Dance is a demanding activity that uses intermittent bursts of anaerobic energy – an activity that’s short in length with high intensity – to create artistic movements. Compared to traditional team sports, the artistic and athletic nature of dance makes it not only a unique sport, but one that requires proper nutrition. Below, our sports medicine experts highlight the importance of proper nutrition, bone health and hydration for dance athletes to achieve their best health and performance.
Dance nutrition and energy intake
Food serves a dancer’s body as a source of fuel and enjoyment. Eating enough of each food group throughout the day leads to proper energy intake for performance, growth and development.
Dancers often feel pressure to maintain a thin body, and performance anxiety or not wanting to feel full before rehearsals can lead to too little food intake. These factors often cause under-fueling. Research shows that dancers tend to have low energy intake — around 70% to 80% of their expected nutritional needs, which can lead to:
- Lower metabolic rates
- Menstrual dysfunction or amenorrhea
- Lower bone mineral density
- Increased risk of injury
Ensuring athletes are eating enough food and meeting caloric needs improves a dancer’s overall health including metabolism, hormone health including a regular menstrual cycle, gut health, mental health, more efficient muscle recovery, cardiovascular health, endurance and greatly reduces the risk of injury. Although portions may differ based on the dancer’s age and size, most athletes need three meals and two to three snacks daily.
Dancers should have a meal two to four hours before practice and a snack 30 to 60 minutes before their activity. For practices after school, the dancer may have lunch at noon and a snack a half hour before practice. If rehearsal goes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekend, eat breakfast between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., have two to three snacks during practice and eat lunch right after rehearsal. This type of fueling during rehearsals provides much needed support for dancers to perform their best.
Snack ideas for dancers
- Keep these snacks handy at home or on the road:
- Fruit with cheese
- Yogurt with fruit and granola
- Bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter
- Energy bites (recipe below)
- Granola bar
- Trail mix with nuts and fruit
- A fruit and yogurt smoothie
- Edamame (fresh or dried)
- Hard boiled eggs and crackers
- Cheese and crackers
- Hummus with crackers and veggies
Daily meal and snack examples for dancers
Our experts have provided some meal and snack ideas to help fuel dancers throughout the day.