As a professional ballroom dancer and a Registered Dietitian I have explored personally and professionally the importance of nutrition in performing your best as a competitive ballroom dancer, whether you are a student, a teacher, a professional or an amateur competitor. While you can train hard and/or be a naturally talented or passionate dancer, without properly fueling your body, you are doing yourself a disservice in the long run in your ability to reach your maximum potential. So many times we fall in to fad diets, eat quick fast food choices or skip meals because of a busy schedule, or try something extreme just to look good in our competition dress or pants and, while you may achieve a physique you have desired, you do not have the mental or physical energy to put into your performance on the floor. In this three part blog series I am going to discuss nutrition tips for pre- competition and training, at competition, and post competition/recovery nutrition for all levels of competitive ballroom dancers to help you feel your best and perform at your maximum potential.
1. General Tips:
a. Fuel your body with balanced meals- 3 meals/3 snacks every 3-4 hours ensuring you include carbohydrates (more whole grain/high fiber/fruit/starchy vegetables over refined or sugary choices), lean proteins (animal or plant based), healthy fats (avocado, olive oils, seeds, nuts, certains fish sources), and non starchy vegetables. At each meal you should try and include something from all of these groups and at each snack you should include at least a carbohydrate and a protein.
b. Fueling pre-practice- about an hour before practice or your lesson (depending on time of the day) you should ensure you have a meal or snack. Make sure the meal or snack isn’t too heavy (high fat, super high fiber, or fried food), but rather a balanced choice that is a bit lighter on the system- eg chicken (or beans), rice, avocado, and veggies or for a snack nut butter with a piece of fruit or toast, Greek yogurt with fruit, carrots and hummus, whole grain crackers and cheese, nuts and dried fruit, or a low added sugar protein bar (orgain, lara, rx bars) if you are in a rush. If you eat too heavy of a meal before practice or you skip eating before practice or a lesson, this can result in a lack of ability to learn and focus, feeling faint or light headed, feeling bloated and heavy, or feeling like you are too fatigued to put in enough energy.
c. Fueling post practice- If you have had a strenuous practice where you are working consistently, doing rounds, working on technique (eg not a practice/lesson) consistent of mostly talking, you should plan to have a recovery meal or snack. If you had a meal prior to your lesson, plan for a recovery snack or if you had a snack prior to practice, plan for a recovery meal. A snack such as a protein shake, fruit and veggie smoothie, chocolate milk, or any of the pre-practice snacks provide a good balance for recovery. If it is time for a meal, options mentioned pre-practice or choices such as a spinach salad with quinoa, salmon, and pumpkin seeds; pita with hummus, falafel and veggies, whole grain pasta with chicken broccoli and low fat cheese, or even a wrap with turkey, guacamole, and veggies could all be good options. Ensuring proper fueling after practice is crucial in proper recovery to ensure you minimize muscle cramps, soreness, and overall fatigue post practice and to ensure you are ready to go the next day!
d. Hydration- ensuring you consume a minimum of a 8 glasses of water a day is a must! Dehydration can lead to fainting, low energy, headaches and an inability to focus during practice. If you are sweating significantly during your lesson or practice add an extra 8 oz of water for each hour of dancing; during intense practices or lessons lasting over an hour, consider adding an electrolyte source to your water to ensure you can maintain your energy and performance without muscle cramps.
e. Alcohol- Alcohol provides a significant a significant amount of empty calories and can lead to the unwanted “beer belly” if consumed too frequently. You should limit your alcohol as much as possible, but if you are still going to consume it, limit your alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per week with an absolute maximum of one drink a day for women and 2 for men. If you are drinking, stay away from sugary mixers, heavy beers or super sweet white wine. Red wine is the most recommended alcohol or a small serving or hard liquor (if you choose to drink).
f. Smoking- Smoking can put extra strain on your lungs and your blood vessels as well as decrease your absorption of certain nutrients. While both alcohol and smoking can be a source of stress management for many dancers, it is highly recommended that other sources of stress relief are utilized e.g. meditation, drawing, massage, listening to podcasts or playlists, or taking a yoga class/some other form of stress relieving exercise.
g. Additional Exercise- While dancing is a fantastic form of exercise, especially as a student, it is recommended that some weight bearing, cardio, and stability and flexibility exercise is included within your training to ensure your optimal performance in your dancing and to help prevent injury. Doing pilates/yoga, boxing or jump rope, or a light body weight work, and stretching are all good options. Make sure you treat your additional exercises as you would your dancing when it comes to nutrition and eating recommendations.
h. Don’t forget to sleep! If you can get 7-8 hours of sleep your body will heal more effectively and metabolism will function more efficiently.
