• Going Vegan as a Dancer

    There are so many dancers who are curious about different ways of eating. Today, let’s explore going vegan as a dancer!

    So, can dancers be vegan?

    Becoming vegan or vegetarian is a trend in the dance world. Many dancers are automatically health conscious because our bodies are our instruments, so nutrition plays a role in our performance. On the other hand, dancers also have the tendency towards perfectionism. Restriction, dieting, food rules, and “clean” eating are ways that dancers exercise control over their bodies. When this happens, it can affect our nutrition, body image, and relationship with food. 

    I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that dancers should or should not be vegan or vegetarian. That is a completely personal decision and one that can be exercised in a healthy or unhealthy way. In fact, being vegan or vegetarian does not make someone ”healthy”. So, I want to talk about how dancers can thrive on a plant based way of eating and how intuitive eating can be incorporated into it. I want to show the right way that dancers can be vegan and still have a balanced, mindful approach towards eating. 

    What does being plant based/ vegan/ vegetarian mean?

    Labels can get confusing, so let’s define some terms. Someone who is vegetarian does not consume meat, poultry, or fish. They eat all fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts seeds, dairy products, eggs, and any other foods from plant sources.

    A vegan chooses to forgo animal products all together and relies only on foods that are from plants. There are also more restrictive variations of veganism that eliminate foods like oil, salt, grains, beans, or even cooked foods altogether. These are steeped in diet culture and often create unnecessary food rules based. When talking about veganism, I am referring to a well rounded, balanced, vegan diet that doesn’t eliminate foods beyond animal products.

    Many vegans also consider veganism to be a stand against animal cruelty in all sectors of the environment, protesting textiles like leather, down, snakeskin, fur, and other products. This extends to cruelty free, non-animal tested products under the premise of doing no harm. People might also choose to remove animal products from their diet based on finances, environmental concerns, and personal preference. 

    Plant based is a more blanket term that can cover both veganism and vegetarianism. It’s focus is on eating all or mostly plant foods with the possibility of supplementing in some animal products as needed.

    Going vegan as a dancer, or vegetarian, or plant based doesn’t have to be restrictive, but I want to also talk about the right and wrong way to go about it. 

    My personal experience with going vegan as a dancer

    I want to share my personal story and journey with veganism because it highlights the right and wrong way a dancer can go about becoming plant based. I first tried veganism after a knee dislocation injury in 2014. During my time off, I researched anti-inflammatory foods and ways of eating. I read articles and watched videos about veganism, and I also heard testimonials from individuals who were able to heal their relationship with food while being vegan. More of that in a later post. 

    Ultimately, I discovered that I really like eating vegan. Going vegan as a dancer ended up pretty easy because I loved the foods I was eating, and I didn’t really miss any animal foods. Looking back though, I was still trying to eat too “cleanly” and I was adopting similar food rules to what I had before. When I started dancing professionally that fall, I started eating all foods again. I wasn’t feeling satisfied and fueled, and I wanted to feel more “normal” when going out to eat or eating with friends. 

    After a year, I noticed that I didn’t feel my best after eating animal products. So for the next few years, I started eating more plant based meals. I was not as restrictive as before, but I still held on to a lot of food rules made me feel guilt and anxiety surrounding what I ate. 

    Over the past three years, I have slowly been learning how to have a healthy relationship with food, without restriction, through intuitive eating. I continue to eat plant based now because that is what feels best for my body for now and I don’t crave animal products. I LOVE plant based foods. I genuinely look forward to the foods I eat and I do not restrict macronutrients, calories, or processed foods. 

    All that being said, I am never going to put myself in a box and say that this way of eating will be the best for me for the rest of my life. A few years ago, I was really craving eggs. So after I had a few eggs over the course of a week, that craving went away and I haven’t wanted them since. But that could change. I also don’t want to be flexible in situations where I want to try a certain food, or if I am being hosted in someone else’s home. 

    Intuitive Eating and going plant based

    I truly believe that when we listen to our bodies, follow a balanced approach to eating, and follow our hunger cues and cravings, we will not only enjoy our food, but we will also be able to fuel our bodies with proper nutrition to fuel our dancing. Going vegan as a dancer is not for everyone. It’s a decision that is individual to you! It is also not all or nothing. You might enjoy having a plant based breakfast before dance, or you might enjoy eating fewer animal products, but you don’t have to eliminate all animal foods when trying a more plant based style of eating. 

