans to have a healthy dinner (Heaner, 2009c; Gower-Winter, 2008; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008).

There is an optimum time for consuming the last meal of the day, dinner. In the evening, the body begins to slow down and stores more of the calories eaten rather than burning them. Make an ideal plan for dinnertime to finish at a minimum of two hours before going to sleep, for both average persons and dancers. This is so the stomach has the minimal amount of time to digest much of the food before becoming sedentary and lying down. Avoiding eating late also prevents digestive problems such as heartburn. This is because when a person lies down, digestion becomes more difficult and makes it easier for acids in the body to rise towards the esophagus or stay in the stomach. It is always best for a dancer and average person to not eat late. Although calories are burned while one is sleeping, typically not enough calories are burned from a meal eaten only shortly beforehand (Common Heartburn Triggers: Exercise, Medications and Large Meals, 2008; Heaner, 2009a).

Setting a normal routine is important for a dancer’s body to stay happy and healthy. The dancer’s diet should remain consistent (Gower-Winter, 2008; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008). Eating small meals and snacks throughout the day keeps energy levels up and leaves one less likely to binge or overeat. So, eat in small quantities and eat often (Bouchez, 2006; Common Heartburn Triggers: Exercise, Medications and Large Meals, 2008; Heaner, 2009c).

Sometimes setting a normal routine can be difficult for a dancer. Dancers may have an odd schedule because of rehearsals and performance. Seeing the difficulty that could arise in keeping a set routine, dancers need a general guide of when to eat before and after exercising, training or performances. The number one rule of advice for anyone is to not workout hungry. The body needs fuel to burn and if there is no fuel to burn, the body will go into starvation mode, leaving one feeling deprived and depleted. This can especially make a dancer feel deprived because of the constant training and necessity to focus (Heaner, 2009c; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008).


Typically, a dancer should eat 1-2 hours before participating in dance or any exercise activity. A dancer needs to eat with enough time before the workout so they will not get an upset stomach, have other bodily disruptions and sustain a healthy digestive system. Ways of avoiding getting an upset stomach for a dancer are to eat fast-absorbing foods such as carbohydrates. Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta or fruit are great fuel that absorbs in your body fast (Clarkson, 2005; Gower-Winter, 2008; Heaner, 2009e). Avoid high fiber foods before a workout because they are of high density and digest slowly. If a dancer has a sensitive stomach, eating 2 hours before training or a performance will assist the stomach in having enough time to digest most of the food (Clarkson, 2005; Heaner, 2009b; Heaner, 2009c; Heaner, 2009e).

Eating after a workout is also important. But, it depends on what type of workout a dancer is doing. For example, if it is a light workout, then it is not necessary to eat right after a workout. But, if the workout is intense, such as doing a lot of jumps and abdominal work, then eating afterwards is crucial. A plan of eating after an intense workout within the first 45 minutes is essential so that the body can replenish itself. A full meal does not necessarily have to be consumed, but eating a healthy snack will assist the body in recharging (Clarkson, 2005; Heaner, 2009e; Nutrition for Dancers, 2008).

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