Food. A topic that dancers focus on pretty heavily! Today dancer/instructor Emily Kate Long shares some of her personal favorites with readers, along with some thoughts on eating. We’d love to hear from you too, so please feel free to add your own “go-to” foods in the comments section! – Catherine
by Emily Kate Long
Dancers can be an interesting breed when it comes to what we put in our bodies. As elite athletes, our brains and bodies require a lot of fuel to get through long days of rehearsal and performance. Our busy schedules, however, often limit the amount of time and thought we can but into meal planning. And we all have our vices—I know a few dancers who would subsist on chocolate and kettle chips if they could! But, as the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. Content, quantity, and timing are all things to consider when fueling up for the day or replenishing calories after a performance. Here are some inexpensive, easy, nutrition-packed dishes to power mind and body. In the words of the inimitable Julia Child, bon apetit!
If you’re not a morning person, it can be all too easy to grab your coffee and pointe shoes and run out the door. When I was in high school taking 8 a.m. ballet classes, a friend introduced me to Swiss oatmeal. Talk about an easy and nutritious breakfast. There are a lot of fancy recipes out there, but you basically take two parts yogurt to one part whole rolled oats, stir in a little dried or chopped fresh fruit, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The yogurt “cooks” the oats and softens the dried fruit. Before serving you can add nuts, frozen berries, or honey (or a few dark chocolate chips!) for crunch and sweetness. What you get is an awesome shot of textures, flavors, complex carbs, and complete protein to start the day. It’s my first choice for a go-to power breakfast, and a batch will keep up to three or four days in the fridge.
For daytime fuel, it’s important to have energy-dense foods that aren’t bulky in your dance bag or your stomach. A lot of dancers rely on protein bars, which are great in moderation if you find ones like Barre, Kind, or Larabar, that are minimally processed. Hard-boiled eggs are another really good choice—a portable complete protein in convenient single serving. Cut-up fruit and vegetables with nut butter are also valuable fuel. As a bonus, the water content of fresh fruit and vegetables helps you stay hydrated.
I enjoy cooking as a way to unwind and get creative with culinary science experiments, but I don’t usually have time except on my day off. That’s when I cook a few meals’ worth of something and save the leftovers. Often, my base is homemade stock, a flavorful and wholesome staple I can use on its own or in recipes.
Stock is easy to make in big batches and can be super nutrient-dense, no matter what your level of skill in the kitchen. You need good-quality meat with bones, some water, and whatever vegetables you like. A whole or half chicken works well, or beef soup bones. High-quality meat can be pricey, but cuts of stew meat or soup bones are considerably more affordable, even if you’re looking for grass-fed or free-range.
As for equipment, all you need is a large pot. Throw in the bones, vegetables, and seasonings. I like to use celery, carrots, onion, and the tough stems of leafy greens, plus a ton of cracked black pepper and oregano and a little salt. Add enough water to fill the pot, bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for at least an hour. The longer you wait, the better it tastes. Once it cools, take out the bones and you have a tasty base for soup, pasta, or whole grains that’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and important proteins. Refrigerate some for up to a week and freeze the rest for up to a few months.
Last (and maybe least, depending on your taste) I want to mention sardines as a power food for dancers. They’re inexpensive (under a dollar a serving, depending on where you live) and rich in omega-3s and protein. There’s also little concern about heavy metal toxicity from eating sardines, which can’t be said for other fatty fish like tuna and swordfish. The downside is that these little guys smell and taste pretty fishy. They’re definitely not a good choice to eat between rehearsals if you want your partner to come within ten feet of you!
These are my no-brainer superfoods. They work for me because they’re energy and nutrient-dense while still being inexpensive and convenient. I hope you give them a try. If you do, please share in the comments section, or add your own favorites.
Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.
by Catherine L. Tully
Dancing means sweating, and sweating means thirst. Us dancers tend to be a thirsty bunch, but ingesting extra calories from what we drink is something most of us would like to avoid. And while there’s nothing wrong with the occasional milkshake or cranberry juice, reaching for low or no-calorie drinks is usually a pretty good idea.
I’ve compiled a short list of my favorites here for you to check out, but please do feel free to share yours in the comments section below!
My go-to favorite is LaCroix sparkling water. I love the orange flavor, but there are many other varieties you can try, including lime, coconut, berry and lemon. This tasty drink isn’t sweet, but has some flavor (and it’s natural!). Drink from the can or over ice for a delicious drink option that has zero calories.
It’s also yummy when mixed with fruit juices, but that does add some calories to the mix.
