Dancers expect their bodies to give 100 percent, year-round—and with no time to feel tired, sick or sore, vitamins can seem like a magical way to prevent all ailments. When carefully incorporated into a healthy diet, vitamins can help boost your body's health and performance. But blindly consuming an alphabet soup of daily supplements can do more harm than good. The key is to be thoughtful about which vitamins you choose, how much you take and when you take them. Don't know where to start? Get the scoop on smart supplementing from our four specialists.
Fueling dancers’ ever-moving bodies can be an artform in and of itself. We had three professional dancers journal everything they ate on a given day, to see how they navigate the complex world of nutrition while juggling classes and rehearsals. Then we asked Rachel Fine, registered dietitian for The School at Steps in NYC and founder of To the Pointe Nutrition, to weigh in on their choices. What she says might surprise you!
Keigwin + Company
Keigwin + Company's Emily Schoen (photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy Emily Schoen)
8:30 am, breakfast (before
10 am–12 pm ballet class):
• 1 Thomas’ cinnamon-raisin English muffin
• 2–3 tablespoons Trader Joe’s creamy almond butter, salted
• homemade cold-brew coffee with a splash of half-and-half
“If I don’t eat the right breakfast, I crash in class. This combo gives me a balance of fat and protein to keep me satiated, and carbohydrates for an energy kick. Plus, Thomas’ English muffins are easy to find on tour!”
12 pm, snack:
• 1 apple
1 pm, lunch (eaten throughout the afternoon Keigwin + Company rehearsal):
• a serving of honey and harissa farro salad with parsnips, carrots and feta cheese (recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
• 1 hard-boiled egg
“I like to munch on this grain salad throughout rehearsal. It’s fresh and light, so it doesn’t make me too sleepy.”
5 pm, snack:
• 1 dark-chocolate almond-coconut Clif Mojo Trail Mix Bar
8 pm, dinner:
• 1 piece of homemade garlic bread
• 1 serving of spaghetti with 1/2 cup of homemade marinara sauce
• arugula salad with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper
• 1/2 scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream
“I’ve let go of the notion that certain foods are ‘bad,’ and just focus on eating reasonable portions of real food. A small scoop of full-fat ice cream leaves me much more satisfied than the low-fat stuff.”
FINE SAYS: I’m glad to see Emily choosing whole-food sources for her recipes. When using premade items, you should reach for those that are minimally processed. How can you tell? Look at the ingredient list on the box and see how many you recognize—and can pronounce.
To start her day, Emily makes a great choice with almond butter. It has anti-
inflammatory omega-3s, vitamin E to protect her cells, magnesium to facilitate muscle contraction and iron to oxygenate her tissues. Farro, which Emily eats throughout rehearsal, is a nutrient-packed grain, with protein, fiber and even some iron and calcium. Eating little bits of it over time will help provide a steady supply of the sugar she needs for energy—and it'll keep her from feeling too bloated.
While nutrition bars are a great grab-and-go source of fuel, many of the products
advertised as “nutrition” or “energy bars” are really just glorified candy bars, with added sugars. I’d suggest that Emily opt for a brand with more fiber and fewer processed ingredients, like Lärabars or KIND bars. And at dinner, I’d tell Emily to toss in some lean protein, like shrimp or grilled chicken breast, to help rebuild tired muscles.
Dominic “D-trix” Sandoval
Quest Crew's Dominic "D-trix" Sandoval (Photo courtesy MTV)
9 am, breakfast (before 10 am–1 pm wardrobe fittings and camera rehearsals for “America’s Best Dance Crew”):
• 16-ounce (“grande”) Starbucks iced, sugar-free caramel macchiato with soy
• Starbucks reduced-fat turkey-bacon and egg-white sandwich
“I like adding soy to my morning drink because it makes it taste much sweeter—but with less sugar and fat than cream. And turkey bacon and egg whites taste just as good as regular bacon and eggs.”
1 pm, lunch (before 2–5 pm rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• chicken breast with sides of green beans, mac and cheese and corn bread
5 pm (before 5–7 pm rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• 16-ounce Jamba Juice Protein Berry Workout Smoothie
“I like drinking a protein smoothie between workouts, instead of at the end of the day.”
