Summer Intensive Nutrition
Want to be ready for your upcoming summer intensive? Só Dança proudly partners with Atlanta Ballet, so we thought we’d speak to three its outstanding dancers to gather their advice and nutrition secrets. As a dietitian who has been working with dancers for over a decade, I love their different approaches. Their tips are honest, realistic, and they actually work!
What foods do you think are best for energy in the mornings before heading out to your classes in your summer intensive?
Keith Reeves is a seasoned professional with Atlanta Ballet who is dancing leading roles and has a clear appreciation of how much nutrition matters to a dancer’s success. Reeves states, “As I get older, I need things to fuel me.” For breakfast, Reeves enjoys smoothies, or eggs with garlic toast, and sometimes changes it up with yogurt, granola and bananas. He says that breakfast “really sets the tone for the day.”
Another dancer who knows the value of breakfast is Kaitlin Roemer of Atlanta Ballet 2. Roemer says, “I feel best eating some sort of carbohydrate-based meal in the morning before dancing or before movement of any kind. Carbs give my body energy! My absolute favorite and go-to breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal, which usually consists of the oats, soy milk (for protein) and whatever fat I have accessible (nut/seed butter, whole nuts or seeds). I also have my morning coffee, which rounds out my breakfast in the greatest way.”
Some dancers might wonder if coffee is okay. Sports nutrition research shows that low to moderate coffee drinking is fine. While moderate caffeine may improve performance in those accustomed to it, too much and you’re overstimulating the central nervous system, which can make dancers jittery and increase injury risk. Make sure you hydrate in addition to coffee and watch the sugar and fat content of fancy coffee drinks with whipped cream. Those are better as treats.
Samantha Schuermann of Atlanta Ballet 2 is also a huge fan of oatmeal and how versatile it can be based on the seasons or how much energy and protein you might need for your day. “I love adding a scoop of protein powder (Plant-based protein powder is my favorite; it makes the oatmeal super creamy.), plus some chia seeds into the oatmeal itself after it’s done cooking. The best part of oatmeal are the toppings! My personal go-tos are frozen berries, seeds (either pumpkin or hemp) and peanut butter. You can also make overnight oats for a quick grab-and-go breakfast. Plus, sometimes the last thing you want on a hot summer day is a steaming bowl of oats, so overnight oats are a refreshing alternative because they’re cold.”
What would your advice be for dancers who might be concerned about their weight and start restricting in order to look ‘summer-ready’? What does ‘being summer-ready’ even really mean for dancers?
Roemer says, “My best advice is to look at the very core of why we dancers participate in summer intensives in the first place. I can speak for myself in saying that I have always chosen to train at summer intensives to improve and fortify my dancing. It’s challenging to navigate the waters of aesthetics in ballet, but what I have come to learn is that the way to best be ‘summer-ready’ for any dancer is to prepare your mind to be open to new information and prepare your body to work hard and smart, while taking care by fueling, hydrating properly and giving yourself adequate rest. The objective is to bring home new memories and new knowledge, not a new injury!”
Schuermann states, “Trust me, I’ve been there and let me tell you, restricting is not the answer! You need food to fuel your body for a day of dancing, especially long ones at a summer intensive. In my opinion, ‘being summer-ready’ as a dancer means going into your summer program with confidence that you can push yourself to improve on areas of dance such as technique and artistry. Your main focus shouldn’t be your weight. Plus, going into a rigorous program without proper nutrition can quickly result in an injury like a stress fracture, which I don’t think anyone wants!”
Reeves wants dancers to know that “we need to make snacking for dancers okay. It’s amazing what a difference it makes.” The weeks before your intensive is not the time for a crash diet. It is the time to make strategic, smart, nutrient-rich food choices.
How do you remember to hydrate? Any tips or tricks that work for you?
Most dancers already know that the first two signs of dehydration are fatigue and poor balance, but remembering to make hydration a priority can be hard. Roemer finds that “the warmer weather during summer intensives encourages more hydration for me. I always use electrolyte tablets/powders to enhance the absorption of the water I drink, as well as include in my eating lots of hydrating fruits and vegetables. Bonus tip: incorporate water in your morning routine! I usually drink a glass with my vitamins and supplements, and add some additional to my oatmeal. This starts your body off with some hydration and helps ‘the systems’ run smoother throughout the day!”
Reeves does the same thing in the morning by drinking a smoothie, eating fruit, or sometimes making his own drink in which he boils chopped turmeric and ginger in water and then infuses with mint. He finds this helps with muscle soreness, and sports nutrition research backs that up. Schuermann admits, “I used to be really bad at staying hydrated, and it’s still a work in progress! However, I make sure to drink some water as soon as I wake up (even before coffee). I also carry my water bottle around with me wherever I go, and I try to sip on it every 20 minutes or so.”
What’s your go-to for a good recovery meal after a long day of dance at your intensive?”
“I love a big bowl-type meal,” Schuermann says. “For recovery nutrition, I make sure to get a good amount of carbs and protein, so I’ll start with a base of brown rice or quinoa, and a protein source such as tempeh, beans or chicken. Next, I add as many veggies as I can fit in the bowl! I love broccoli, spinach or kale, cucumbers, peppers, onion. The list goes on. Finally, add a good source of fat such as avocado, hummus or an oil (my favorite is sesame). One example of a dish I’d make would be brown rice, some sweet potato, BBQ-baked tempeh, corn, steamed broccoli and avocado (plus some hot sauce or sriracha because I like a little kick to my foods). It’s super delicious, filling and takes only about 20 minutes to prepare (if the rice is pre-cooked).”
The science backs up what Schuermann is doing. Getting protein within 30 minutes to one hour post-exercise has been shown to increase the muscle-building response. Getting smart sources of carbohydrates such as beans, lentils, rice, potatoes and whole grains in that same window of time builds muscle glycogen stores for the next day’s energy reserves. Having a plan for dinner when you’re exhausted is key, even if that means heating up a frozen meal. Dancers need fuel, nutrients, hydration and good sleep to maximize their summer intensive experience.
We have a unique partnership with Atlanta Ballet, providing the dancers with the highest quality tights and shoes in their own unique skin tones. To find out more, see read more here.