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Dancers Diet & Exercise

by Ashley Lucas

About Ashley Lucas

Ashley Lucas has been writing since 2005. Her articles have appeared in "PULSE," "Today's Dietitian" and other academic journals. Lucas has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ballet performance from the University of Utah and a Doctor of Philosophy in sports nutrition and chronic disease from Virginia Tech.

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Success for a ballet dancer depends on meeting physical, mental and aesthetic demands. For optimal performance, you need to consume a balanced diet and cross-train by participating in other forms of exercise supplementary to dancing. A dancer's diet should consist of 60 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein and 25 percent fat. Ballet is a high-intensity form of activity; therefore, you need to cross-train in aerobic activities to benefit both your metabolism and cardiovascular fitness.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the main sources of fuel for your body, including your muscles, nervous system, brain and even red blood cells. You, like other athletes, must consume quality carbohydrate sources to provide your muscles with the energy needed to support the significant requirements of dance. There are three main categories of carbohydrates: monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. Monosaccharides are the simplest form, found in sugars and fruits, while disaccharides have two sugar molecules bound together like in table sugar and milk. Polysaccharides, the most complex form, are found in potatoes, wheat and other vegetables. Make complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and vegetables, the majority of your intake. Fruits are an important part of your diet as well.

Protein

Your diet should include lean sources of protein such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts, beans and soy. Protein helps you maintain muscle mass and ligaments and supports healthy hair and nails. You must obtain nine essential amino acids through your diet. Proteins that contain all nine amino acids are called complete proteins. Complete protein sources include meat, poultry, fish, a combination of beans and rice and a grain called quinoa. In the book "Diet for Dancers," Dr. Sally Fitt recommends that dancers consume 20 percent of their protein from complete protein sources. As an athlete, you should consume 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Fat

Fat is imperative to the dancer's diet. Fat promotes healthy brain, nerve and reproductive function. Fat sources also provide you with many important nutrients. Without fat, you could not absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. If you consume fat in your diet, you feel fuller longer and eat fewer calories throughout the day than if you eat a low-fat diet. Eating olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados and low-fat dairy products provides you with many nutritional benefits.

The Demands of Dance

According to Dr. J.L. Cohen's results, published in the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise", the average female dancer expends 200 calories in an average ballet class. Dr. J.L. Cohen also found dance was similar to interval training, with bouts of high-intensity exercise for two to three minutes followed by two to three minutes of rest. Ballet and modern dance are high-intensity exercises with frequent stops and starts, making these forms of dance similar to other anaerobic exercise like sprinting or lifting weights. As a dancer, you need strong cardiovascular fitness. Because you do not get this training during your average dance class, you need to cross-train in activities that promote aerobic fitness.

Cross-Training for Dancers

To help meet the aesthetic and physical demands of ballet, try cross-training. Dancers, especially vocational dance students, should participate in general circuit training and interval training. The circuit training sessions should last 20 to 40 minutes, focusing on gaining strength and power. Interval training should use an exercise-to-rest ratio of 1:1 with the each interval lasting three to six minutes. The intensity of the exercise interval should be very high, at 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate, as this resembles the anaerobic power required in dance. To see improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, participate in these activities more than three times per week. Once you have reached your fitness goal, do these activities one to two times per week.

References (5)

  • "Diet for Dancers"; Sally Fitt, Ph.D., and Robin Chmelar; 1990
  • "101 Sports Nutrition Tips"; Susan Kundrat, MS, RD, LD; 2005
  • "The Physician and Sportsmedicine"; Heart Rate Response to Ballet Stage Performance; Cohen, J.L. et al.; 10(11):120-133; 1982
  • "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise"; Cardiorespiratory Responses to Ballet Exercise and the VO2max of Elite Ballet Dancers; Cohen et al.; 14:212-217; 1982
  • "Journal of Dance Medicine and Science"; Cardiorespiratory Training for Dancers; Wyon M.; 9(1):7-12; 2005

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.