Ballet dancers, like modern geishas or runway models, fall into the camp of ethereal beings we openly gush over for their innate sense of calm and poise. Elegant, lithe, and graceful, ballerinas have a physical prowess that makes them both mysterious and fascinating—so obviously, we want to know anything we can about their daily routines (in a totally non-creepy way, we swear).
Health junkies that we are, we’re particularly interested in learning about what ballerinas eat. Aren’t you curious to know what someone must consume to stay that lean and strong? “A common misconception is that we don’t eat, which is totally not true,” says New York City Corps ballet dancer Kristen Segin. “If anything, sometimes we have to eat more just to make it through the day. My mantra is everything in moderation.”
“Ballerinas are athletes. We need to eat well in order to feel good, maintain energy, and avoid injury,” says New York City Ballet soloist Brittany Pollack.
Both Pollack and Segin agree that proteins, vegetables, and fruits are the best foods to get through long rehearsal days. As for eating before the show, Segin doesn’t like performing on a full stomach but will have a small snack if she’s hungry, such as nuts or a protein bar. Pollack’s go-to before performing is a turkey sandwich and banana.
Do they eat like us mere mortals otherwise? Absolutely. “My favorite food is pasta,” says Segin. “I always crave it after a long day,” Pollack agrees and says that you can’t go wrong with the classic Italian dish.
For a detailed breakdown of the foods that get ballet dancers through shows and everyday life, we caught up with registered dietitian Joy Bauer, the official nutritionist to the New York City Ballet, and asked her exactly what foods she prescribes to her throng of prima ballerinas. If you’ve ever been curious about how a ballet dancer eats, keep scrolling to find out!
To start each day on the right foot, Bauer says she always tells the ballerinas to skip the bowl of cereal. “Forget sugary cereals—they’re made mostly of simple carbs that spike your blood sugar and leave you feeling sluggish (and hungry!) a couple of hours later,” she says. “Also, it’s not a good idea to gobble down a bagel with butter and fruit juice—that’s pure carbs and fat. Where’s the protein?!”
For a healthy breakfast worthy of a top ballerina, Bauer suggests choosing the “dynamic duo” of protein and fiber. “Protein helps to wake up your brain cells and stoke your metabolism,” she explains. “The protein-fiber combo helps to maintain your energy level and keep you feeling satisfied until lunch.” A few of the breakfast options she recommends? Eggs with whole-grain toast, a Greek yogurt parfait with berries and granola, and even leftover chicken vegetable stir-fry from last night’s dinner.
If you think ballerinas have salads for lunch, you’re right. But the salads Bauer prescribes are loaded with proteins and antioxidants. “A veggie-packed salad with a good protein source, like grilled chicken or fish, hard-boiled eggs, tofu, or black beans, provides the added benefit of phytonutrients and antioxidants needed to energize you on a cellular level,” she says.
Another lunch option? Wraps with whole-grain tortillas, preferably. Bauer recommends filling them with turkey, avocado, lettuce, and tomatoes for a good on-the-go fix. If you’re in the mood for something more filling, Bauer says she recommends hearty soups (like lentil, black bean, minestrone, and chicken noodle) to the ballerinas. “Also, peanut butter and sliced bananas, apples, or berries on whole-grain bread are delicious and energizing,” she says.
“Because dancers try to eat light during the day to minimize bloating while at rehearsals, dinner tends to be more voluminous,” Bauer explains. Ideally, she says an evening meal should be balanced. That means plenty of lean protein for muscle recovery (think chicken, fish, pork tenderloin, lentils, and tofu), antioxidant-rich vegetables to alleviate soreness (like broccoli, peppers, and carrots), and whole grains to replenish stored fuel for the following day (try quinoa, brown rice, or whole-wheat pasta).
Next, we reach the wonderful world of snacks. What do ballet dancers reach for when they’re feeling the midday slump? “I recommend planning snacks that provide long-lasting energy and don’t spike your blood sugar,” Bauer says. “The ticket here is to choose munchies that include a mix of protein and fiber.”
For dancers who are watching their weight, she recommends capping snacks at 200 calories, with options like a fiber-rich apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, bell peppers with a quarter-cup of hummus, Greek yogurt with a banana, or homemade trail mix made with whole-grain cereal and one to two tablespoons of almonds and raisins.
For days when you (or the ballet dancers) haven’t planned ahead, Bauer suggests her snack line, Nourish Snacks, which includes over 25 flavors of perfectly portioned snacks that are gluten-free, dairy-free, and packed with protein, fiber, and antioxidants—and all for under 200 calories. “They’re strategically formulated to keep you running on all cylinders,” she says.
When a dancer’s sweet tooth comes in full force, Bauer tells them to try making her banana chocolate chip “ice cream,” no-bake key lime pie, and black bean brownies. “Frozen fruit straight from the freezer bag is another easy option—it tastes like an Italian ice without all the sugar and junk,” she says.
As for her advice to the dancers when they’re craving something really unhealthy? “I promote and personally follow a 90/10 food philosophy—go out of your way to eat healthy 90% of the time and allow yourself 10% wiggle room for fun (unhealthy) indulgences,” she explains. “Be selective, watch portions, and savor every delicious bite. No regrets required.” Even athletes are allowed to splurge, after all, but then it’s right back to their healthy eating regimens.
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.