    Dancers can still eat intuitively while being vegan or vegetarian by listening to your body’s cravings and cues, and by paying attention to your hunger and fullness and satiety levels before, during, and after meals. Intuitive eating also means listening to your cravings for what your body really wants to eat and enjoying that food without shame or guilt. This means it is important to focus more on how your body feels rather than trying to manipulate your physical appearance. If eating vegan or vegetarian makes you feel strong, fueled, and at your best, then great! 

    Why you shouldn’t go vegan as a dancer

    This brings me to reasons and circumstances in which dancers should not go plant based. If you are struggling with disordered eating or food rules, eating plant based can become another way to exercise control over what you eat and can reinforce negative eating patterns and behaviors. Some dancers decide to try veganism because they see it as a “healthier” or “cleaner” way to eat. This can also lead to disordered eating patterns and anxiety surrounding food decisions.

    Dancers might also choose veganism in an effort to look a certain way. Again, I do not encourage dancers to become vegan or vegetarian if their reasoning is purely physical. This can lead to a poor relationship with food and with your body because physical change is held above how food makes you feel. Pursuing veganism or vegetarianism under any of these circumstances can lead us away from intuitive eating because we are potentially trying to override our body’s cravings and cues. 

    Last thoughts on going plant based

    If you decide to go plant based as a dancer, it is important to take a careful look at the reasons why you want to go vegan or vegetarian. Is it aligned with your internal cravings and cues, or is it based on food rules and control? 

    It is also important to talk to your doctor or nutrition professional about what is right for you. They can monitor your health markers to be sure that you are receiving the proper nutrition that your body needs. A medical professional can also request any required blood work to detect and correct nutritional deficiencies that you might currently have or ones that you might develop in the future. This does not mean that dancers who go plant based will be nutritionally deficient, but some thought and careful planning might be required for certain nutrients. 

    Like with any diet change, I want dancers to take a look at their reasons and priorities for doing so. Ultimately, every dancer is different and has different nutritional needs based on taste, energy expenditure, stress and activity levels, and so much more. For some, going plant based may feel natural because it follows what they intuitively want. For other dancers, it might feel too restrictive. The great thing about intuitive eating is that you can choose the foods and way of eating that is right for you!

    You can watch my video about this topic HERE.

  • Nutrition for Dancer Recovery

    Nutrition always plays an important role in a dancer’s overall health. During an injury though, it is even more crucial to receive proper nutrition for dancer recovery. Successful injury recovery focuses on a dancer’s physical, mental and emotional health so that they can return to the studio with a strong mind and body. 

    Why community is important in recovery

    When it comes to an injury, every dancer’s path to recovery is going to look different. This also includes their nutrition. For dancers, injuries can be devastating, which is why it is  important for you to have a supportive community during your recovery. Physical therapists, nutritionists, counselors, families, and friend groups can all aid in healing. For me personally, I started What Fuels a Dancer to be a resource to dancers and provide nutrition advice to help dancers improve their relationship with food and with their body while pursuing adequate nutrition.

     I know not every dancer might have access to a nutrition professional who has personal experience dancing professionally, which is why I am so passionate about helping other dancers. Today, we are going to talk about three guidelines and specific recommendations for nutrition for dancer recovery.

    Focus on fueling your body, not depriving it

    When dancers are injured, many crave to have structure and control during the recovery process. Often, this turns into dieting, restricting calories or becoming obsessive over food. Many dancers are praised for coming back “skinnier”, but this can lead to unhealthy food behaviors that can be detrimental to injury recovery and your future health. 

    Instead, focus on tuning into your hunger cues and food cravings, no limiting foods, food groups or cutting calories. During the recovery process, you want to work with your body to gain your strength back. This means that you need to be fueling your body with the appropriate macronutrient and micronutrient intake so that you can come back to the studio physically and mentally ready to train.

    Try new things when it comes to food

    When we are dancing, it is easy to get into the habit of settling into certain meals and foods that we know work for our body. Instead this is a great time to experiment with different foods, and trying new meals and snacks to see what your body loves.

    For me, I have always loved oatmeal as my breakfast before dance. I can change it up every day to be warm or cold and have different toppings to satisfy my taste buds. Recently, I have been trying out more savory breakfasts with veggies, potatoes, tempeh, tofu, avocado and toast. As it turns out, sometimes my body really loves having a savory meal in the morning, and it keeps me fueled and energized all morning.

    Work on your relationship with food and your body

    If you are experiencing an injury or unexpected time off, it is normal to become critical about the physical appearance of your body. Instead, shift your focus to change your views on what you think your body should look like as a dancer and focus more on how your body feels and functions. 