Cucumber water is another favorite of mine. Simple to make and refreshing to drink, this no-calorie winner is one of the best picks for a cool drink on a hot day. Its silky texture is unique and you can add lemon or other fruit to the water to mix the taste up a bit.
Here’s a primer on how to make it (not like it’s that hard). Simply store it in your fridge and pour when you want some. Easy! It’s also extremely inexpensive since cucumbers cost next to nothing at the grocery store.
Herbal teas offer another no-calorie option for those looking for a flavorful beverage. I’ve recently gotten into Teavana tea, since they offer really cool combinations, such as the strawberry lemonade flavor pictured here. You can brew them hot in the winter and make iced tea in the summer. Win/win!
Of course, standard bag varieties are also a great choice. Another one I drink often is Bengal Spice, which has a little bit of a kick to it. The “spice” comes from a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves. Nice!
What are your favorite drinks? Let us know!
by Catherine L. Tully
If you’re the type that likes to curl up on the couch and snack away the hours while watching movies, you probably already know that the calories can really stack up. Resting on your days off is good, but mindless snacking in front of the tube can be a dangerous thing.
The next time you decide to go on a movie binge, choose popcorn as your snack–but make it air-popped and watch what you add to it. With a little bit of advance planning you can minimize the impact to your diet and your waistline.
Air popped popcorn is a great choice as long as you don’t pile on the butter or salt. The best news of all is that popcorn is actually considered a whole grain, and when air popped, has only 31 calories per cup. It also makes a great on the go snack–simply toss it in a baggie and pack it in your dance bag.
Here are a few more facts* about this snack food that may help you become a fan:
- 3 cups of popcorn = 1 serving from the grain group
- Air popped popcorn doesn’t contain additives or preservatives
- Popcorn contains fiber which aids in digestion
Investing in an air popper is not a big expense. You can usually find one for around $20 – I found this via Google search at Target. Do your homework on it though, I haven’t used this one myself.
Those used to eating microwave popcorn may not take to the air popped variety too well at first. After all, there is not a lot of flavor in comparison. Still, there are a number of ways to add taste to it without dumping a lot of calories on top.
Here are some of my favorite choices:
- Use a little bit of spray butter and toss to coat. (I do this sparingly since I’m not entirely on board with the whole spray butter thing. And I opt for the ones that are made with olive oil.) Or, simply opt for olive oil, but go easy as it is fairly high-calorie.
- Add some herbs to the mix such as oregano, basil, marjoram and red pepper flakes.
- Sprinkle black or white pepper over the top for a little bit of bite.
- Try a little taco seasoning on top for plenty of taste. (This does add salt though, so use sparingly.)
- Mix up some sugar and cinnamon for a sweet kick. This will add a few calories, but it can be worth it!
Here are a few more recipes you might want to try:
Do you have a healthy favorite topping for popcorn? We’d love to hear from you!
*Info taken from Popcorn.org.
During the summer it is more important than ever to stay hydrated. Whether you’re dancing at an intensive, spending the day at the beach, or walking in the park you’re bound to lose water. Replacing this lost fluid is crucial in order to maintain optimum physical performance and health.
The concept of hydration is simple, but the execution can require a bit of effort. Let’s face it: Water is boring. Though it’s refreshing after a long workout or a few hours in the sun, it can be hard to remember to drink H2O when you’re not thirsty. One trick to help you get your fluids is to add some pizazz to your drinks. Here are some healthy and tasty beverage options to fill the gap in your water intake without adding too many extra calories to your diet.
Before you try bottled drinks off the shelf, try adding flavor to your existing glass of water.
Lemon Water: Lemon juice not only adds flavor, but also is great for your digestive system, immune system, skin, and tissue and bone health. It is recommended that you consume at least half a lemon per day to reap its full benefits. You can also create a zero- calorie lemonade by combining water, lemon juice, and stevia. Add a bit of cayenne pepper for some healthful heat!
Infusions: By adding berries, cucumber, herbs and spices to your water you can create great flavors without the extra calories. Fill a big pitcher with water, add fruits and herbs of your choice, and let it sit for a few hours. Here’s one tasty infusion recipe.
Though they have a higher sugar content, juices (especially homemade) are a good addition to your daily drinks. Juices provide extra vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables and are good for digestion. Avoid to many processed juices, as they tend to lose nutritional value and often have excessive amounts of sugar. Try making your own and get creative! Here are a few recipes to get you started.2
by Julia Erikson
Dance is an exacting science. Technique requires great discipline and continual vigilance to maintain. But we all know the recipe for success also requires a departure from the rigors of exactitude into a freer, more creative personal place. One has to feel the music and express their individuality to truly gain any modicum of success as a dancer—in essence you must study hard, then throw away the notes and go it on your own. This is when the beauty and glory of dance emerge, when it really is a vehicle for self-expression.
