The Importance of Nutrition for Dancers

ballet dancers eating

Tony Anderson / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

How many families out there have a little dancer in their household? Some young dancers spend an average of 3 to 4 hours each day engaged in this activity. They may even dance at school if they are involved with school dance programs.

Many of them are arriving to dance sometime after school is out, then get home too late for proper meals with their family. All they are concerned with is getting homework done and going to bed.

Fueling your body as a dancer isn’t always an easy task, but it is important. Use this information to ensure that the dancer in your life—or you, if you're the one involved in dance—is receiving proper nutrition.

Calorie Needs

Dancers need to be well fueled for classes, rehearsals, and performances. A huge challenge they face is not ingesting sufficient quantities of food to meet the energy demand of dance.

Consuming too few calories compromises energy availability and, therefore, may affect the dancer's ability to perform at their best. With low calories also comes low intake of micronutrients which alters growth, performance, and overall health.

An easy estimate of caloric needs during heavy training for a female is 45 to 50 calories per kilogram of body weight (1 kg = 2.2 pounds). The caloric needs of a male are higher at 50 to 55 calories per kilogram of body weight.

Keep in mind that these are average estimates. Each individual has different caloric needs based on a variety of factors. 

Carbohydrates

Energy from carbohydrates are a dancer’s best friend. This is because carbs break down into glucose and quickly fuel muscles. Without glucose, a dancer’s skills and strength would be compromised and the feeling of muscle fatigue would take over.

Approximately 55% to 60% of a dancer's diet should be carbs. And it should be rich in whole grains and complex carbohydrates. In addition to meals, a dancer should also ingest carbohydrates before, during, and after class or performances.

At least one hour before an activity begins, the dancer should consume a quick energy carbohydrate to start glucose fueling. During longer training sessions, a simple snack can help provide enough fuel to make it through the rest of the class.

After class or rehearsal, refueling energy stores with carbs will also be important. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include whole-grain pasta, rice, beans, whole grain bread, and fresh fruit.​

Fats

Fats are also very important. Fat provides structure for all cell membranes, they are the insulating layer around nerves, and fats form the base of many of our hormones.

Muscles and adipose (fat) tissue store fats called triglycerides. During exercise, triglycerides are broken down into fatty acids and produce energy for muscles to contract.

Healthy fats are also needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and used to fuel the muscles for energy. It is estimated that people need 1.2 grams of fat per kilogram of body weight.

Fatty acids are very important during an endurance activity such as dancing, where one is continuously exercising for over 20 minutes at a time. Examples of healthy fats to include in the diet are nuts, nut butters, canola oil, olive oil, and avocado.

Protein

Protein is extremely important for young dancers (and all athletes), whether the goal is to build muscle or not. With constant use of muscles during competition and practices, protein is needed for building and repairing used muscle tissue.

Protein is also used as an auxiliary fuel when one doesn’t have enough glycogen on board. The estimated need for protein is 1.4 to 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Healthy sources of protein include animal meats like chicken, fish, turkey, lean pork, or beef. Vegetarian sources of protein include beans, quinoa, rice, and tofu.

Follow these recommendations and you are likely getting enough protein in your diet, making protein powders unnecessary.

Micronutrients

Dancers frequently forget about obtaining key micronutrients, otherwise known as vitamins and minerals. This is especially true for the B vitamins and vitamin C (water-soluble vitamins), and vitamins A, D, E, and K (which are fat soluble vitamins).

Vitamins

B vitamins are a part of energy production. They don’t give the body energy, per se, but they are used in the body to make energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. B vitamins are also helpful for making red blood cells.

Vitamins A, C, and E play a role in cleaning up damaged muscles that are overstressed and overused, while vitamins D and K play a role in healthy bone metabolism. Compromise your intake of these vitamins and you will compromise your performance over time. 

Minerals

Calcium is a mineral used for bone growth. The most important years of bone development are the first 30 years of life — which just happens to be the prime years for dancing. Low bone density results in increased chances of bone stress fractures.

Iron is also a highly important mineral for dancers, since iron is what our bodies use to carry oxygen to the blood. Of course, oxygen is what we use to help our bodies produce energy.

A Word From Verywell

Eating balanced meals that include a mix of carbohydrates, fats and protein provide dancers the nutrition needed to perform at the highest level possible. Vitamins and minerals are important too, and they are found in a variety of foods.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lim SN, Chai JH, Song JK, Seo MW, Kim HB. Comparison of nutritional intake, body composition, bone mineral density, and isokinetic strength in collegiate female dancers. J Exerc Rehabil. 2015;11(6):356–362. doi:10.12965/jer.150244

  2. Brown MA, Howatson G, Quin E, Redding E, Stevenson EJ. Energy intake and energy expenditure of pre-professional female contemporary dancers. PLoS One. 2017;12(2):e0171998. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0171998

  3. Hoch AZ, Papanek P, Szabo A, Widlansky ME, Gutterman DD. Folic acid supplementation improves vascular function in professional dancers with endothelial dysfunction. PM R. 2011;3(11):1005–1012. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2011.02.014

  4. Clark T, Gupta A, Ho CH. Developing a dancer wellness program employing developmental evaluation. Front Psychol. 2014;5:731. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00731