    We all know that ballet has some unrealistic and unhealthy body standards. Many dancers feel the need to undergo drastic measures to mold our bodies to this aesthetic. We can be so caught up in what we see in the mirror, that we forget to truly enjoy dancing. Having time away from the studio is a great opportunity to focus on repairing your relationship with food and with your body. We have a break from being in a leotard and tights in front of a mirror for eight hours each day, which gives us the space to change our thought patterns and behaviors surrounding our body. 

    This is not easy by any means, so having friends, family, and professionals who support you and provide encouragement and healthy feedback can help you during this change. It can even be helpful to change who you follow on social media. Follow dancers of all shapes and sizes as well as accounts that promote a positive body image and a non restrictive way of eating.

    Nutrition basics

    So, let’s talk about specific nutrition for dancer recovery.

    Make sure you are balancing all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. I have more in depth posts about each one of them here. So if you want to learn more, be sure to check those out. I also have a download that I created to make nutrition easier for dancer recovery! You can find that resource here! 

    Nutrition for Dancer Injuries

    Specifically when it comes to injury recovery, protein helps to combat muscle deterioration, also called muscle atrophy. You will lose some muscle when you are injured, but we want our nutrition to support and keep building those muscles as much as possible. Protein can also help repair injured muscles and prepare them for growth for when you are able to go back to normal activity.

    Carbohydrates, especially complex carbohydrates, are important for muscle energy as well as it helps your body process protein. Carbohydrates all help with muscle recovery. 

    Fat, especially unsaturated and omega 3 fatty acids, lubricate our joints and muscles. They are also great to reduce inflammation and swelling and improve circulation and scaring. 

    Lastly, water is always important for hydration. During an injury, it especially helps with circulation and waste removal to aid in injury recovery. 

    Micronutrients for recovery 

    Once you have macronutrients down, there are some vitamins and minerals that are especially important during the recovery process. Vitamin C helps keep your skin, bones, and soft tissue in good condition. We can find this in foods like cherries, yellow peppers, parsley, spinach, kale, kiwi, broccoli, oranges and strawberries.

    Calcium helps to repair bones, like in a fracture, and makes sure that your bones stay strong. Calcium is in foods like yogurt, milk, chia seeds, beans and lentils, almonds, greens and tofu. 

    Vitamin D helps to support and absorb calcium. It also supports your immune system and helps to reduce inflammation levels. We can get vitamin D from the sun, always making sure to follow safe sun practices, but we can also find it in foods like fortified milk, salmon, tuna, eggs, mushrooms, oats, and other fortified foods.

    Iron helps your body produce red blood cells and collagen, which aids in bone regeneration. Iron is in foods like spinach, beans and legumes, red meat, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, broccoli, tofu and fish. 

    Magnesium helps preserve a healthy nerve and muscle function as well as it helps in bone production. There are several foods we can find magnesium in like avocado, dark chocolate, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds and whole grains. 

    Omega 3 fatty acids help with inflammation levels to reduce swelling, improve circulation, and help prevent scar tissue build up. Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in foods like salmon and other seafood, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans. 

    Potassium regulates muscle contractions and helps with proper nerve function. We can find it in foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, spinach, orange juice, bananas, avocado, salmon and  coconut water. 

    Lastly, antioxidants help our bodies speed up the healing process, help prevent cellular damage, and may also help with inflammation levels. We can find antioxidants in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. Just like with any macronutrient, it is important to diversify our intake of food so that we can make sure we are getting all of the nutrition that we need.

    Make sure to download the nutrition for injuries page to keep handy and help guide meals and snacks during your recovery process. There is not a magic food or meal plan that will make your body heal quickly and with total ease. Your recovery will also look different from other dancers. All of these are okay! Your injury recovery should be about strengthening your body, mind, and spirit so that you are ready to enter back into the studio healthy and refreshed. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me here!


  • Feeling Bloated During Dance

    Bloating. We all experience it. It’s not necessarily fun, but feeling bloated during dance occasionally is something that is normal and natural for us to go through!  It does not mean that we are “bad” or “unhealthy”, and sometimes it happens due to factors that are completely out of our control. We are going to explore what bloating is, why bloating can happen, ways to deal with bloating, and how we can still eat intuitively. 

    As a dancer, I am no stranger to feeling uncomfortable in a leotard and tights with the tight, uncomfortable feeling of a bloated stomach. It’s hard to think about jumping and holding your core, when your stomach hurts and you feel gassy. While it’s not possible to eliminate bloating, intuitive eating has helped me to identify what foods or combination of foods cause my stomach to be uncomfortable. And it has also taught me that it’s okay to not have a flat stomach! (I can definitely talk more about that later!)

