Health & Body

Your Body: Working out with Julia Erickson

The principal dancer moonlights as a nutrition entrepreneur.

Erickson fuels performances by snacking all day. Here, in Giselle. Photo by Rich Sofranko, courtesy PBT.

With five feet eight inches of svelte muscle, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson is celebrated for being quick on her feet and light in her carriage. Outside of Pennsylvania, though, she may be most well-known as the dancer who created Barre–A Real Food Bar with her husband, Aaron Ingley. The pair began selling the vegan whole-food energy bar in 2010 because Erickson got so many requests from colleagues who wanted to buy her homemade snacks. Today, the bars are carried by approximately 400 retailers across the country, including natural food outlets, dance studios and stores.

Erickson chose every ingredient based on snacks she eats in the studio—things like dates, nuts and rolled oats. “It has the perfect combination for me of slow- and fast-burning carbohydrates, protein, fiber and natural electrolyte replacement," she says. “You're not going to flame out, but it's not going to make you feel overly full." Erickson often snacks on half a Barre before a rehearsal to fuel her dancing and half immediately after to replace nutrients for her muscles.

Just as she is meticulous about what she puts in her body, Erickson also pays attention to how she challenges it. She practices yoga a few times a week to balance out the stress that dance places on her muscles and joints. “I like Bikram because it's not super-intense on the upper body," she says. “Mostly you are using your own body strength with calisthenics." She also attends the less-familiar yin yoga, which focuses on stretching in one position, such as the half pigeon, for as much as five minutes at a time. “It really goes beyond the muscle to the connective tissue," she says, “and I have found that it has been so helpful for me to even out the imbalances and asymmetries in my body."

Throughout her day, Erickson works out knots with a small, hard ball for her feet and a large, softer ball on her quads and back. “Sometimes soft is surprisingly more effective than mashing on the muscle with something hard," she says. Barre is currently seeking to expand its product line to include similar balls, as well as an all-natural dietary supplement and anti-inflammatory cream. The dancer-friendly items will soon be for sale at realfoodbarre.com.


Strong Hips, Healthy Ankles

A tear to Erickson's peroneus longus tendon (which travels outside the ankle and under the foot) last season forced her to work on the intrinsic strength of her feet with exercises like doming. “Through Gyrotonic, I also learned to focus on pelvic and hip strength," she says. “You can really use your pelvic floor to help your relevé, which reduces the impact on your foot and ankle."


Daily Meal Plan

Erickson cares deeply about how and where her food is sourced. “I've stopped eating anything low-fat," she says. “I've found full-fat makes me more in shape and definitely more satiated." Erickson also learned the hard way that healthful carbs are imperative to her performance.

Breakfast: A slice and a half of toasted rice bread with nut butter, whole-fat ricotta and blueberry jam with cinnamon. “It's like peanut-butter-and-jelly cheesecake," Erickson laughs. She pairs it with a cup of coffee with whole milk.

11 am snack: Plain yogurt with granola and sunflower seeds

1 pm snack: Grass-fed beef sticks or whole-wheat crackers

2:30 pm snack: A handful of almonds, cashews or pecans

4 pm snack: Barre—A Real Food Bar

Snack at home: Cheese (blue cheese or St. André) with whole-wheat pita chips

Dinner: She favors ingredients like salmon, sweet potatoes and avocados, but is open to all kinds of meat. Anything she makes is usually situated on a bed of greens.

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