Recipes and food parallel the duality of dance in certain ways. The best balanced recipes in culinary history stand the test of time much like a finely choreographed ballet. While we needn’t stray too far from a proven concept, with something like a fruit salad, why not bend the rules a bit and find the balance of flavors that works for you? I say let the personality of the fruit, along with your personal taste, play the starring roles. Use the freedom presented to listen to your palate and hone your confidence in the kitchen; there is no right or wrong ratio of flavors out there.
In this vain I present to you several fruit salad templates meant to guide you, and your taste buds, toward your own personal sweet spot—flavor-wise. Yes, I recognize we are only talking about fruit salad here, but it is the perfect jumping off point for cultivating your creativity in the kitchen, something that is good for your soul and for your self-expression as an artist. And who knows, you may just get carried away and create something you want to share with the world!
Also, one more thought: Historically I’ve avoided the ubiquitous fruit salad on a party buffet table, mainly because it often seems to resemble some combination of soggy, boring, or overrun with not my fave fruit. So I’ve chosen to share a few of my favorite fruit-centric salad combinations, though most of them actually happen to include a savory component. I love this, as I think contrast actually highlights the sweetness of summer’s bounty. But you take the lead and feel free to omit/substitute/improvise!
For all of the recipes below, use your best judgment in terms of quantities—these are only flavor combinations that I love. Trust your palate and go for it! And let me know what you come up with by commenting about the results of your improv sessions!
Berry herb salad0
by Danielle Downey
Whether you are a dancer or just sucked up into the endless fast pace of today’s lifestyle, fueling your body with healthy on-the-go snacks is a key task to master in order to perform your best on stage or in life.
Eating large meals between rehearsals or before a show is not exactly conducive to our lifestyle as dancers. No dancer wants to do grand allegro or 32 fouettes after chowing down on a large feast, but on the other hand, choosing not to eat is surely not a better option. Thankfully between the spectrum of starving yourself and the ‘yuck factor’ of feeling too full, there is the ingenious happy medium of snacking!
It seems that the strongest, most beautiful dancers that grace the stages are on a lifelong journey to master the ‘technique’ of healthy on-the-go snacking. So whether you already spend countless hours in the studio rehearsing or you are young student aspiring a professional career, it is beneficial for all of us to do a frequent check of our eating (specifically snacking) habits to ensure we are fueling our body with the maximum amount of nutrients and energy to feel and dance our best.
The great thing about snacking is that no matter what your taste buds or dietary needs require, the options are essentially endless! When reevaluating your snacking habits or looking for new ideas, thinking simple is surprisingly a smart and easy tactic. What is your favorite salad or healthy meal? If you break it down into it’s simplest components you will usually be left with a handful of healthy snacking options. By eating these simple foods individually throughout the day you are still receiving all of the nutrients from your favorite healthy meal while never having your waistband feel too tight.
As a dancer I am constantly tweaking my snacking habits. By trial and error and inspiration from other dancers around me, I am on a mission to find the perfect combination of on-the-go snacks to dance and feel better than ever! At the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre we receive a five minute break every hour. Changing my pointe shoes or leotard, using the restroom, checking my phone or just resting my legs are on the short list of things accomplished on those five minute breaks, but most importantly, I always reach for a quick on-the-go snack to keep my energy up for the next hour of rehearsal. My locker has become a makeshift pantry and I take advantage of the company refrigerator to store perishable items. I strive for natural foods high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Here are a list of my favorite healthy on-the-go snacks:
BANANAS- I have replaced the adage about apples with ‘A banana a day keeps the doctor away’. Nothing against apples, but I definitely grab a banana every day because of their high levels of calcium which are key to preventing muscle cramps. Bananas also supply 35% of your daily B-6 requirement which is used to help grow new cells. The fiber found in bananas also helps you feel full longer.
GREEK YOGURT- Greek yogurt has a much higher protein content than regular yogurt, and depending on the brand you prefer you can easily give your body 10-18 grams of it. I have also found that the thicker consistency of Greek yogurt helps me feel full longer.
BARRE. A REAL FOOD BAR.- Developed by a fellow Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer, Barre is a delicious nutrition bar on the market developed with dancers in mind. Julia wanted something to fuel her without weighing her down, something sustaining yet easy to digest, and something containing only the finest all-natural ingredients. When she brought the first product (straight from her food processor) as her healthy on-the-go snack, I tried some and fell in love. When I said I would buy some off of her, the idea for Barre was born!