    So, what is bloating?

    Bloating is when your gastrointestinal tract is filled with air or gas. Your stomach might feel full, swollen, hard, or painful. A small amount of bloating is totally normal as our body is digesting what we are eating, but there are many different factors that can contribute to uncomfortable bloating. The three main common triggers are digestive issues, what foods we eat, and hormonal changes. I am not going to dive into digestive disorders, because there are so many other people who are way more knowledgeable than I am, but some of these include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), food sensitivities and allergies, and other gastrointestinal issues.

    While everyone experiences temporary bloating from time to time, if you are someone who feels bloated all the time, I would highly encourage you to talk to your doctor and a nutrition professional about what you are experiencing. They will help you find if there are any underlying issues, chronic symptoms, allergies, or intolerances that are affecting your digestive system. This is especially important if you are not able to eat enough and if bloating is masking your hunger cues.

    Bloating also happens for us women during our menstrual cycle because of hormone changes and fluctuations. Stress can also affect our digestive system because it can upset our hormone balance and it can also make it harder for our bodies to digest foods that we normally have no issues with. While we can somewhat control our stress levels, we cannot control the fact that our hormones fluctuate for our menstrual cycle to function. 

    Bloating can also occur based on what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat.

    Overly salty or fatty food, and eating too much sugar can cause some bloating. Does this mean that we need to avoid these foods altogether? Absolutely not! But, we can think about it intuitively – more on that a little later. There are also specific foods that might cause some people to have more bloating if your body is not used to digesting them – beans, cruciferous vegetables, dairy, or large quantities of whole grains are some of those foods. Caffeine, which can over excite the digestive tract, and carbonated beverages, which are filled with carbon gas to create bubbles, can also cause bloating.

    Bloating can also happen with disordered eating. If we have not been eating enough, or if we have been restricting certain types of foods or whole food groups, it is likely that we will experience digesting distress when we go back to a more normal way of eating. We can also experience bloating when we eat large quantities of food at one time, eat too little, eat too quickly, fail to chew our food fully before swallowing, etc. There are so many factors that can contribute to bloating, and each individual is different!

     Again, I am going to say that it is normal to experience bloating after eating, so you might feel bloated during dance occasionally. Our digestive system produces gas when breaking down food, and it is normal to swallow some amount of air when eating or drinking. Personally, I experience more uncomfortable bloating when eating right before bed, during my menstrual cycle, eating rich foods or a big meal, if I have caffeine on an empty stomach, if I wait too long to eat, if I am not consistently drinking enough water, not sleeping well, and stress. You might experience bloating with completely different factors, and that’s okay! Intuitive eating helps us investigate the food causes behind uncomfortable bloating. 

    When you are bloated, start taking notice of the scenario.

    Is it at a specific time of day? Is it before or after a meal? What foods did you eat? Did you eat too quickly? Have you been getting enough to eat? How is your stress? Have you been sleeping well? Take mental or written notes! This can help us to discover patterns between foods or food behaviors and bloating. This does not mean that we can never eat certain foods again, or that we have to figure out how to eat perfectly, but paying attention to how food makes us feel can help us find balance and reduce uncomfortable bloating.

    For example, knowing that having a rich meal can make me feel bloated, I will probably not opt for a burger or a curry before dancing, but afterwards, these are delicious options to replenish my body! For dancers, it is helpful to pack easily digestible foods like eggs, sweet potatoes, avocado, crackers, rice, bananas, and yogurt to eat during a day filled with classes and rehearsals. Also, remember to pack enough food and eat at regular intervals to avoid intense hunger. 

    What are some ways to deal with uncomfortable bloating?

    Like intuitive eating, the methods that help to soothe your stomach might be different from your peers. Here are a few suggestions if you need a place to start exploring. 

    • De-stress – this could mean some light stretching, breathing practices, or whatever helps to put you into a relaxed state
    • Drink water
    • Go on a light walk
    • Try some yoga poses like supported bridge, hugging your knees to your chest, happy baby, spinal twist while lying on your back, and cat/cow poses
    • Give yourself an abdominal massage
    • Take a warm bath or use a heating pad
    • Drink peppermint tea or lemon ginger tea to soothe an upset stomach

    Bloating can be frustrating and sometimes difficult to pinpoint and to deal with, especially if you are having to dance in class and rehearsal with a painful, swollen stomach. But, this is totally normal to experience feeling bloated during dance from time to time, and I hope that you learned some tools of how to use intuitive eating to help! If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment or reach out to me here! Make sure to also watch my YouTube video down below