What do ballet dancers eat?

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Over at Q&A, someone asked about what ballet dancers eat. It’s a common enough question; people are thinking if they could get a hold of that diet, that mentality, well, they’d be set for life. Or they have this image of anorexia and lifelong self-denial. I told the reader to dispel the notion of carrot sticks and granola, black coffee, Diet Coke, that might be going through their heads. When I was young, during the late Balanchine era, that was the image circling around about ballet dancers. Happily, there is more of a  focus on nutrition and healthy living these days. Maybe some dancers will eat those aforementioned items as a personal choice. But the main point is this: professional ballet dancers are athletes at the top of their game. They work hard, they require high octane fuel. Granted, their bodies also function best when not laden with excess poundage, so they can’t over-fuel. It’s an eat-to-live philosophy versus a live-to-eat one. You eat what you need. In truth, this is the world’s greatest dieting secret/tip. You know those commercials they run on websites, this “try this one crazy secret for weight loss that have doctors baffled!”? Can’t stand those stupid things, never mind that I always want to click on the link to see “the secret.” Here’s the secret. Eat what you need, not what you want. And if you want more, well, friggin’ go burn it off and then you can have more.

First, a point that can’t be overlooked: body type. Professional ballet dancers are indeed slender, usually long-legged, short waisted, perfect for the work they do, much like runners. I will hazard a guess that one’s body type is what helped each one get this far in their chosen vocation. Look at those Olympic runners. You don’t see short, stocky ones. It’s not discrimination, it’s the right body type gravitating to the right sport. You don’t see short, stocky professional ballet dancers for the same reason. The reality of their body means they probably diverted to gymnastics, acrobatics (Cirque du Soleil – my fave!), where they excelled in a way they couldn’t have in ballet.

But back to the main point. Food. Which dancers need plenty of, just like any top-level athlete. They are not fashion models who can subsist on 500 calories a day. They have to fuel the engine that drives them through rehearsals all day long and performing in the evening.  So. Quality food, as much as is needed (note: needed and not craved). No wasted calories. Protein is crucial. (Eggs! Nuts! Chicken!) Fruit and veggies for grazing. Bananas are a great choice, as they also provide the potassium that keeps muscles from cramping. Peanut butter on banana, yogurt and a fistful of nuts before the evening’s performance? Perfect. Carbs, sure, but the purer and coarser the grain, the better for the body. Here, however, what I seem to find from reading interviews about what certain dancers eat, is that dancers aren’t nutrition purists. Some of them, in fact, like their junky food. A daily croissant sandwich (granted, with egg)? Face it, croissants aren’t power food. With their refined white flour and high fat, they’re crap. (And oh, I love them as a special treat.) Ice cream? It’s on more than one dancer’s list. Likewise, burger and fries. But hey, why not, from time to time? Dancers have a high metabolism because they’re working, working, working those bodies. And if it’s a quality lean hamburger (grass-fed beef!) with cheese and avocado and sautéed mushrooms, not a bad choice at all.

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Another facet of  ballet dancers’ eating regimes that helps to keep their weight down: they graze. They do not sit down to three meals a day. Lunch is often a quick 3pm affair, food that can be consumed between rehearsals, nothing too heavy, yet nothing too insubstantial. Think the ubiquitous banana, half a turkey and avocado sandwich, or a deli Mediterranean salad with feta and olives and pine nuts tossed on top. That kind of thing. Pre-performance, there needs to be a meal-but-not to get them through the evening’s performance, but certainly not a full dinner. That will come at 11pm. Late, sure. But do they have a choice, when the stage calls? Besides, it’s their one chance to eat like a real person, sitting down, a plate of pasta or a slab of grilled salmon. A well-deserved glass of wine.

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All right, here are Classical Girl’s Top 10 tips on how to eat like a dancer, or like an athlete, or just eat like a person on a healthy diet.

  1. Make every calorie count. Eat tasty things that also happen to have good nutrition, like coarse breads or nutty breads, salads with chunks of fresh veggies.
  2. Exercise. Lots. It makes meals taste so much better.
  3. Enjoy everything you eat. If it’s caloric and you love it, enjoy! If it’s caloric and you’re not enjoying it, dump it in the trash.
  4. Graze on nuts between meals, especially ones you have to shell, like pistachios and peanuts. You won’t eat too many that way. And toss out the Doritos and Fritos (but save the potato chips for a luxurious one-ounce portion the next time you need, really need them to go with your sandwich).
  5. Be bad from time to time. Weirdly, this preserves a long-term diet better than anything. Measure out the bad stuff, eat a small serving of it. Enjoy the hell out of it. But don’t go back for seconds. And never be bad more than two days in a row – the scale will be cruel.
  6. Eat lots of fruit. Always have a stock of dried fruit on hand – easy with its nice, long shelf life.
  7. Pre-cut those servings of fruit in the morning. A sliced apple will be eaten when a whole one can be easily deferred. Ditto an orange that’s already been peeled. And how many of you have kept a cantaloupe in the fridge for two weeks because you just can’t get around to cutting it open and slicing it up? I’ve had them go bad on me in that way.
  8. Keep lots of healthy foods in your refrigerator, your pantry and don’t buy the indulgent stuff in family-sized quantities. Harder to reach for something bad when it’s not in stock.
  9. Be good to yourself when things get tough. Recognize when you’re eating for the joy of it, versus eating out of boredom, nervousness or even self-hate. In the latter two, be compassionate, observe it, and walk away from the kitchen.
  10. Celebrate a good life through good food.