7 pm, dinner (before 9 pm–4 am rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• Chipotle chicken salad with rice, beans, grilled veggies, corn, cheese, sour cream and lettuce
• pineapple-orange-mango Mountain Dew Kickstart
“Because rehearsals go so late, I’m usually hungry before bedtime. But I’ve found that drinking a glass of water—instead of snacking—tends to curb my late-night cravings.”
FINE SAYS: When eating out, it’s easy to consume excessive sugar, unhealthy fats and sodium. At Starbucks, be careful of sugar substitutes, such as those found in sugar-free syrups, as they can cause stomach discomfort. But as far as Starbucks’ breakfasts go, the sandwich D-trix chooses is a good option for maximizing protein and reducing sodium and sugar.
Though a homemade version with fewer added sugars would ultimately be best, D-trix’s smoothie is a solid choice before rehearsal. Protein is critical for muscle recovery, and the carbohydrates in the juice will help replenish his energy.
Overall, I’d make sure D-trix is getting enough water, especially since he’s dancing all day. I’d tell him to forgo the soda—which is loaded with sugar and lacks nutritional value—and opt for seltzer or unsweetened brewed iced tea to sip on throughout rehearsal.
Britney Spears’ Britney: Piece of Me; author of DailyDancerDiet blog (dailydancerdiet.com)
Liana Blackburn (bottom right) in Britney: Piece of Me (Photo by Jonathan Pears, courtesy Liana Blackburn)
9 am, breakfast:
• 1 glass of water
• 2 organic, pasture-raised eggs from Vital Farms, pan-fried
• organic broccoli, zucchini and mushrooms sautéed in coconut oil and tossed with quinoa and a pinch of salt
• 1/4 avocado
“Eating veggies first thing makes me feel fresh and energized for the day. While I don’t have food allergies, I’ve found that my body operates best when I refrain from eating gluten, dairy, refined sugar, caffeine, soy and processed foods.”
11:30 am, snack:
• homemade butternut-squash waffle with 1 tablespoon organic almond butter and organic strawberries
12 pm, snacks (eaten throughout 12–4 pm rehearsal):
• homemade green drink with kale, cucumber, celery, lemon, water and ginger
• Mary’s Gone Crackers (original flavor)
• organic carrots
“If I’m not fueled during rehearsal, it drags me down and I have trouble focusing. I
always bring plenty of snacks so I’m prepared in case rehearsal runs long.”
4:30 pm, lunch:
• homemade organic veggie soup with kidney beans, Swiss chard, celery, zucchini, carrots and sesame seed oil
6 pm, snack:
• 1 Lundberg Family Farms salt-free brown-rice cake topped with hummus, organic cucumbers, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt
8 pm, dinner:
• 3 ounces baked wild-caught Alaskan salmon seasoned with soy sauce and salt
• steamed organic green beans lightly pan-fried with coconut oil and salt
• 1/2 cup wild rice
• 1/4 avocado
45 minutes before bed, dessert:
• 1 handful organic blueberries
• 1 piece of 80-percent cacao dark chocolate
• herbal organic peppermint tea
FINE SAYS: I applaud Liana’s use of wholesome ingredients! She’s getting the most nutritious bang for her buck. Veggies for breakfast may seem like an odd choice, but they’re great any time of day. That said, be careful not to fill up on veggies alone. They don’t have enough protein for optimal muscle building and won’t keep you satiated all day. So it’s great that Liana chooses eggs to help keep her energy levels stable for the long day ahead of her.
The sodium in processed foods can really add up, so opting for low-sodium products, like Liana does, is a great way to keep it in check. But I also love that Liana adds salt back into her diet by sprinkling it on the foods she eats. Dancers need salt to replenish their electrolytes after intense rehearsals, particularly when it’s hot and humid outside.
I’d suggest that Liana add some nut butter to her afternoon snack of plain crackers. While the carbohydrates from the crackers will help supply the glucose (sugar) Liana’s body needs during a long rehearsal, protein will help keep her blood sugar levels stable to avoid spikes—which can cause fatigue and/or dizziness.
The Joffrey Ballet
(Mendoza in The Nutcracker (Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy Joffrey Ballet)
7:30 am, breakfast (before 9:45–11:15 am company ballet class):
1 cup French-press coffee with a splash of cream and 2 sugars
Siggi’s Fig and Lemon Zest yogurt
5 rounded tablespoons of KIND brand coconut granola
“I’m not usually very hungry when I wake up, but eating a little something before class makes all the difference in my energy and mood in the morning.”
