A quick search of “What I eat in a day” or “What should dancers eat in a day” will have you circling down an internet black hole.
We’ve all seen the TikTok and instagram videos of beautiful people, in beautiful kitchens, showing off their perfectly plated meals and describing what they eat in a day.
We find these videos do more harm than good, often with the implication that “if you (the viewer) eat what I eat, then you can look how I look.”
Surely, you see the problem here…
Especially when we’re asking “What should dancers eat in a day?” to help hard working dancers figure out what to eat before a long day of rehearsals, what to toss in their lunch boxes, and what to snarf when they get home at the end of the day.
However, the final straw for me was when Misty Copeland began her rise to popularity in 2018.
Suddenly every magazine under the sun seemed to be writing articles like, “What Ballerina Misty Copeland Eats in a Day” or “Exactly What Misty Copeland Eats in a Day.”
Being a huge fan of Misty’s I clicked on the article, excited to hear from a dancer whose body was proudly not the “typical ballerina type.”
Much to my dismay however, one of these articles outlined that, after a light breakfast, Misty tries to “not eat heavily throughout the day…snacking on bars and nuts until after rehearsal (Koman, Delish).”
I was upset and once again left asking,
“Why do we keep trying to copy what other people are doing when clearly every body is different?”
I’m going to be honest, snacking on nuts throughout a six to eight hour rehearsal is not enough fuel for your body as a dancer–especially if you are trying to get stronger and prevent injury.
What’s more, our bodies take time to digest protein which means we need to be consuming it throughout our day (not in one sitting at the end of the day) in order to prevent brain fog and fatigue throughout the day.
So, what should a dancer eat in a day?
Well first things first, we have to recognize that dancers are also professional athletes.
This means that we need more food than the average woman because we are using more energy than the average woman. However, just because you’re a dancer doesn’t mean you’ll have the same caloric needs as the dancer standing next to you at the ballet barre; every body has its own needs.
So the first thing you need to do is determine what your goals are and determine your caloric needs from there.
We love to use this free energy estimator on the Dancers Who Lift site.
Once you have your macros and calories mapped out you might be surprised to see that your protein intake needs to be very high.
That’s because dancers need about 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (Tacy, DWL Blog).
For more information on the benefits of protein for dancers check out this graphic.
It’s amazing how much that one nutrient does for our bodies!
You might also hesitate because dancers need to consume carbohydrates.
Well my friend, let me tell you the honest truth here: dancers NEED to eat carbs.
Carbohydrates fill our body with glucose which is what our bodies convert into energy to perform bodily functions and physical activity (The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health).
“Okay, okay. But what do I eat?” You might be asking.
The fact of the matter is, you can eat whatever you want that fits into this macro split just as you can buy whatever you want once you create a budget. However, just like with budgeting money, you will quickly learn that there might be more beneficial ways to “spend” your macros than others.
At Dancers Who Lift, we like to encourage our dancers to eat as many “whole” foods as possible.
Because, while you can get your protein from bars and shakes, wouldn’t you rather enjoy a juicy steak or homemade roasted chicken?
However, we also want to remind our dancers that food does not have morality.
There are no “good foods” or “bad foods” and actually foods that bring us joy can have just as much value to our health as a lean piece of chicken. If you want to learn more about “what foods” to eat take a look at this blog we wrote, “Thinking of Food as Good vs. Bad.”
Knowing that you get to choose what you want to eat can be both liberating and overwhelming. To help alleviate some of that anxiety, try to think of creating the “perfect plate” at each of your meals.
You’ll want to ensure that veggies take up about half of your plate.
Then, the other half of your plate should be a near even split of protein and carbs.
Fats should take up about one eighth of the plate (a drizzle of oil or a sprinkle of cheese or nuts).
If three of your meals follow this outline, you’ll be in great shape toward hitting your macro goals and have plenty of room for a post rehearsal or workout snack to really optimize your foods.
So what might an average day of eating look like for a dancer who lifts?
Let’s break it down:
“Protein Latte”: Espresso, your favorite protein, ice, shaken.
“Ricotta Toast”: Whole grain Toast, Low fat ricotta cheese, Turkey bacon, drizzle of honey
Lunch: (I love this one because it’s easy to make OR buy if you’re out and about)
“Grilled Chicken Salad”: Grilled chicken, favorite green (arugula, romaine, spinach), tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, feta cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.
(If you’re low on carbs for the day add quinoa, orzo, or rice to pump this up!)
Parfait: Greek Yogurt, Favorite seasonal fruit/berries, drizzle of honey or peanut butter (macro depending)
“Wings”: Air fried chicken wings tossed in buffalo sauce, drizzle of blue cheese dressing, celery and carrots, Tortilla chips.
Doesn’t seem so challenging when you break it down does it?
Remember, food is fuel, but it is also a big part of our memories, social lives, and joy.
Our day to day should be a mix of foods that we need and foods that we love. And who knows, you might find that some of those overlap!
And remember, the above is just an example of what a dancer *might* eat in a day to stay fueled while lifting, taking class, and auditioning.
Be empowered to swap out your favorite foods and if you’re feeling nervous about getting your protein in, use Dancers Who Lift as a resource.
Our instagram and blog has tons of graphics like this one:
And this one:
And even this one:
We are here to help you reach your goals, whatever they may be.
We believe that to do that we can’t just show you what we eat in a day because Coach Amber is different from Coach Kiersten who’s different from Coach Ariel… who’s different from you.
So no matter what your journey, remember that what you eat should be based on YOU and the dancer YOU want to be.