DARK CHOCOLATE- Snack? Dessert? Call it what you wish, but dark chocolate has been making headlines for its health benefits. It contains more antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables, which can help reduce blood pressure. Chocolate lovers rejoice, but obviously, moderation is the key. I keep a large bar in my locker and break off a small piece whenever I need a small pick-me-up.
NUTS- Nuts are such an easy on-the-go snack, no utensils or refrigeration necessary. The omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts offer many health benefits but one that is really key for dancers is management of inflammation. Nuts are also a great source of arginine, an amino acid which boosts immune function and promotes wound healing.
KASHI GOLEAN CEREAL- I had to add this in because it is a personal favorite of mine in the studio. Keeping a zip lock bag of this right by my barre spot or in my dressing room at the theatre makes for super convenient on-the-go snacking. The 7 whole grains found in this cereal are a great source of complex carbohydrates. It also contains 13 grains of protein!
QUINOA- Coined as a ‘superfood’, quinoa has a long list of health benefits. Containing all nine amino acids, it is one of the most protein-rich foods you can eat. Quinoa contains almost twice as much fiber as other grains, which is key to helping you feel full on those long days of rehearsal. It contains iron which helps keeps the red blood cells healthy and increases brain function. Quinoa also contains lysine which helps with the growth and repair of body tissue. In addition to its ‘good for you’ qualities, it has endless possibilities in the kitchen (salads, desserts, breads, and much, much more!).
So no matter where you are on your journey to master the art of healthy on-the-go snacking–we can all benefit from doing a monthly reevaluation and refreshment. Get inspired by what is fresh now in the market, what other dancers you look up to are doing, or just tune into what your body needs or craves. Remember that our bodies are like automobiles which carry us where we want to go in life; we should refuel them often and with only the best!
Contributor Danielle Downey has a been a member of the Barre Team since it’s conception. She traveled to Las Vegas for Barre’s first convention, she did some early graphic design work for the look and brand of Barre, and is now marketing Barre through social media outlets. She has seen Barre go from it’s very earliest stages (straight from the food processor in Julia’s kitchen to the studio in a zip-lock bag) to a real food bar recognized by dancers, athletes, and regular ole’ folk all across the country.
Danielle also dances in the Corps de Ballet with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Prior to joining the company, she trained in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Graduate Program. She received her early training with the Lake Erie Ballet and spent summers training with Boston Ballet and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.1
Even though it may not seem like it, summer is right around the corner. This means that you may soon find yourself in a new place dancing for hours on end at a summer intensive. It will be more important than ever to maintain a balanced diet to stay energized and healthy through the duration of your program. Eating full meals becomes a challenge during intensives due to the packed schedules and sporadic breaks. So, how do you avoid feeling hungry right in the middle of an intense variations class? Try bringing snacks with you to the studio so you can grab a bite in between rehearsals! The Barre team is here to suggest some of out favorite healthy snacks that will fuel you through an entire intensive.
Barre. A Real Food Bar: Sure, it’s our own product, but since Barres were developed by a principal dancer, they were created with the purpose of keeping us fueled throughout long rehearsals. Barres have the perfect balance of slow and fast burning carbs, protein, and fiber for sustained energy. They also provide natural electrolyte replacement with naturally occurring sodium. Make sure you have a box in your dorm this summer!
When you’re craving something sweet…
Fruit: Refreshing on a hot summer day, fresh fruit provides a great source of fiber, boosts your energy with naturally occurring sugar, and helps to fulfill your daily requirement for vitamins and minerals. Here are some fruits that will be perfect for summer time:
- Apples: High in fiber and coming in at only 80 calories per fruit, they will help keep you full longer and are especially easy to eat. Try slicing one and spraying with lemon juice to keep it from browning.
- Avocado: High in vitamin E and folate, they are a good source of healthy, monounsaturated fat. Try half an avocado on some crackers, in a wrap, or just on its own.
- Berries: Summer is the best time of year for berries. Try having darker berries such as blueberries and blackberries to boost your antioxidant intake
- Melon: Watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe are at their peak in summer. Cantaloupe is high in vitamin A and potassium (which is key in preventing muscle cramps), and has only 25 calories in half a cup!
- Figs: Also readily available dried, figs are high fiber, filling, and are a great source of potassium, bone-healthy calcium, and folate.
