What kinds of foods should I eat for sustained energy? I don't want to be weighed down, but I can't dance when I'm hungry, either. —Cecilia
It's a tricky balance: Dancing while hungry can cause you to grow light-headed and become easily fatigued, while dancing after a heavy meal can leave your stomach feeling crampy and uncomfortable. The key is nutritionally balanced, well-timed eating habits.
"Snacks are going to be your savior," says Peggy Otto Swistak, registered dietitian with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Your dance bag should be well stocked: "You have to plan ahead of time," she says, "and make it a habit."
For sustained energy, the best meals are those that combine carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat. "They all work in conjunction with each other," Swistak says. Your muscles use carbohydrates for immediate energy, while protein and fat digest more slowly and curb hunger. A snack that only contains carbs will leave you hungry after 30–45 minutes, while overloading on protein and fat will give you that sluggish feeling. "You don't want to eat a lot of soluble fiber just before you dance, either," Swistak says. "That's what makes you feel bloated." Some great balanced snack ideas include trail mix with nuts, cereal and a little dark chocolate; a hard-boiled egg and baggie of pretzels; cheese and crackers; and veggies with hummus.
Balancing your meals should also factor into dinnertime. "While you sleep, your muscles turn carbohydrates into glycogen," Swistak says. "That's your energy for the next day."
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at email@example.com.