2. Special Tips Based on the Type of Competitor you are:
Professional Competitor- As many of you experience, your training and practice schedules involve long hours of practice 5-7 days a week as well as cross training and teaching or working another job. Your nutrition is especially crucial to your ability to commit fully to practice on a day to day basis, maintain your relationship with your dance partner (not getting as easily grumpy or irritable), recovering more easily, and having the mental capacity to remain creative, improve and make changes.
a. In addition to the general tips above, it is important that for focused practices over 2 or 3 hours, you are staying hydrated and have a drink with electrolytes available if you have a high energy practice.
b. Having a snack available for after practice or part of the way through a long practice is also beneficial (this can be as simple as a protein bar or a handful of trail mix).
c. If you are doing a full day of coaching sessions not to neglect your meals or snacks. Even though you may be staying busy and don’t have time for a full meal break, ensure you have snacks or supplement drinks available to keep you going and on top of your game for these long days.
d. Looking good in your competition outfits will come from combining all these tips, not restricting foods and binge eating on junk food after competitions. If you want to get a little extra push prior to competitions make sure you eliminate the sugary beverages and sweets and minimize the highly processed foods/sugary/high sodium/deep fried choices. By doing this you wont only look good in your competition clothes, but you won’t feel physically drained or irritable either.
a. Even though dancing is your hobby, feeling great, practicing, and feeling good in your body are still important factors.
b. Make sure to fuel your body adequately as discussed in the general tips, and if you are a go-getting student who trains hard outside of lessons as well, refer to the pro-dancer tips for proper fueling your body pre, post, and during practice tips.
c. Body image- competitive students range in all ages, shapes, sizes, and ability levels. Be confident in your own skin. Focus on feeling your best physically through proper eating habits, additional exercise to help promote your balance, stability, and mobility in dancing, and getting enough sleep. An outfit/dress can always be made to suit your body type. If you are doing your best to be healthy and feel good, choosing an outfit that looks best on you, whether you are beautifully lean or wonderfully curvaceous, is important to feeling great in your dancing, dress to feel your best not to mimic a dancer of another body type who you feel you should look like.
Amateur Competitor- Many of the tips that apply to professional dancers also apply to competitive amateur couples. If you are training equivalent or more than that of a professional couple refer to the tips above.
a. The main difference is that you are likely to be going to school or working a non-dance teaching related job. This being said, you may not require as much fuel nutritionally as someone who is actively teaching all day (if you are an adult). Following a well-scheduled, balanced eating plan throughout the day while structuring food around practice times as well for proper performance and recovery.
b. If you are still a kid or a young adult, your portion sizes may be significantly bigger than what is needed for your adult/professional couple friends. Keep this in mind as you need food to promote growing as well as your dance performance.
Teacher- Many times teachers, especially those who do not also compete professionally can have a difficult balance between learning how much energy they are actually exerting and exercise they are gaining throughout the day to balance out with their eating behaviors, which can sometimes lead to weight gain or choices of not the most healthy foods due to convenience.
a. If you are working with a lot of couples or students where you are not exerting extra energy, ensuring you are consuming healthy, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day is crucial, making sure your portion sizes are planned for low to moderate activity rather than high intensity activity level unless you have a significant number of high intensity students that you are actively dancing with throughout the day.
b. It can also be easy to skip meals when teaching a full day of lessons. Keep in mind that to give your students the best, your brain needs energy and having something quick, easy and healthy to eat on hand can be helpful. Additionally, if you go too long without eating, this can actually cause your metabolism to begin to slow down which has more of a detrimental effect then balanced meals and snacks throughout the day.
c. Meal prepping can be great for busy teachers as this allows you to have food or snacks available so when you get home late from work or have a short break in your teaching day you can choose something healthy over fast food or skipping a meal. Meal prepping can also save a bunch of money over getting multiple meals or snacks out every day.
Many of these tips from each category can cross over been different types of competitive ballroom dancers based on your training frequency, your age, and your overall health. Overall these tips provide a basic guideline to help you train and prepare for competition at your best when it comes to your health and wellness as an individual and a dancer. Keep in mind as well that everyone is different and the exact needs and requirements from person to person can vary. Therefore, if you are struggling or feel like you need more guidance on your health or nutrition please contact me or another registered dietitian to help develop recommendations personalized to you as an individual.
I hope you enjoyed these tips and would love to hear your questions, feedback, or any other nutrition tips that you have found useful as a competitive ballroom dancer!
Keep an eye out in the next week or two for Part 2 of our Nutrition for the Competitive Ballroom dancer blog post discussing nutrition tips for when you are at competition!
If you are looking for extra help with your nutrition and health and health goals for your life in general or as a competitive ballroom dancer, CONTACT US today and SCHEDULE your first appointment toward taking control of your health and performance!
If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to our blog today for more health and nutrition tips, great recipes, and more!
Wishing you a week filled with dance, passion, health, and wellness,
-Ricci-Lee Hotz, MS, RDN
Denver’s Dancing Dietitian
A Taste of Health, LLC
“Improving Quality of life one bite at a time”