“What do they eat? Do they eat at all ?” These questions have been going rounds among friends who are curious to understand what goes into our ballerina’s meals. This is a good starting point to break a lot of stereotypes associated with our dancers and their diets.
Do our dancers starve to maintain their figure ? No.
Do they stuff themselves with a bowl of chicken biryani before a class? No.
Do they have the stamina and strength to go through six hours of practice ? Yes.
So what goes into a dancers’ diet?
The key here is to eat healthy and nutritious to maintain a lifestyle suitable for dancers.
“ Dancers who take class and rehearse all day need to eat light, nutrient rich, easily assimilated food to keep them going throughout long hours of dancing. Heavy starches and lots of sugar-rich fatty foods are not recommended in dancers’ diet. They give spikes and lows in energy as opposed to a sustained long-term level of energy”, explains Yana Lewis, our Artistic Director.
What most dancers do not understand is that eating oily, spicy sauces during the day will require a lot of energy to be digested . It leaves very little energy needed for the body to dance.Eating heavily processed foods which are more difficult to assimilate and contain very little nutritional value should also be avoided, she adds.
“Try eating a big meal right before a class/rehearsal/performance. Immediately you know it doesn’t feel good. The body will need to use energy to digest the meal rather than using it for the muscles and brain”, says Elina Wisung, teacher and choreographer at the Lewis Foundation.
Many dancers’ diet include a light but nutrient rich breakfast, such as toast and a smoothie, or cereals with fruits. They have snacks handy for energy lows, and eat a light lunch to be able to dance in the afternoon.The evening meal often includes more carbs, such as rice, pasta or potatoes to refuel the body for the next day, as well as a healthy protein source, says Yana.
When it comes to Indian dishes, our teacher Sushmitha Margad has some interesting menus at her disposal.”For breakfast, Raggi ambali, fresh fruit or idili is good. We could still go for Chapati and sautéed vegetables but without too many spices or heavy sauce. Curd is also a very good option”. Dinner time , she says , is when we can go a bit heavy with some rice and dal or Raggi balls with some curry.
As dancers, we sure treat ourselves to some goodies once in a while, such as peanut butter cookies made with flax meal, chocolate mousse made with nuts, coconut oil and dates, banana smoothies, almond milk and pure cacao powder, says the teachers.
The type of diet has a big effect on the dancers’ performance while unhealthy eating habits can make the dancers more prone to injuries, stress and fatigue.Heavy, oily foods will sit in the stomach and create fatigue, sluggishness and making the dancer’s performance inconsistent.
Some examples are muscle depletion, brain fog, dizziness, and physical and mental fatigue – all of which will also take their toll on technique and alignment as well. Dancing full-time means working the body under high intensity for most of the day, on most days. It is vital to feed the body the nutrients that will allow it to continue performing optimally for as long as the dancer wishes to continue dancing.
Here is what you need to keep in mind about dancers’ diet before your classes/rehearsals.
– eat a good, nutrient dense breakfast including fruit
– eat a light lunch with vegetables and a source of protein and healthy fats such as avocado, lentils, nuts or seeds, or fish or chicken for non-vegetarians ( watch the portions).
– eat a denser evening meal to help the muscles recover and build muscle after they day’s work
– keep dry fruits (without added sugars) and nuts handy as power packed snacks throughout the day
– keep well hydrated