As anyone who’s ever attempted a barre class knows, being a ballerina is hard work. Considering what your body feels like after one hour of pliés and arabesques, just imagine what it must be like doing those kinds of moves for 12 hours straight during rehearsal. Obviously, there’s a reason why the elusive “ballerina body” has traditionally been held in such esteem.
But thanks to clichés set by movies like Black Swan and Save the Last Dance, you may believe these bodies are built from undereating. So not the case. These athletes are dedicated to both exercise and diet. “In order to maintain stamina for optimal performance, it is very important for ballerinas to properly fuel their bodies,” says Devon Teuscher, a Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre who’s currently gearing up for the ABT’s opening gala on October 18th. “We are high class athletes and need to treat our bodies as such. In my opinion, diet not only sustains a dancer’s ability to perform, but also plays a key role in avoiding injury and providing longevity in one’s career.”
So, what exactly does a ballerina eat in a day? I asked three, all of whom are preparing for the ABT’s fall season, what they use to fuel their rehearsal days. And, as they all admit, it’s a lot more than you probably think. Their diets involve lots of water, protein, coffee, and, yes, carbs.
Devon Teuscher, Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theatre, @devon.teusch
“A typical day for me really depends on my schedule. What is consistent, though, is that I am generally eating on the go.”
Breakfast: “I tend to hit the snooze button in the morning. I like my sleep. So, I keep breakfast simple most mornings with decaf coffee with almond milk and a whole wheat tortilla and almond butter wrap. It’s a good source of protein and complex carbs that will get me through a strenuous class, as well as being portable and easy to eat while walking my dog or heading to the subway.”
Mid-Morning Snack: “Before rehearsals, I try to grab a handful of nuts, like almonds, and an apple or banana to keep my energy up … I eat a banana every day. The potassium is very good for your muscles and alleviating cramping.”
Lunch: “I tend to steer clear of a big meals because I don’t like to feel too full or sluggish during rehearsals. I will often eat leftovers from the night before or grab something small and quick from Pret-a-Manger. On the occasion I am lucky enough to have a long lunch break, I do enjoy sitting down with a friend and ordering a salad with chicken or fish, or some sort of healthy wrap.”
Afternoon Snack: “Near the end of a long rehearsal day, to keep my blood sugar up, I often reward myself with a sweet treat. I have a pretty big sweet tooth. A chocolate chip cookie fulfills my craving, as well as motivates me to give it my all at that last rehearsal, which can be really hard at the end of a full day.”
Dinner: “Dinner is where I eat my most substantial meal of the day. Unfortunately, I’m not particularly good about cooking, but I’m lucky to have a boyfriend—and fellow dancer—who enjoys it. We love tacos! Our deal is that he cooks, I clean up!”
“Contrary to popular belief, ballerinas do eat! We burn energy dancing throughout the day, so it is vital that our caloric intake keeps up with our expenditure.”
Breakfast: “I have never been a big breakfast person, but understand the school of thought that says it’s the most important meal of the day. For this reason, I will start my day with a ‘fitness and protein’ smoothie from abcV, a restaurant conveniently located next to American Ballet Theatre’s studios. This way, I can jumpstart my day with something in my stomach without having to force myself to eat when my body doesn’t feel like it.”
Lunch: “If I am lucky, I will go out for my favorite egg and cheese sandwich at Beecher’s, a cheese shop next door. Often though, I will work overtime from 10:15 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. without stopping, in which case I will pack something in the morning to snack on during the five minute breaks or have a friend grab something for me to eat.”
Snacks: “My favorite snacks are Kind bars and Luna bars, both of which are tasty and easy to pack. I also enjoy eating fruits and nuts—all excellent sources of energy and nutrition that won’t make a mess in the studios”
Dinner: “My favorite thing to make these days is quinoa with pesto sauce and parmesan cheese. It is delicious and nutritious!”
Hydration: “Of course, I drink as much water as possible to replace the fluids I’ve lost sweating throughout the day. I think I’m an oddball in the sense that I don’t drink tea, coffee, soda, or anything with caffeine. I like the idea that I don’t have a dependency on these drinks, though it must be nice to have that extra boost to help wake yourself up.”
“Every class and rehearsal requires our bodies to be ultimately prepared, and the extra demand and excitement of performances warrants an extra boost. I feel very clearheaded and up to any challenge when my body is well nourished. I eat a lot every day. A dancer constantly needs to replenish! My metabolism is high, and I’m always hungry.”
Breakfast: “A typical day starts at home with a cup of hot tea, yogurt with cereal, and a banana. Sometimes I grab a breakfast croissant from Pret-a-Manger if I leave home for class early enough.”
Mid-morning Snack: “After the daily morning class, I’ll have an apple or some dried mango.
Lunch: “For lunch, I have to have meat or I will crash before the day is over. I’ll typically get a sandwich with turkey or chicken and veggies, or a salad with grilled chicken.”
Afternoon Snack: “The day continues with several rehearsals. During the short breaks, I reboot with either some almonds, fruits, popcorn, granola bars, or some teddy grahams.”
Dinner: “When the workday is over, I’ll head home to cook dinner—typically turkey or chicken and at least once a week, a fish of some sort. On the side, I add a carb and veggie. My faves are sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, pasta, and rice; for veggies, usually broccoli, green beans, or spinach. I eat dinner. And every night I’ll have a dessert, whether it be a cookie or some ice cream. I love dessert, and I don’t shy away from it.”
Hydration: “I drink mostly water, but the Caribbean blood in me craves freshly-squeezed orange juice and mango juice. One thing I have to remember when traveling on tour or when the humidity is low is to drink extra water to be well hydrated.”