11:15 am, snack (before 11:30 am–2:30 pm rehearsal):
1 Cool Mint Chocolate Clif Bar
“If I’m even slightly hungry, I can’t function! We get a five-minute break every hour of rehearsal, and I often use that time to snack on a Clif Bar, pretzels, cheese or chocolate soy milk.”
2:30 pm, lunch (before 3:30–6:30 pm rehearsal):
a kid’s-size cheesy chicken quesadilla with tomatoes from Freshii (a restaurant in town)
pretzels and cheese
“I like to eat something small at lunch, so I don’t feel like taking a nap during our second rehearsal block.”
7:30 pm, dinner:
1 slice of NYC-style pepperoni pizza from Panino’s Pizzeria
1 arancini ball from Panino’s
1 can of Barq’s root beer
“I’m naturally a pretty healthy person, so I let myself eat what I crave. I try to listen to my body and give what it wants—and in this case it was pizza!”
FINE’S ASSESSMENT: Jeraldine starts her day with a high-protein and high-fiber meal. It’s a great combination that will keep her energy levels sustained throughout the morning. I also like how Jeraldine orders the kid-sized portion of the cheesy chicken quesadilla. It helps lower the overall fat and sodium content of the meal. That said, I’d also advise Jeraldine to include more healthy fats in her daily diet. Adding flaxseeds or chia seeds to her morning yogurt; avocado or guacamole with her lunch; or olive oil to a side salad at dinner are great ways to get these in.
Do you feel overtired, have a hard time catching your breath during grand allégro or seem unable to remember the choreography you learned an hour ago? If you’re experiencing these symptoms, don’t assume that you just can’t keep up. There might be a good reason for your sluggishness: iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t absorb enough of the essential mineral, causing a wide range of issues. It’s a common problem for female athletes, but one that’s relatively easy to fix. Here’s how dancers can identify, overcome and prevent iron deficiency.
Why You Need Iron
“Iron is important because it helps carry oxygen in our blood to the tissues in our body,” says Dr. Eleni Lantzouni, who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “An athlete’s need for iron is higher than that of any other person,” Lantzouni adds. “And teenagers need more than any other age group, since they’re still growing.” Female dancers in particular require adequate iron in their diets to make up for the amount lost during their monthly periods.
If you’re iron deficient, you tend to cramp more often because your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen. You can also experience “brain fog”—your thinking may not be as quick and sharp as it could be, making you less likely to pick up combinations or remember and apply corrections.
Iron deficiency may also mean a greater chance of injury. “When you don’t get as much oxygen to your tissues and organs, you faint easily,” Lantzouni says. “You can get out of breath and your heart rate might accelerate, causing palpitations or other symptoms.” If you push through severe fatigue, your muscles might not respond as quickly as they would otherwise, making injuries more likely.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
Fatigue is the number one sign that you’re low on iron. “You feel more tired, and you aren’t capable of getting to the end of a variation with the same oomph,” says Emily Cook Harrison, registered dietitian at The Centre for Dance Nutrition in Atlanta. Your aerobic capacity is diminished due to iron’s role in transporting oxygen throughout our bodies.
Other symptoms of iron deficiency include a weakened immune system. “You may get sick more often, and can be more susceptible to cold and flu viruses,” Harrison says. Your complexion, your gums and the beds of your fingernails could look paler than usual. You might also have circles under your eyes. “With a decrease in immune function, you just feel kind of bad and rundown,” she says.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, go to your doctor. A simple blood test can determine if you’re iron deficient.
How to Increase Your Iron Intake
There are plenty of ways to get more iron from your diet. Red meat and chicken are good sources of easily absorbable iron. Broccoli, beans, nuts, grains and leafy green vegetables provide iron as well, although you might need to eat a variety of these foods to get the iron you need. “If you’re vegetarian, have orange juice with your meals,” says Lantzouni. “Vitamin C seems to increase iron absorption.” Heating iron-rich vegetables can help, too. “If you cook them down a tiny bit, you’re actually going to make the iron more absorbable,” says Harrison. “Sauté kale in some broth or olive oil, or bake it to concentrate the nutrients.”
Dark, leafy greens are a great source of iron (Photo Jumpiter Images/Thinkstock)
Multivitamins can be useful, but getting iron from food is preferable. And if you’re also taking calcium, avoid taking the two supplements at the same time. “Iron and calcium compete for absorption,” Harrison says.