- Bananas: A good source of fiber, and provide you with vitamin B6 and potassium. Pair them with a tablespoon of nut butter for a quick and energizing snack.
Dried Fruit: Less messy than fresh fruit, dried fruit is available year round, provides a great source of fiber, and gives your blood sugar a boost. Just make sure you keep track of quantity… it’s easy to eat too much of these tasty treats!
Dark Chocolate: If you’re craving something a bit richer, opt for a square of dark chocolate. It’s heart healthy, satisfying, energizing, rich in antioxidants, and has been found to improve short-term brain alertness. It may just help you pick up an extra tricky combo faster!
If you’re after something with a crunch…
Air-popped Popcorn: Skip the chips and opt for some salt-free, oil-free air popped popcorn! With only 30 calories in one cup, 1g of fiber and protein, this healthy snack is high in micro-nutrients and has a low glycemic index, meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar.
Whole Grain Cereal and Granola: If you choose to munch on some cereal or granola or add it to your yogurt, make sure you choose a whole grain, low fat, and low sugar variety. You can buy an all natural, healthy brand or even make your own!
Vegetables: Veggies have a high fiber content, vitamins and minerals, are low calorie, low fat, and generally have less sugar than fruit. Some of our favorite portable veggies are baby carrots, sugar snap peas, celery, bell pepper, and cucumber. Each veggie has different vitamins and minerals, so try to aim for an assortment of colors and types. Veggies are also perfect for pairing with high-protein yogurt dips, hummus, and nut butters.
Whole Grain Crackers and Rice Cakes: Make sure you choose a baked whole grain cracker that is not made from refined flours, as it will keep your blood sugar more level. Crackers can be a great source of healthy carbs and a vehicle for proteins such as cheese, nut butter, and dips.
Dried Seaweed: A snack growing in popularity, seaweed is incredibly low in calories, contains fiber, is high in antioxidants, and balances blood sugar. You can also get flavored versions if you’re craving something saltier.
To get you through a long day (aka high-protein foods)…
Nuts and seeds and butters: Nuts are a great and satisfying source of protein. Just make sure you eat them in reasonable portion sizes (around ¼ cup of whole nuts or 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter) because of their high calorie and fat content. Some of the top nuts and seeds to eat include pumpkin seeds, peanuts, sunflower seeds and almonds. They all have between seven and eight grams of protein per ¼ cup. If you choose nut butter, it’s best to buy an all-natural brand that doesn’t contain extra sweeteners and hydrogenated vegetable oils. You can even buy single-serving packets at your local supermarket!
Tofu: A complete protein, a 3- oz. slice of firm tofu contains 13 grams of protein! You can also buy flavored varieties and use it in salads, wraps, or on its own with veggies.
Eggs: Another wonderful protein source, one egg has around six grams of protein. They are high in cholesterol, so make sure to consume them in moderation.
Cheese: An easy, mess-free snack, low-fat cheese is a great source of on-the-go protein. Try an individual Babybell cheese or a low-fat mozzarella stick, which has around six to eight grams of protein per serving.
Greek and Icelandic yogurt: Both varieties have significantly higher protein content than typical yogurt, with 15-20 grams in one six-ounce serving. Try to buy a flavored variety that doesn’t have too much added sugar, or buy plain and add your own fruit or granola.
Cottage Cheese: Like yogurt, cottage cheese can be combined with fruits and veggies for a well-rounded snack. ½ a cup contains around 14 grams of protein. Try adding some salt and pepper or cinnamon if you find it too boring on its own.
A Quick Refresher…
Frozen Fruit: Try freezing grapes or bananas for a refreshing, popsicle-like treat.
Smoothies: They can be made with fruits and veggies, yogurt, or protein powder for a nutritious snack. My favorite combo? Blend 1 banana, 6 oz Icelandic yogurt, ½ cup unsweetened soy milk, and a big handful of spinach until creamy. Yum!
Ice Water: Remember, hydration is just as important as sustenance. Drinking lots of fluids will keep your body working at its optimum level of performance. Make sure you’re drinking at least eight glasses of water per day!
Try mixing and matching all of these snacks until you find a combination that best suits your needs! Here’s to a healthy and tasty summer!
BIO: The Team at Barre contributes posts about food, snacks and healthy eating for 4dancers. The mission of Barre is to provide exceptional nutritional fortification for dancers and everyone else who demands clean, wholesome, nutritious and great tasting sustained energy. To accomplish this goal, Barre produces and distributes health-minded snacks and performance products specially formulated to live up to the rigors of such a demanding artist-athlete lifestyle. Learn more about their products here.