The Importance of Nutrition for Dancers

ballet dancers eating

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How many families out there have a little dancer in their household? Some girls spend an average of 3 to 4 hours each day dancing. They may even go dancing at school if they are involved with school dance programs. Many girls 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's important.

Proper Nutrition for Dancers

Use this information to ensure that you're receiving proper nutrition.

Calorie Needs

To perform your best, dancers need to be well fueled for classes, rehearsals, and performance. A huge challenge for dancers is not ingesting sufficient quantities of food to meet the energy demand of dance. An easy estimate of caloric needs during heavy training for a female is 45-50 calories/kg of body weight (kg= lbs weight / 2.2 example: 100 lbs / 2.2 = 45.45 kg). The caloric needs of a male are higher at 50-55 calories/kg body weight. While these are average estimates, each individual has different caloric needs based on a variety of factors. 

Consuming too few calories will compromise your energy availability and therefore may affect your ability to perform at your best. Of course with low calories comes low intake of micronutrients which will also alter growth, performance, and overall health. 


To begin with, energy from carbohydrates are a dancer’s best friend. A dancer should have a diet rich in whole grains and complex carbohydrates. Fifty-five to 60 percent of their diet should be carbohydrates. Carbs are the main source of energy for any athlete because carbohydrates 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.

In addition to meals, a dancer should also ingest carbohydrates before, during, and after class or performance. At least one hour before any activity begins a dancer should consume a quick energy carbohydrate to start glucose fueling. During longer training sessions, you may want to consume a simple snack to help fuel you midway through class. After rehearsal, refueling your energy stores with carbohydrates and protein will also be important. Sources of carbohydrates include whole-grain pasta, rice, beans, whole grain bread, and fresh fruit.​


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. Healthy fats are needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and are used to fuel the muscles for energy. It is estimated that people need 1.2 grams of fat/kg of body weight. 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. Fatty acids are very important during 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 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 of glycogen on board. The estimated need for protein is 1.4 to 1.6 grams of protein/kg of body weight.

Healthy sources of protein include animal meats like chicken, fish, turkey, lean pork, or beef. Vegetarian sources of protein are beans, quinoa, rice, and tofu. If you follow the recommendations above you are getting enough in your diet protein powders are not necessary.


Dancers also can frequently forget about obtaining key micronutrients called vitamins and minerals, especially the B vitamins and Vitamin C (water-soluble vitamins) and Vitamins A, D, K, and E, which are fat soluble vitamins. Our B vitamins are a part of energy production. The B vitamins don’t give the body energy but are used in the body to make energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. These vitamins are also part of making red blood cells.

If you compromise your intake of these vitamins, you will compromise your performance over time. 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. 

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 will result in increased chances of bone stress fractures. Iron is also a highly important nutrient 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.

Vitamins and minerals are found in a variety of foods: if you are eating balanced meals that include a mix of carbohydrates, fats and protein, you will get adequate nutrition and perform at your highest. 

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Article Sources
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