Emily Cook Harrison, registered dietitian at The Centre for Nutrition in Atlanta, recommends this iron-rich kale salad:
Mix a little bit of lemon juice and olive oil with a quarter teaspoon of maple syrup.
Massage the dressing into a handful of kale and add dried fruit (cranberries, raisins or apricots) to taste.
“This kale salad takes just five minutes to make! It’s a really popular recipe with my dancers,” Harrison says. “The vitamin C and acid from the lemon juice help with the absorption of the iron in the kale, plus the dried fruit is another good source of iron.”
The Paleo, or “caveman,” diet is a growing trend in the dance world and beyond. Many dancers are turning to this low-carb, high-protein way of eating in an effort to feel healthy. Some swear it gives them more energy with less bulk, making it less uncomfortable to dance right after eating.
Despite the hype, Paleo isn’t right for everybody—because while it’s true a diet of lean meats and tons of fruits and vegetables is good for you, it’s what you can’t eat on it that has nutrition professionals concerned.
Paleo foods (photo by Anti Gerasim/Thinkstock)
What Is the Paleo Diet?
“Paleo” is short for the Paleolithic era—a period ending about 10,000 years ago, before the rise of agriculture, when cave people hunted for meat and foraged for nuts, berries and seeds. The Paleo diet suggests that we should only eat what our ancestors ate, and that means no processed foods, refined sugar, vegetable oils, salt, grains, potatoes, legumes (beans and peanuts) or dairy.
Paleo-approved foods include the meat of grass-fed animals, seafood, fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and more healthful oils, like olive or coconut. (Surprisingly, some say dark chocolate in moderation is OK, too, because it’s primarily cacao with minimal sugar.) And with no calorie counting or portion control, Paleo doesn’t place limits on how much you can eat.
What does this look like? Pennsylvania Ballet principal and Paleo devotee Lauren Fadeley fuels her dancing day with a lot of nuts, dried fruits, veggies and lean meat. “I’ll have a spoonful of almond butter when I’m running out the door in the morning,” she says. Energy bars made from nuts and dried dates and spaghetti squash with meat sauce are also two of Fadeley’s standbys.
The premise of the Paleo diet is that our bodies aren’t made to digest agriculturally based or processed foods. Advocates claim that it helps people lose weight while boosting energy levels and overall health. Fadeley thinks she has better muscle tone; Broadway dancer Katelyn Prominski, who also subscribes to the Paleo lifestyle, says it keeps her feeling light before a show. “I’m eating a lot of food, but it doesn’t drag me down,” she says. In addition, the Paleo diet helps her manage her type-1 diabetes, since the regimen is low on carbohydrates.
Katelyn Prominski eats Paleo to manage her type-1 diabetes (DRG Photography, courtesy Katelyn Prominski)
What the Experts Say
“As with every diet, there are pros and cons,” says Peggy Swistak, a registered dietitian who works with dancers at Pacific Northwest Ballet. “The Paleo diet is high in fiber and eliminates junk food, since you can’t eat anything processed. But it’s very low in calcium and carbohydrates, which dancers need.” Swistak estimates that the Paleo diet only offers about 700 milligrams of calcium per day, and young dancers need at least 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams daily. “You can always take supplements, but that’s not as healthy,” she says.
Emily Cook Harrison, a registered dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition in Atlanta, agrees. “Carbs are the best source of energy for any athletic activity, especially dancing,” she says. “If you’re just burning protein, it’s like putting the wrong kind of gas in your sports car. It’ll go, but it’s not the best fuel.” Excess protein, Harrison says, can also lead to bone loss and increase a dancer’s risk of getting injured. “You’re not allowed any dairy or even soy milk on this diet,” she says. “It’s a recipe for a stress fracture.”
Eating Paleo might help you lose weight, but it’s mostly fluid—and not fat—that you’re dropping. “You need a certain amount of water in your body to metabolize carbohydrates,” says Swistak. “If you cut carbs, you’re cutting fluid, so it just looks like you lost weight.”
A Moderation Mantra
That said, if you allow yourself some flexibility when it comes to carbs and dairy, trying out Paleo for a while could help you form better eating habits. “No one argues that getting rid of junk food is a bad thing, and the Paleo diet was originally meant to be just a three-week plan,” Swistak says. “If you can avoid sugar and refined starches for a few weeks, maybe you won’t want to eat them as much when you go off the diet.”
