Pulling back the curtain on tried and true ballerina habits never gets old. We've pored over the contents of New York City Ballet dancers' travel cases (Weird heating pads! Notes from fans!), drooled over American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston's amazing style, (Helloooo 70s flair!), received our daily dose of #fitspo from international ballerinas with enviable workout gear (Black and neon, together, forever.) and gone completely bonkers for the delicious diets of the women at the National Ballet of Canada (Homemade kombucha. 'Nuff said.).
Now it's time to whip out our notebooks once more, because New York City Ballet principals Sara Mearns and Megan Fairchild, along with corps member Gretchen Smith, have revealed what they eat in a day. Aside from being co-stars in two absolutely stunning Cole Haan advertising campaigns, these lovely ladies know what it takes to fuel their bodies for weeks of hard dancing. Check it out below, and the full story here:
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We featured commercial diva Liana Blackburn in 2015 and she wowed us with her super-healthy, vegetable-centric diet—which she maintained while dancing in Las Vegas for Britney Spears.
Now that she's on tour as Selena Gomez's dance captain (nbd), Blackburn has added a new component to her DailyDancerDiet blog and Instagram presence: A YouTube series! "DaiyDancerDiet on Tour" takes followers to restaurants that Blackburn has chosen to highlight based on their commitment to healthy food.
If you're curious what a pro dancer eats to fuel their day of rehearsals, training and performance, Blackburn provides an interesting and thorough resource.
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.
All dancers know that the right combination of foods can provide that extra boost of energy they need for a long class or performance. We all have our own particular favorite fuels, and these four lovely ballerinas from the National Ballet of Canada shared their go-to recipes with The Coveteur.
(From left) Jillian Vanstone, Jordana Daumec, Tanya Howard and Andreea Olteanu of the National Ballet of Canada (photo via The Coveteur)
The recipes themselves are great and super easy to prepare, and the pictures—we can't stop looking at them. Seriously, all we want right now are ten plates of eggs and fruit salad.
Yes, please. (Photo via The Coveteur)
Also yes, please (three plates of this, actually). (Photo via The Coveteur)
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.”
’Tis the season for frigid temperatures, abrasive winds and arid indoor heating—all of which can wreak havoc on your skin, leaving it dry, cracked and just plain painful. Here’s how to deal when Jack Frost comes nipping at your nose, toes and everything in between.
(Photo by Katazyna Bialaiewicz/Thinkstock)
1. Consider your timing. Your skin is most absorbent when your body temperature is elevated, so the best times for lathering on lotion are 1) after a warm bath or shower and 2) before bed (your body temperature rises slightly while you sleep).
2. Cool it on the showers. Long, scalding showers may feel delightful on frigid days, but they’ll dry out your skin and scalp. Give yourself a 10-minute time limit, and keep the water warm—not hot.
3. Embrace the moo juice. The proteins, fats and vitamins in whole milk can help soothe and soften itchy, dry skin. Soak irritated patches in straight milk, or add a couple of cups of milk to a warm bath for an all-over soothe.
4. Don’t hate—exfoliate. Even if you bathe yourself in a tub
of lotion, the moisture won’t sink in with dead skin cells in the way. Before you moisturize, opt for a gentle exfoliant—soft beads or sugar—to whisk away dry skin.
(Photo by IgorR1/Thinkstock)
Do your elbows look like they’re growing scales? Try this: Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle on some salt and/or sugar. Twist each lemon half over an elbow to gently remove the scaly skin, then rinse and apply a thick coat of moisturizer.
5. Make coconut oil your best friend. Add a few drops to your bath for extra moisture, or try combing it through your hair or rubbing it on your brittle fingernails. Coconut oil contains fast-absorbing fats that moisturize your skin without leaving it greasy. It also has the added benefit of antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
6. Switch up your conditioning routine. If you’re prone to dry scalp in the winter, try applying conditioner to your dry hair up to an hour before you shower. Then, when it comes time to hit the shower, condition again after you shampoo.
(Photo by Joan Nawnuk/Thinkstock)
Dandruff—which is caused by a fungus—is different from dry scalp. In fact, dandruff-causing fungi prefer an oily environment. So be sure you know what’s happening on your head before using a ton of oils or moisturizers. A dry scalp will produce small, white flakes, while dandruff causes large, greasy flakes that look yellow or gray. A special shampoo can help keep dandruff in check.
7. Smear on the ’screen. UVA rays are just as strong when temperatures get chilly, and snow-covered ground can reflect up to 80 percent of rays back at your skin. Avoid winter sunburn by slathering exposed areas with a broad-spectrum sunscreen before heading outdoors.
Did You Know?
Hanger (hunger + anger) is a real thing. According to researchers from The Ohio State University and University of Kentucky, glucose gives your brain the energy it needs to practice self-control in social situations. So if you’re finding it extra hard to get along with your siblings during holiday togetherness, try grabbing an apple or a few pretzels!
