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Dance Talk

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Top 10 Nutrition Tips For Dancers



It takes discipline and hard work, along with proper instruction and training to be a great dancer or competitive as a dance team. Other factors, such as adequate sleep and proper nutrition, are often overlooked, but also essential for achieving your best performance.

Dancers place high demands on their bodies during dance classes, intense training sessions or long practices. In addition, for many dancers, the daily demands of attending class, work, performances, or weekend competitions create a need for nutrition strategies to maintain adequate energy to reduce the risk of injury and perform their best.

The daily nutrition goal for a dancer is to eat enough to support rigorous dance practices and other activities while having enough energy available for important body functions.

Dance is an activity in which the body relies heavily on carbohydrate as a source of fuel. Therefore, about half of a dancer’s daily intake needs to be from carbohydrate-containing foods, such as whole grains, rice, potatoes, fruit, vegetables, milk and yogurt.

The dancer’s plate also needs to include lean protein and healthy fats. Protein-containing foods, such as poultry, beef, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and dairy products help with repair and recovery of muscles after intense training. Foods, such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, tuna, salmon and walnuts, are examples of sources of healthy fats that support healing and growth. Consuming plenty of fluids, most notably water, is also critical for dancers to stay healthy and perform well.

Most important, good nutrition needs to be practiced daily, not just the day before an important event. Following are 10 simple practices that will aid in fueling and hydrating the dancer before, during and after activity. Becoming more knowledgeable about nutrition is just one more step the dancer can take to dance healthy and achieve their optimal performance!

Plan ahead to eat 3 regular meals and 1-2 snacks per day to stay well-fueled during the most active time of day. Skipping meals/snacks affects performance and concentration, but usually backfires and leads to overeating and increased cravings for sugary treats.

Allow adequate digestion time for meals before dancing. A medium sized meal (outlined in the chart below) requires 3 – 4 hours of digestion time.

Eat a minimum of 2 to 3 carbohydrate (muscle energy) choices per meal, for example ½ cup rice, 1 cup fresh berries and 1 cup low-fat milk. Foods with carbohydrates include fruit, vegetables, bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, milk and yogurt.

Aim for 5 servings a day of fruit and vegetables to get important vitamins and minerals along with antioxidants that help keep the immune system healthy and minimize the chances of getting run down and sick. A serving of fruit is 1 cup fresh fruit or 1 small piece and a serving of vegetables is the equivalent of 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked.

Try to include protein at each meal. Aim for 3 – 4 ounces of protein at each meal. Examples include 1-2 eggs and 6 oz. Greek yogurt with breakfast; ¾ cup tuna salad at lunch and 3 to 4 ounces of grilled chicken (about the size of a deck of cards) at dinner.

Consume a variety of healthy fats, in moderation, at each meal to help with satiety, and as a secondary energy source for long training sessions. Examples include 1 tablespoon ground flax seed with oatmeal or a smoothie in the morning; avocado slices with a sandwich at lunch; and, chicken breast or tofu sautéed in olive oil for an evening stir fry.

Pick nutritionally adequate alternatives if avoiding specific foods. For example, if avoiding milk and dairy products, eat plenty of leafy greens high in calcium, such as collard greens and spinach; and, include high quality protein alternatives, such as soy foods, quinoa, eggs or cheese if avoiding meat products.

Include a well-tolerated snack, such as fruit, crackers or a fruit smoothie 30 minutes to 1 hour before dancing and be sure to drink plenty of water up to 1 hour before dancing to pre-hydrate.

Remember to plan ahead for post-workout and recovery nutrition. A mix of foods and fluids high in carbohydrates and protein within 30 mins to 1 hour after activity helps your body recover and refuel so you are prepared for dance class or practice the next day.

Tank up on fluids consistently during the day to prevent dehydration. Drink at least 8 to 16 ounces of a decaffeinated beverage at each meal to stay well-hydrated. Remember that physical performance is optimized when sweat loss is replaced during activity, so dancers are encouraged to drink sips (2 to 4 ounces) of water every 15 minutes or as tolerated.

What to Eat for a Regular Meal 

(3 to 4 hours before dancing)

Sample Meal

  • 3 ounces of meat/meat alternative (size of woman’s palm or deck of cards)
  • ½ to1 cup whole grain starch: brown rice, quinoa, pasta, oatmeal, whole grain bread
  • ½ to 1 cup vegetables or salad
  • 1 cup dairy
  • 1 cup fresh fruit
  • 1 or more teaspoons healthy fat
  • 3-ounce chicken breast, fish fillet or ¾ cup beans
  • ½ cup roasted potatoes
  • ½ cup steamed broccoli
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup apple slices
  • Olive oil (with chicken and/or roasted potatoes)

What to Eat for a

Pre-Exercise Snack

(30 mins to 1 hour ahead of dance)

Examples of foods with 30 grams of carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are most important. Amounts vary based on the individual. In general, approx. 30-45 grams per snack is a good start.In general, foods high in protein, fat and fiber take longer to digest and can cause stomach cramps if eaten to close to activity.1 fruit yogurt1 large piece of fresh fruit or ¼ cup dried fruit1 thick slice or 2 thin slices of bread½ bagelHandful of crackers½ cup low-sugar granola1 packet or ½ cup cooked unsweetened oatmeal1 cup chocolate milk or 2 cups regular milk1 sports bar2 cups (16 ounces) sports drink1 cup (8 ounces) fruit juice, soda, lemonade,or sweetened tea

What to Eat for a 

Post-Workout Snack 

(30 mins to 1 hour after dance)

Examples of recovery foods with carbohydrate/protein combination

Carbohydrates, Protein and Fluids are important for recovery after dancing. In general, think about a 3 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein (see examples to the right).Fluids are also important for recovery and the amount depends on how much you sweat during activity and how much fluid you drank during activity. In general, drink 16 oz. after activity and continue rehydrating with fluids until your urine is pale.Chocolate milkProtein smoothie with milk and fruitGreek yogurt with berries and granolaCereal with milk½ peanut butter and banana sandwichApple slices with almonds and string cheeseTrail mix with nuts and dried fruitRoasted garbanzo beans, nuts and fruit

About the Author: Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian with a Master’s degree in nutrition science and is Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She is the owner of EnlightenU Nutrition Consulting in Lakeville, Minnesota, and enjoys enlightening individuals about food, eating and overall wellness. For questions or additional information, you can check out her website at or contact Val directly at 612-865-6813.

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