Fadeley has been eating Paleo for four years—on and off. “If I’m craving something, I let myself have it,” she says. She takes vitamin supplements, eats dairy products on occasion and indulges on weekends. And she admits to going off the diet during summer breaks. “Some people are really strict about it, but I just do the things that make me feel the best.”
Gluten is a buzzword in the dance world—and the world at large. Lots of dancers are going gluten-free, hoping it will help them stay fit and gain energy. But not all gluten-free diets are the same, and some processed gluten-free products aren’t any healthier for you than their normal counterparts. DS chatted with two nutritionists to get the scoop on this growing trend.
(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein naturally found in different grains, like wheat, barley and rye. Although it’s been getting a bad rap lately, gluten does have some good qualities. “It helps bread rise and stay moist, fresh and chewy,” says Joy Bauer, nutrition consultant for New York City Ballet. Gluten is also rich in protein—about 23 grams of protein per quarter cup. “That’s more than a palm-size piece of meat, fish or poultry,” Bauer says.
But in recent years, there’s been a rise in the number of people diagnosed with celiac disease, an immune reaction to eating gluten. “Gluten is not the same as it was 5 or 10 years ago,” says Colleen McCarthy, a registered dietitian and owner of OnPointeNutrition.com. “Now there’s more gluten in processed food than ever before.” Modern agricultural practices blend varieties of wheat to create a hybrid that grows faster, produces a higher yield and bakes fluffier bread—but hybrid grains also have a higher gluten content. “We’re seeing a rise in health problems because our digestive systems can’t handle that much,” says McCarthy.
Why Dancers (Without Celiac Disease) Are Going Gluten-Free
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, there might still be advantages to cutting gluten from your diet. Boston Ballet corps member Caralin Curcio, who has been gluten-free for four years, says she’s experienced a lot less inflammation since making the change. “During Nutcracker, I remember noticing that my feet still fit in my pointe shoes after the third show of the day!” she says.
Alice Klock, a dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, went gluten-free six years ago (when her sister was diagnosed with celiac disease) and felt a difference immediately. “Before, I was always starving on busy dance days, no matter how much I ate,” she says. “When I cut out gluten and started eating more gluten-free grains—like quinoa, spelt and chia—I noticed I could dance longer.”
If you eliminate grains from your diet entirely, you may risk developing deficiencies in vitamin B-12, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 and iron. Found in whole grains, B vitamins help your body convert food into fuel. “They’re a must for dancers,” McCarthy says. “If you’re not eating enough whole grains, you’re going to feel more tired. Gluten-free dancers should add in other whole grains, like faro and quinoa, and carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, beans, peas and lentils, to make sure they’re getting enough B vitamins.
Some people who go gluten-free also eat too many processed foods, simply because they’re labeled gluten-free. “You can end up consuming more sugar,” McCarthy says, “because the manufacturers have to replace the gluten with something else to make the food taste good.” She recommends flipping over boxes and bags to see what’s in them. “If there are more than five ingredients, put it back,” she says. Klock avoids packaged foods by bringing a rice cooker with her on tour so she can cook up batches of quinoa in her hotel room.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Jessika Anspach in George Balanchine's Divertimento (photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB)
Living with Celiac
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member Jessika Anspach remembers being bloated and constipated after she ate anything with gluten. “I had this belly I couldn’t suck in!” she recalls. She felt tired, achy and puffy—almost like she had the flu. Then last year, Anspach got sick with a low-grade fever and missed two weeks of rehearsals. Her doctor ran some blood work and discovered that she carries two copies of a gene that predisposes her to celiac. “He said I had to be off gluten completely,” she says. “It’s not a disease you want to mess around with.” Left untreated, celiac disease can contribute to certain cancers, osteoporosis or infertility.
Today, Anspach follows a strict gluten-free diet and strives to be in the best condition possible. “I’m eating right for my body so that I don’t develop celiac disease. It’s not a choice for me.”
