A lot of dancers and parents of dancers come to me for help with food and eating. Among the many questions I get are these:
- What food, exactly, should I be eating?
- How much of that should I be eating?
- Are carbs really bad for me?
- What kind of fat is “good” fat?
- How many calories is “too many”?
- What should my BMI be?
- Can I ever eat dessert if I want to be a dancer?
Today, I want to focus on the “what” of a dancer’s diet. I use diet in the very relaxed meaning of “foods you eat.” For example, I eat a vegetarian diet or my diet is pretty clean. I don’t use it in a restrictive sense like, I’m on a diet.
So, what you should be eating is whole foods: food in its most natural state.
Obvious examples are fruits and vegetables as you find them in the grocery store or farmer’s market: uncut, uncooked, unseasoned, raw, and as they come out of the ground or from the tree or stalk.
The same goes for animal products: you want fresh, organic (when possible) cuts of meat and fish. Try to buy eggs from grass-fed hens, and dairy that is organic or at least hormone-free.
It gets trickier when we look at grains because so many are refined. Aim for rice in its natural state (not white, but wild, basmati, brown, long grain) and oats that are slow-cook or steel-cut. Oats and rice that are “quick cook” or microwaveable have been refined; whole grains take a while to cook. (But they’re worth it nutritionally as well as taste-wise!)
Now, once you go about cooking the above food, you will, of course, season and alter it to fit your needs and tastes. But in your kitchen, your whole foods won’t be subjected to any refining processes that will harm them (or you).
Each meal should have (roughly)
- 50-60% complex carbohydrates: vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, fruits, etc. Complex carbohydrates are carbs in their natural state.
- 25-30% protein: beans, legumes, fish, meat, eggs, cottage cheese, etc.
- 15-25% healthy fats: from foods like avocado, salmon, sardines, nuts and seeds, and olive oil, walnut oil, avocado oil.
Carbs: Simple & Complex
The carbs that people try to eliminate are simple carbs. Simple carbs are carbs that have been refined or altered. Anything with a sugar base – like soda and candy – as well as anything with a flour base – like cakes, breads, croissants, muffins, bagels, crackers- contain simple carbs.
Simple carbs are processed much faster in the body and generally deliver less nutrition than complex carbs. Simply stated, they are “empty calories”- calories that don’t provide your body with the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your dancing body craves.
Use the above percentages as a guide when looking at your plate: you should have all three of these macronutrients at every meal, and roughly in these quantities. I recommend getting that much into your routine first. Then, after you’ve got it down, start mixing up your choices so that over the course of a week, you have a nice variety of foods. (i.e. Don’t always make chicken your protein or brown rice your grain – vary it.)
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Questions about your particular diet or way of eating? Think you’d like to learn more about how dancers should be eating? Please set up a Discovery Session with me to talk about where we can start!