Eating habits in the classical dance world tend to make scandalous subject matter, amongst dancers and non-dancers alike. I’ve certainly been shocked by the lack of nutritional knowledge in the dance world which, combined with our unusual and often hectic schedules, can make for eating habits that leave a lot to be desired health-wise. I’ll not avoid the topic: it’s an absolute fact that eating disorders are common in our student and professional lives, however, the sensationalisation of this issue, in the general media, clouds the existence of the real problem, of which eating disorders are just the tip of the iceberg – mental health anxieties in the ballet world. I’ve written a post about this in my blog post, When you talk about ballet, do you talk about mental health, which you can read here.

So, to establish the focus of this post, eating well, for me, has always meant, providing myself with the most ideal means I can to work at my optimum. I want to have enough energy to perform a variety of physically and emotionally demanding ballets, both classical and neoclassical, for long runs at a time, while being able to improve through my training and retain the ability to enjoy my life too! Naturally, that means eating nutritiously and specifically to the needs of my body; each dancer has a unique body, so our diets are, logically, also going to be different.

I think about food as complimenting my craft; after experimenting a little, I’ve found the most beneficial way of eating that enables me to dance to my best. I don’t present it as a be-all-and-end-all; rather, I think some components of my dietary lifestyle might be helpful when testing out the best way to eat well for you.

What Works for Me

Generally, I follow a grain-free, refined sugar-free, high protein diet. I’ve been vegetarian all my life and I prefer non-dairy milks. For breakfast, this might been porridge made of flaxseed, chia pudding or eggs, and I really do try to make my breakfast a pretty filling meal; my days can be very varied with long rehearsals or last minute appointments, so I’m never entirely sure how much time I’ll have to eat during the day. Breakfast is my me time, so, consequently, I’m not only tailoring my eating habits to my physical well being but my mental and emotional wellbeing too.

 

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I’m also an avid food lover and enjoy cooking when I can. If I have time to indulge in the kitchen, I will; it’s actually super relaxing for me and I’ve always found flavour combinations incredibly interesting. In working out how to get the best results out of my body, my dietary scope has in fact widened as my culinary creativity has increased. I love to adapt recipes from my favourite chefs (Ottolenghi, Sarit Packer, Olia Hercules) to fit with how I like to eat.

I usually substitute, sugar for maple syrup or agave; small grains or couscous for for cauliflower rice, buckwheat or quinoa; wheat flour for ground almonds or chickpea flour. Even meat or fish recipes can be made vegetarian, with tofu, eggs or meat free products (taste-wise, it’s necessary to do some reshuffling with the other ingredients, adding and increasing some of the defining flavours of the dish, but that becomes easy with practice).

 

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Protein as my focus

Central to my diet is protein. Speaking to The Huffington Post, I explained:

“I tend to eat lots of protein-based foods, such as eggs and tofu. I’m vegetarian, so I make sure my protein intake is sufficient anyway, however, I’ve realised that I can train much more efficiently on a larger amount of protein in relation to the other food groups.”

I’ve already mentioned a few protein sources that are my go to options as a vegetarian; others are nuts, seeds, tvorog (a Russian dairy product similar to cottage cheese, only milder), cheese, edamame, other soya products (such as tempeh), beans and pulses. Classical dance, plus the other forms of fitness I supplement my training with, puts a lot of pressure on my joints and my muscles; eating enough protein at every meal is really important for keeping me injury-free.

Smart snacking

My favourite snack is raw chocolate for the same reason I drink coffee; it’s a light snack that gives me a boost of energy from the caffeine and it tastes really good. I snack a lot, especially if I’ve not had long to eat throughout the day; this can also be fruit and nut bars or fresh fruit. In every case, the bars and chocolate are raw as these don’t usually contain refined sugar.

As a self professed foodie, trying the myriad of fabulous restaurants, new and old, around London (and anywhere else for that matter) is the ultimate treat for me. I love trying new things, and, if something is being lauded as the best in it’s field (think, Shakfuyu’s French toast with matcha soft serve ) then I absolutely must give it a go firsthand. You only live once; why let opportunities pass?

With one day a week off, I prioritise recovery.  Maybe I’ll sleep for a chunk of the day but I usually make time to cook some comfort food for myself to help me unwind and relish the chill time.

If you’ve found this article useful, why not head over to my main blog page for more tips on ballet training, my masterclasses and mentoring and check out my Instagram here.

 

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