Check out my latest blog, entitled “Food, food, food.” Now THAT’S a blog I couldn’t go wrong on! More deliciousness for you here… http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/food-food-food/

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Like reading about ballet dancers and their lives behind the scenes? Check out my novels, OFF BALANCE and OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT, at http://amzn.com/B00WB224IQ and https://amzn.com/B01M0NIIX0 respectively.

© 2017 Terez Rose

20 thoughts on “What do ballet dancers eat?

  1. kylie

    I usually eat really healthy for example breakfast i have fruits lunch i will eat half a sandwich and some carrots and for snacks i eat yogurt, carrots, or raspberries. But there are some other really good examples that other people have too. enjoy:)

    Reply
  2. admin Post author

    Kylie, I’m so glad you took the time to post your reply! I get over a hundred views a day to this post, for several months now, but no one ever offers their opinion or their food choices.

    So… thank you sooooo much!

    And as for the rest of you, whether you’re dancers or not, healthy eaters or not, tell me what YOU eat daily. I will love each and every answer. In the end, it’s all about food, my favorite subject! : )

    Reply
    1. Carol

      Even though I’m not a dancer and now in my 40’s, I try to follow a strict diet. This is a typical day for me:
      Breakfast: Half package of whole unsweetened oatmeal with tsp. ground flaxseed and 1/4 cup frozen berries OR container of greek yogurt w/ ground flaxseed and 1/4 cup frozen berries. 2 cups black coffee and 2 cups hot lemon tea.
      Mid morning: handful of mixed nuts
      Lunch: 2 1/2 ounces plain salmon or tuna with 1/2 cup steamed veggies OR good sized salad with red wine vinegar. 1/2 cup fresh fruit.
      Dinner: a challenge! Family likes a full blown meal. So I either keep my portions tiny or if we’re not altogether, I may have a scrambled egg on whole grain toast. Maybe a glass or two of red wine.
      I drink water throughout the day. No soft drinks and no fruit juice. Humus with whole grain crackers would be my treat of choice.

      Reply
      1. admin Post author

        Carol, I just love hearing other people’s diets. (Maybe because it’s close to dinner now and I’m feeling peckish…) Thanks for sharing!

        Reply
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  7. Anneliesse

    I eat vegan during the working week. And vegitarian on the weekends. During the week I will cook all my meals and freeze the left overs for my lunch. I’ll usually eat homemade toast with avocardo or natural peanut butter and a green smoothie of kale, spinach and orange. For morning tea a piece of fruit or nuts. For lunch I like vegan currys. I’m lean with a petite torso. I go to two gym classes a week one is weights class and the other more cardio 🙂

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Anneliesse, I have had the privilege of seeing you perform, with Ballet San Jose, and I’m here to tell the others (and you, of course) that your diet is clearly effective and efficient for you, because you look MARVELOUS dancing there onstage. (Which has to do, as well, with your wonderful talent as a ballet dancer. You were gorgeous as the Winter Fairy in Cinderella this past May. Brava to you!)

      Reply
  8. chloe

    Hi i want to know if i have a healthy diet
    for morning i have : bread and butter that is made of vegetables sometimes it’s other stuff like peanut butter, jam, mayonnaise , chicken spread, or mustard. it’s rare when i have boiled eggs i never have them fried i just can’t bear the taste and i have a glass of milk and maybe a juice.

    for lunch one sandwich sometimes fruits

    for dinner it’s a little hard coze the rest of my family loves to have rice,potatoes,chicken,meat and processed food

    so i eat very little and only one serving sometimes if we are not all gathered at the dinning table then i skip dinner drink milk or have a drink and go to bed straight away . and that’s at 10 clock .

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Hi Chloe,

      I’d say you were somewhere in the middle. Mayonnaise will never be considered a healthy option – although when it’s homemade and used sparingly, it can be a wonderful addition to a turkey sandwich. A slice of cheese replacing that mayonnaise would always be a better choice, tho.

      Too bad you don’t like eggs. How about scrambled? Eggs are a great power food. What it sounds like you could use in your diet, though, to replace that, would be almonds to graze on by day. Just a small handful, which probably amounts to a dozen, with each meal, or as a healthy snack (stock up on dried apricots, too, and have them together). Raw taste very different from roasted, and I always recommend the most lightly salted ones you can find (although I myself prefer a little salt over unsalted, and I don’t like eating the raw ones, actually – too chewy).

      Family meals are good things, and you’re doing the right thing, eating small portions of stuff you sense isn’t helping you out. Are lentils [or other such legumes] ever an option at the table? Can you request them? If not, well, see about getting yourself a bag of almonds that you can use to supplement your meal.