(Photo by Ewgenija/Thinkstock)
Getting to the Root of Things
At this time of year, it’s common to feel nostalgic for summer’s harvest—plump, juicy tomatoes, sweet corn on the cob, crisp sugar snap peas. But just because winter is knocking doesn’t mean we need to say good-bye to fresh local veggies. We just need to dig a little deeper…literally. Root vegetables reach their peak sweetness in the winter months, and they don’t slack on the nutrients, either. Take a closer look at three of our favorite roots.
Parsnips contain: potassium, to help with muscle recovery; folate, to boost metabolism. Bring out the natural sweetness in parsnips and beets by roasting them in the oven with olive oil, salt and fresh herbs, like thyme.
Beets contain: nitrates, to lower blood pressure and boost stamina;betalains, to detoxify and combat inflammation.
Radishes contain: insoluble fiber, to aid in digestion; dopamine and norepinephrine stimulants, to improve mood. Thinly sliced radishes add a nice crunch to a salad or sandwich.
(Photo by Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock)
Did You Know?
Lip balms can be addictive. Our bodies are programmed to naturally replace the outer layer of skin on our lips. When this layer begins to dry out, it signals to the lower layers to produce new cells to replenish the dead ones. But applying Chapstick can confuse this process, necessitating even more balm to keep your lips moist. The takeaway? Apply lip balm only if your lips are already chapped.
When it comes to staying healthy, it’s a good rule of thumb to “eat the rainbow”: A colorful diet offers a variety of nutrients. But in honor of Halloween, we’re taking a trip to the dark side of nutrition. And as it turns out, many black foods are antioxidant powerhouses in disguise.
Black beans are a great source of lean protein, with 15 grams in one cup and no saturated fat. Their black skins contain bioflavonoid pigments, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Blackberries contain polyphenols, chemicals good for your brain. They also have a high concentration of fiber—one cup contains nearly a third of your daily recommended value. Black grapes are higher in antioxidants than red or green grapes because of their dark skin (and they taste a little sweeter!). Like blackberries, they contain high concentrations of brain-boosting polyphenols.
Black rice, like brown rice, has the nutrient- and fiber-rich hull that white rice lacks. But black rice has the added benefit of vitamin E, which supports the immune system.
Nori, most commonly known as the seaweed used to wrap sushi, is rich in minerals and vitamins—including B-12, which protects your nerves and blood cells and helps make DNA. Nori is a great option for vegetarians, who are prone to vitamin B-12 deficiencies.
Orange You Curious?
Black may be the new black this season, but we’d be wrong to ignore its colorful counterpart. Orange foods have long been respected as nutrient-rich noms.
Like most orange foods, pumpkins contain beta-carotene, which is good for eyesight. Plus, they’re full of fiber, and the seeds are packed with protein, magnesium and potassium.
Apricots are a good source of potassium, which can help prevent muscle cramps.
One medium orange provides 130 percent of your daily recommended vitamin C.
Sweet potatoes are also good sources of beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium. Plus, they contain iron, which helps keep energy levels up, and magnesium, which combats stress.
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
Your Aches and Pains Addressed: Hip Flexor Pain
What is it?
Usually a strain in the psoas major (which controls hip flexion and external rotation) or the rectus femoris (which also helps with hip flexion), but the pain could come from any of the muscles surrounding the hip that help facilitate hip flexion.
What causes it?
Overuse. When dancers repeat a certain action over and over again, it creates a muscular imbalance. The psoas major is responsible for stabilizing and mobilizing both the spine and the hip joint, and if it’s not properly stretched and strengthened, repetitive flexion at the hip—such as a series of grands battements—can lead to strains. However, because dancers use their hips in so many different ways, there’s no one cause or source of hip flexor pain.
How to deal
To alleviate the pain, you need to restore a balance of strength and flexibility in the muscles surrounding your hip. Always warm up slowly and easily before you dance, with a special focus on the hip joint. Take care to stretch your hips after exercising, especially if they feel tight or sore; self-massage, rollers, tennis balls and ice can go a long way. If the pain persists for longer than 7 to 10 days, see your doctor to make sure you aren’t exacerbating the problem. Your doctor will likely refer you to a physical therapist, who can provide you with exercises tailored to your needs.
Sometimes, hip flexor pain is a sign of something more serious: a labral tear. The labrum is the ring of cartilage around your hip socket. It can’t heal itself because it doesn’t have a blood supply. In this case, surgery may be the only option for some people, but with proper rehabilitation, you’ll probably be able to restore function to your hip.
Consultant: Sean Gallagher, BFA, PT, CFT, CPT, is the founder and director of Performing Arts Physical Therapy in NYC and the owner of The New York Pilates Studio®. He has worked with dancers from Pennsylvania Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Parsons Dance, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and a number of Broadway shows.
Did You Know?
Pulling an all-nighter may cause brain damage. According to a study published in Sleep, individuals skipping out on sleep have higher concentrations of a molecule commonly associated with head injuries. Of course, staying up late every once in a while isn’t nearly as harmful as a head injury, but repetitive sleepless nights will start to add up. Long story short: Sometimes the best move is to stop cramming, close the book and get some shut-eye!
Choreographers: Feeling stumped by that next eight-count? Take a walk! According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, just 5 to 16 minutes of walking will help get those creative juices flowing.
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