I never know what to eat before a performance. If I have nothing, I’m famished, but I hate dancing on a full stomach. What do you recommend? —Etina
Carbs, carbs, carbs—complex carbohydrates, to be exact. “There’s this mentality that carbs are bad and make you fat,” says Emily C. Harrison, MS, RD, LD, a dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition in Atlanta (check out her website at dancernutrition.com). “In reality, the body converts carbohydrates very easily into fuel for working muscles.” Meals like whole grain pasta salad with vegetables and mozzarella cheese, or rice with veggies and edamame should give you sufficient energy without causing feelings of bloating and heaviness. Eat real food, as opposed to supplements or a cup of coffee. “Those are just nervous system stimulants, not fuel for working muscles,” says Harrison.
Since your body doesn’t have a large capacity for storing carbs, you want to eat frequently throughout the day (three meals and two snacks). Timing is crucial. Eat dinner about an hour before showtime—any earlier and you’ll burn through it before the curtain rises. During the performance, hydrate with water or sports beverages, and if you get hungry, refuel with quick, simple snacks like pretzels, crackers or a banana. “They’ll hit your bloodstream very quickly,” Harrison says.
Loading up on protein right before the show is not a good idea, she continues. “Your body wants to store protein, so it’s not good fuel for aerobic or anaerobic exercise.” Instead, save it for afterwards to load up on energy for the next day and help your muscles recover.