A Dancer’s Guide to Healthy Eating While Healing

July 26, 2023

Injuries undoubtedly pose some of the greatest challenges in a dancer’s career. Time spent away from the studio, missed performance opportunities, and changes to both your technique and body can compound the physical pain and mental distress. While balanced nutrition can play a crucial role in preventing injuries, it’s also an important part of the recovery process. A healthy approach to eating during recovery involves an abundance and a variety of foods that offer the body tools to support tissue repair, muscle building, energy replenishment, and immunity. In addition to nutrition, it’s important that dancers focus on mindset—and the ability to stay motivated and confident—during injury recovery. Though it might seem easier said than done, dancers can use this time as an opportunity for exploration and growth, with these three strategies.

Challenge the “Eat Less” Mindset

Be wary of assuming that the body needs less food when dancing less. Sure, your physical expenditure—the energy usually spent during a busy dance schedule—is lower. But your body still needs enough calories from food to function and heal. If you’re coming from a place of restrictive eating, you might notice more extreme signs of hunger, despite dancing less. A spike in your appetite isn’t something to feel concerned about. In fact, it can be recognized as a sign of your body’s need for nourishment.

Fueling Resilience

Typically, a dancer’s schedule is saturated with classes and rehearsals that dictate where and when it’s possible to eat. The ability to rely on appetite cues like hunger and fullness can get lost. During recovery, try to allow for a more loosely structured and flexible eating schedule, especially if you’re struggling to eat consistently throughout the day. Look for recipes that sound appealing and incorporate three macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Prioritizing these components will boost the nutrient profile of your meals and can help you feel satiated.

Allow Food to Pave a New Purpose

Developing a healthy relationship with food is central to maintaining your mental and emotional well-being. Take advantage of having more free time by spending it in the kitchen experimenting with recipes, trying new flavors, and slowing down to appreciate what you’ve created. Sitting down for a meal, perhaps with friends and family, is a more attainable goal when your schedule isn’t packed. Set aside the screens and tune in to the tastes, flavors, textures, and aromas of your meal.

Focus on Function

The nutrients of recovery

Food can be a valuable tool in injury recovery. Consider these quick tips when you’re constructing meals and snacks for recovery. 

  1. A meal rich in fibrous complex carbohydrates helps to offset any digestive discomfort that you might experience while dancing less. Try adding whole grains like rice, quinoa, or whole-grain bread to meals. A side dish of roasted vegetables or a handful of roasted chickpeas are additional ideas. 
  2. High-protein foods like meat, poultry, fish, yogurt, cheese, milk, and eggs are known to support muscle repair and, when incorporated into an otherwise balanced meal, help to sustain energy and fullness. For plant-based eating, a variety of protein-rich foods like legumes, grains, veggies, and fruit can provide the essential nutrients needed for tissue recovery. 
  3. While some degree of inflammation is a natural part of the healing process, excessive amounts can delay it. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. These unsaturated fats can be found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, along with nuts, plant oils, chia, avocado, and flax. Try topping toast with avocado and sprinkling flax into a smoothie. 
  4. Colorful fruits and vegetables will also boost your intake of key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support the healing process. Toss a handful of spinach into your next smoothie for a nutrient boost.