What should you eat before a performance? It can be challenging to find foods that give you the right amount of energy without weighing you down. But what's perfect for one person won't necessarily work for another. Every dancer has to experiment to find their own ideal pre-performance menu.
Dancer, Mark Morris Dance Group
Start strong: “I always start a show day with a great breakfast. I love steel-cut oats because they provide sustained energy. The night before, I'll boil the oats, then turn the heat off and let everything steep overnight. In the morning, I'll reheat them and add coconut oil, bananas, cinnamon and high-quality cultured butter or grass-fed whole milk."
Throughout the day: “After breakfast, I stick to smaller meals: a few unsalted pistachios or a little whole-milk yogurt for bursts of protein."
Advice: “Once when I was 16, before dancing Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, I only ate a bowl of Raisin Bran and lost steam by the end of the Rose Adagio. But there were also times early in my professional career when I ate too much—you don't want your body trying to digest onstage. Smaller, calculated, nourishing meals throughout the day are better."
Principal dancer, San Francisco Ballet
Pre-show meal and snacks: “If the ballet starts at 8 pm, I'll eat a meal that includes bread or cereal around 4 pm. After that, I'll keep my blood sugar up using something I discovered when I ran half-marathons: GU Energy Gel. It has minerals, vitamins, a little caffeine and some sugar. I also have drinks with electrolytes to avoid cramps or getting dizzy or tired."
Post-show dinner: “When I've had a good performance, I like to celebrate after with a nice salad, cheese and red wine."
Feeding the soul: “I always have a little dark chocolate before a show."
Advice: “It can be taboo in ballet to talk about food. If it's hard for you to find a balance between staying thin and fit but also having enough energy, speak to a nutritionist or a doctor. There's no shame in asking for help to be better onstage."
Principal dancer, American Ballet Theatre
Favorite pre-show meal: “A ham or turkey sandwich—something plain that will give me protein and lasting energy."
Dressing-room snacks: “I often get a banana and a chocolate chip cookie in case I need a bite during the performance. I drink Gatorade or, if it's a particularly difficult show, these electrolyte drinks called Sqwinchers, which keep cramps away and give me extra energy."
Timing: “If I'm dancing something I'm anxious about, I'll eat no later than two hours before—two and a half hours is perfect. Otherwise, I can eat within an hour of the show."
Nutrition inspiration: “After once dancing with a huge weight in my stomach from eating half a cheese quesadilla and some tomato soup, I started researching how tennis players eat. Tennis is comparable to ballet—it's anaerobic, with intense bursts of activity. I use their eating habits for inspiration."
Ensemble, Broadway's On Your Feet!
Vegan values: “I've been vegan for six years. I've learned that even if I eat something small, I need to make sure it has nutritional value."
Favorite pre-show meal: “A quinoa bowl with black beans, spinach, red cabbage, corn and avocado. It's delicious and light, and gives me energy."
Dressing-room snacks: “Raw almonds, a banana with peanut butter or almond butter, or green juices with fruit."
Tip: “When it's a two-show day, I need a good breakfast—scrambled tofu with avocado in a gluten-free wrap, or oatmeal with bananas, walnuts, maple syrup and raisins. The biggest thing I've learned is to not eat a big meal in between the shows."