How to Fuel for Peak Performance During the Holiday Season

December 1, 2022

Planning for optimal performance isn’t just important this winter, it should be a priority. Whether you’re dancing in Nutcracker, a winter workshop or a studio showing, nutrition will play a key role in optimizing your full potential onstage. Many dancers struggle with mastering the delicate balance of fueling for performance while navigating a busy schedule of long rehearsals, weeknight performances, holiday events and, for some, final exams. Without a supportive eating routine, you can be left feeling fatigued and increase the possibility of getting injured.

To move productively through a busy winter performance season, consider these four tips.

Eat Enough

Hunger cues often go unnoticed by dancers, especially when schedules become saturated with performances and holiday plans. While you might not immediately notice the negative implications of eating too few meals or snacks each day, you’re likely to be left with diminished energy reserves and appetite dysregulation. This can ultimately cause extreme hunger cues at points later in the day and, with the holidays approaching, can lead to eating past a point of physical comfort. Simply put, eating solely when you feel hungry isn’t going to support a rigorous performance schedule. Instead, construct a proactive fueling plan. This means eating meals and/or snacks regularly throughout the day—every two to four hours is a general recommendation.

Focus on Timing

Though your day-to-day is likely to feel a bit micromanaged this time of year, the timing of meals and snacks can make the difference between feeling energized versus feeling sluggish onstage. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel source. But the type of carbohydrates you choose, and when you choose to eat them, will make a difference. Complex carbohydrates from sources like whole grains, whole-grain breads and fibrous winter veggies offer more sustained energy levels to support longer periods of dancing. As you get closer to curtain call, you’ll want to prioritize easily digestible carbs from foods like cereals, pretzels and fruit. These options will help to top off energy stores for your body to utilize onstage.

Prioritize Recovery

Winter performance schedules can be grueling, leaving little time for rest and recovery. When possible, take advantage of days off. But even on days when you’re less active, you’ll still need to fuel sufficiently: Temptations to fight a natural rise in hunger cues can risk your nutrition status and challenge your relationship with food. Consider using rest days as an opportunity to make up for nutrient gaps that might crop up during performance days. Experiment with new recipes that aim for a balance of the three macronutrients—carbs, protein and fat, and, when feasible, include colorful fruits and veggies. This combination will offer protein to support muscle synthesis, carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen, and anti-inflammatory agents to support metabolic demands. With a little planning, you can also prepare nutritional options that are easily packable for the week ahead. Meal prep doesn’t have to be complex—but the added effort can provide you with a variety of balanced meals and snacks.

Swap Self-Control With Self-Care

A full performance schedule during the holiday season often leaves dancers little spare time. The predictability of a regimented routine can offer a sense of comfort, but it can also run the risk of tempting performers to strive for heightened levels of control, both around their schedules and their eating routines. Instead, consider the function of food in supporting your dancing capabilities. Nourishing your body with regular meals and snacks is a form of self-care, along with experiences like eating at cast parties and enjoying holiday meals. Striving for guilt-free permission to partake in these opportunities will support your longevity as a dancer and your well-being as a person.