Jessika’s Favorite Gluten-Free Meals
Breakfast: shake with pumpkin seed protein powder and hemp milk, scrambled eggs, coffee with hemp milk
Lunch: veggies, like bell pepper, celery, cherry tomatoes and carrots, roasted
turkey breast, dried seaweed
Snack: mixed nuts, fruit, like an apple, an orange or a handful of raspberries
Dinner: fish, pork tenderloin, hamburger patty or slow-cooker carnitas, salad or fresh veggies, rice, sweet potato fries or roasted fingerling potatoes
Sweet treat: coconut milk ice cream
From 8 am calculus exams to rigorous evening rehearsals, dancers require a lot of mental focus to get through the day. DS chatted with registered dietitian Marie Scioscia of The Ailey School for tips on what to eat to keep your brain running on all cylinders.
When it comes to immediate brainpower, there’s no single miracle food. “The key to sustained mental focus is a balance of carbohydrates and protein,” Scioscia says.
Fuel your mind with...antioxidant-rich foods, like blueberries, curry powder and dark chocolate (in moderation); monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil and avocados; foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna and walnuts; foods with vitamin E, like pumpkin seeds. (All photos courtesy Thinkstock)
Carbs increase your blood sugar, giving you a lift in mental energy. But be careful not to rely on simple sugars or concentrated natural sugars alone. While fruit juices or candy will give you an immediate boost of energy, they’ll have you crashing almost as fast. Complex carbs, like oatmeal and other whole grains, give you a steadier rise and fall in blood sugar, keeping you focused longer. They also increase your brain’s production of serotonin, which keeps you calm and happy—perfect for that stressful pop quiz!
Protein, which slows the digestion of both simple and complex carbs, provides even more protection from that dreaded crash. Plus, it increases your brain’s production of dopamine, a chemical that helps you concentrate.
If you want a long career, your body isn’t the only thing that needs to stay in shape. “Keep your mind sharper longer by eating a balanced, plant-based diet with enough protein and healthy fats,” Scioscia says. Why plant-based? Your brain needs oxygen and nutrients, which are carried by the blood. High-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains help keep your arteries clear so that nutrient-rich blood can reach your brain. Healthy fats—like fatty fish and walnuts—also enhance blood flow.
(Photos courtesy Thinkstock)
Brainpower breakfast: Try a scrambled egg on top of a whole-grain English muffin with a side of sliced strawberries for a breakfast that’s sure to power you through your morning.
(Photos courtesy Thinkstock)
Brainpower lunch: Mix a salad of canned tuna fish, olive oil–based mayonnaise, curry powder, raisins and walnuts on a whole-grain roll. Now that’s a lunch that’ll keep you sharp for hours!
(Photos courtesy Thinkstock)
Brainpower dinner: Brush a grilled chicken breast with rosemary olive oil and serve it alongside brown rice, with a sauté of kale, apples, garlic and olive oil. Of course, blueberries are for dessert!
Hey Hot Stuff: As dancers, we’re used to getting our sweat on in a full face of makeup—it’s part of being a performer. When it comes to the studio, though, makeup may not be our best friend. Hello, breakouts! But you don’t have to stop wearing makeup to class altogether. With a few simple steps, you can transition your face from school- to sweat-ready in a flash.
Tip #1: Pack face wipes in your dance bag so that you can remove your pore-clogging foundation before class, without smudging your eye makeup. Click here to read the rest of face-saving tips!
You’re at a Mexican restaurant with some friends, and the food looks amazing. You see nachos smothered in cheese, giant bowls of chips and mounds of guacamole. You’re so hungry, but you don’t want to order anything that will weigh you down. Is it possible to find a healthy choice?
Believe it or not, there are good options at every restaurant. Whether you’re craving Mexican, Italian or Chinese cuisine, you don’t have to avoid eating out just because you think it’ll make you feel full and sluggish. DS talked to three registered dietitians for advice on how to navigate menus and find the best options. Their answers might surprise you!
Eating healthy at a Mexican restaurant isn’t as tough as it looks. Guacamole has good omega-3 fats that help fight inflammation, so don’t skip it—just don’t eat the whole bowl. “Instead of eating guacamole with chips, ask your server to put some on your main entrée plate,” suggests registered dietitian Lauren Antonucci at Nutrition Energy in NYC. Choose entrées with grilled chicken, a lean and healthy protein, and beans, a filling and energizing carbohydrate. Something with lots of veggies, like fajitas, is a great choice. But steer clear of the onions and peppers if you’re going to dance within the next couple of hours. “They’re hard to digest,” warns Antonucci.