      Reply
  9. Anna

    I’m the only one in a family of four that is not gluten free, so I don’t eat much bread. I’m very good about eating healthily but I find myself getting very hungry between ballet classes and rehearsals. (I have class everyday, and rehearsals on the weekends). I don’t like eating too much or else during class I get cramps, but any tips on eating throughout the day with a very busy schedule?
    Usually for breakfast I’ll have an egg with pea shoots and possibly a half of a sausage, along with my many vitamins, and omega 3s. For lunch, an apple, yogurt, and a chicken salad. And for dinner, we often have salmon (or chicken), rice, and broccoli or a salad. I love sugar, and I usually have dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt for dessert..I just have trouble stopping at two squares! Also on weekends when I have no rehearsals, my guilty pleasure is to make crepes (yes, gluten free, but still good!) and top them with nuttella and fruit. I know that this can’t be so good for me, but I’m growing and dancing so much and I’m more long and skinny so I haven’t ever had to worry about my size or weight.
    I’d love to hear any feedback you might have! And thank you for taking the time to write this-it is beautifully written and I loved hearing your advice! Food is also one of my favorite subjects! 🙂

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Enjoyed reading your comments, Anna! Your diet sounds great; very realistic (down to the allowing yourself the guilty pleasure of chocolate) and sustainable.

      I have found, lately, that I can get enormous mileage out of a half-dozen roasted (reduced salt) almonds and a banana. The two go so well together, too. I’d consider giving that a try for that hungry-between-class/rehearsal time. Maybe go for a dozen almonds. That seems to give me the perfect energy and calories, and doesn’t make me feel full, or full later, when it’s time to eat a meal.

      I’m also really liking those Kind bars that you find in the stores, now, that are mostly nut. My favorite is maple glazed pecan with sea salt. Just a touch of sugar, and the bars are easy to tuck into dance bag, purse, and is a bit more convenient than the banana/almond. But I still think you can’t beat, for quality calories, the banana/almond. (Dried fruit, like apricots and prunes, are excellent w/the almonds, but sometimes that leads to gas, and every dancer has to decide if that works for his/her body!)

      Thanks for leaving the message – nice to talk food with you! : )

      Reply
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  12. ana

    I love your blog… I’m not a ballet dancer but I’d like to continue practicing (as a hobby, for me I’m 21, too old for ballet)

    I want to ask you… how can you resist the temptation to sugary foods like pastries, cakes, cookies, etc.
    I have a very healthy diet but between meals I’m always searching for some sugar and most of the time I cannot resist!

    Greetings from Mexico

    Reply
  13. admin Post author

    Ana, how crazy that you should post this question today (well, yesterday) because just a few hours earlier I was pondering my intense craving for something sugary and carbohydrate-rich, and how to intelligently deal with it. Seems to me it’s something that comes up for me annually, usually around autumn months, and I am certain it’s something primal in our bodies! Fatten up for the winter, and such.

    And like you, I ponder how 80% of the time I have a very healthy diet, but in the evening, quite a few nights of the week, I just want to let loose and indulge.

    You know, sometimes I think the answer is: indulge! (Just not, hopefully, nightly.)

    To lessen the craving, I would propose two different solutions. One, you push yourself for 10 to 14 days, drop all sugar and carbohydrate-heavy stuff (meaning bread, refined white bread stuff, not the natural carbohydrates in fruit and such), and suffer through those days in an icky way. But I really buy the theory that your body craves the sugar and when you deprive it of sugar, the craving eases. It really does. But sometimes, in the midst of my sugar-free nobility, I think, “well, hell – is THIS what life is about? Never celebrating with a cookie, some chocolate, etc? I don’t want to always have an “eat to live” diet. I’m a “live to eat” person!” So. The second solution is to have the same snacks and force yourself to cut it down by 50%. Or have it every other day. Or, if your weight is fine and your blood sugar is fine and the doctor says your health is fine, well then, ENJOY!!

    I think there is a middle ground between those two, as well. Try cutting it out for a week, and then going back to a reduced amount. It really is worth trying, just to see how your body reacts and accepts/rejects the idea. And of course the third option is to trick your body, which is what I ended up doing yesterday. I ate a nut bar, that had “maple, sea salt and pecan” in addition to the basic nut stuff (a “Kind” bar – not sure if this is distributed in Mexico). The sugar was perfect for satisfying my craving for sweet, the nut provided fat (satisfying!) and protein (good for body!). Oh, and last week, when I was going crazy with the same craving and on Friday decided to indulge, I had a muffin that was loaded with fruit – apples, blueberries, some apricot – and, okay, plenty of sugar and fat, and I grabbed a handful of roasted almonds to eat with it. It filled me up faster, and I only ate 2/3 of the muffin. And it filled me up “better.”

    A more talented writer would have been able to say the same thing in 100 words. Oops! But it’s a subject that fascinates me, so I hope you found some answers there, as I droned on!

    Reply

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