The portions you see at most taquerias are meant for two or three people, so consider splitting something with a friend. “The size of what you order makes a big difference,” says Norae Ferrara, RD, director of the San Francisco Nutrition Clinic. Tacos are often a better choice than huge burritos, and you can substitute a side of rice for fried hard taco shells.
There’s more to Italian food than gigantic bowls of pasta with heavy cream sauces. “Lots of traditional Italian food is vegetable-based, with simple proteins,” says Kimberly Evans, RD, owner of Whole Health Nutrition in Vermont. Chicken cacciatore has little cheese and lots of tomatoes and mushrooms. Fish entrées are a good choice because the protein usually takes up most of the plate (as opposed to a giant, carb-laden “side”). Chicken piccata and eggplant parmigiana are also smart options, since they have just a little pasta on the side—unlike a big plate of fettuccine alfredo. “We tend to overeat when there’s not enough protein on the plate,” says Ferrara.
Salads seem like a safe bet, but be careful: Some are loaded with toppings you don’t need—like bacon, cheese and croutons. Consider ordering a house or garden salad to kick off your meal, and asking for the dressing on the side. Go for oil and vinegar rather than something thick and creamy. “Start with a salad so you’re not starving by the time your entrée comes,” suggests Evans. Filling up on veggies beforehand will lessen the temptation to overeat during the main course.
If you’re going out for Thai or Chinese food, look for stir-fries with lean protein and lots of vegetables. But be sure to ask how the meat is prepared. “Just because you can’t see the breading doesn’t mean it’s not fried,” says Antonucci. “If the chicken is pan- or batter-fried, choose a different option.” Some places might even substitute boneless, skinless chicken if you request it. Beware of sauces that are super-sweet and high in carbohydrates—like the sauce on General Tso’s chicken. A black bean or broth–based sauce is healthier than something made with butter and oil.
Japanese restaurants are often full of good choices. Fish or crab-based sushi, sashimi and edamame (soybeans) are good sources of protein. “Carbohydrates are an important source of fuel for a dancer,” says Evans, “but vegetarian maki rolls are often just a lot of sticky rice.” If you don’t eat seafood but still crave a roll, ask the chef to make it with brown rice instead.
Diner-type restaurants are diverse and often offer breakfast 24 hours a day. “Eggs are energizing,” says Antonucci, “with a lot of vitamins in the yolk.” Even fast-food chains will have some kind of egg you can pair with a baked potato instead of home fries. A cheese, lean roast beef or ham sandwich on whole wheat bread is another good option, especially if you top it with tomatoes, cucumbers or sprouts. Or try a turkey burger and opt for a side of vegetables instead of fries. Beware: “At a diner, there’s going to be a lot of starch on the plate, like the crust on a chicken pot pie,” says Ferrara. “That’s probably the worst thing you can order.”
But what about those massive dessert trays? Go for a cup of chocolate pudding instead of a huge slice of seven-layer cake. “One scoop of sorbet is a decent choice, or berries with a bit of whipped cream,” says Antonucci. “Just make sure you’re not eating more whipped cream than berries.”
Don’t Go Hungry!
If you know you’re going out for dinner, don’t skip breakfast or eat a smaller lunch. “Some people try to save up by eating less during the day,” says Ferrara. “But that always backfires. You’ll exercise less control over your choices and probably end up overeating.”
If you’re starving, eat an apple on the way to the restaurant. The fiber will take the edge off your hunger, so you won’t feel ravenous by the time you sit down. It’s also a good idea to look at the restaurant’s menu online beforehand. Pick a healthy, nutritious dish and stick with it when it comes time to order.
Whether shredded, melted or sliced, cheese can transform an ordinary meal into a culinary delight. Unfortunately, it often gets a bad rep—since that fantastic taste comes with a lot of calories, fat and sodium. But while filling your daily diet with nachos, macaroni and cheese, and pizza isn’t the best way to get through long hours in the studio, that doesn’t mean you should rule out cheese altogether. Here’s what you need to know about this delicious dairy staple.
Cheese is delicious and nutritious. Cheese doesn’t just add flavor to a meal—it adds nutrition, too! It contains calcium and protein, two important nutrients for dancers. According to Marie Scioscia, a registered dietician and sports nutritionist who works for The Ailey School, protein helps with muscle growth and development and can contribute to a healthy immune system, and calcium is important for dancers’ bone health. “Calcium also offers relief from PMS,” says Jan Hangen, a registered dietician at Boston Children’s Hospital and nutritionist for the Boston Ballet. “That’s something we don’t always talk about!”
Cheese is packed with phosphorous and vitamins A and B, which are good for your bones and skin and give you energy. It also contains biotin, a water-soluble B vitamin that may improve your hair’s health.
Low-fat is where it’s at. Although full-fat cheese is packed with nutrients, it does have a downside: high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat. Cheddar (especially aged varieties) is a particularly bad offender, with 9.4 g of total fat (6 g of which are saturated) and 114 calories per one-ounce serving. In general, cheeses like part-skim mozzarella and Parmesan have less fat and fewer calories than other popular alternatives. “But the fat content isn’t so high that you want to stay away from it entirely,” Hangen says. Instead, look for reduced-fat options. The little bit of fat will help your body absorb nutrients, and you’ll get the protein you need without the drawbacks.
“Cheese food” is not just cheese. “Processed cheese is mixed and heated with emulsifying salts to create ‘cheese foods,’ ” Hangen says. Processed cheeses like American cheese, Velveeta and many cheese spreads have their benefits: They’re smooth, easy to melt and taste good. “They’re also generally lower in fat,” Hangen adds. But the processing comes at a price. The most popular of processed cheeses, American cheese, is actually made from a blend of different cheeses, most commonly Colby and cheddar, and unfortunately that’s not all that goes into it. Like other processed cheeses, American contains preservatives, additives and dye (to get that fun yellow color). These cheeses can also be high in sodium. Why is this so important to dancers? Extra sodium makes us excrete calcium instead of retaining it in our body, Scioscia says. You don’t need to avoid processed cheese products altogether, but both our dieticians agree: Moderation is key. When choosing between cheese products, be sure to read the ingredients. “Don’t just look at the nutrition facts label,” Hangen says. “The closer to all-natural ingredients you can get, the better off you’ll be.”
What’s the verdict? Cheese passes the dietician test! Although we wouldn’t recommend eating a block of cheese with every meal, this tasty option can add flavor and nutrition to your daily diet. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people ages 9 and above should be eating at least three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt each day. But a serving size might be smaller than you think. “The problem is cheese tastes so good that it’s difficult to stop with only one slice!” Scioscia warns. So how much should you eat? One and a half ounces of hard cheese (like cheddar), one-third cup grated cheese (like Parmesan) or two ounces of processed cheese all equal one serving. “Remember, all foods can fit into a varied diet with moderation,” Scioscia says. So next time you need a healthy snack that fills you up and keeps you going, add a slice of cheese!
Swap It Out!
Brie may be creamy, but feta is better. Sure, baked Brie cheese tastes good, but it also packs a lot of calories and fat. Next time you’re in need of a savory topping, sprinkle a little feta on instead. It’s lower in calories, total fat and saturated fat. Plus, the sharp flavor means a little goes a long way.
Craving a cheesy spread? Try cottage cheese. Low-fat cottage cheese isn’t just good as a standalone snack—it can add flavor to other foods, like crackers and fruit, as well. “Cottage cheese is one of the best spreadable cheeses out there,” says Boston Ballet nutritionist Jan Hangen. It’s relatively low in calories and fat, making it an excellent snack option to keep you going between rehearsals.
Instead of pre-packaged Singles, reach for a cheese wedge. Light versions of products like The Laughing Cow Wedges can be a great way to add calcium and protein to your diet without all the fat. These lower-calorie, lower-fat snacks also tend to have fewer additives, making them a healthier choice than something like sliced American cheese. As an added benefit, they’re super-portable and can survive for a couple hours in a lunch bag with a cold pack. Hangen recommends using a spreadable cheese, which comes in many different flavors, instead of mayonnaise to add protein to your meal.
Vegans can have cheese, too! (Well…sort of.) Giving up animal products doesn’t mean you need to give up that delicious cheese taste. Today there are a variety of vegan alternatives on the market made from plant products. These options are also ideal for those who can’t eat cheese because of allergies or intolerances. Hangen recommends Creamy Sheese, a spreadable cheese product made from mostly water and soybean oil that comes in five flavors. For your favorite Italian dishes, try Galaxy Nutritional Foods’ Vegan Parmesan made from soybean oil. How’s the taste? “It’s actually really good!” Hangen says.