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fueling excellence: energy requirements for dancers

Did you know that the energy requirements (often stated in calorie numbers) you see listed for the average person, or even the average athlete for that matter, aren’t actually adequate for the physical demands dancers place on their bodies every single day?

Unconvinced? It’s ok, I get it!

What we tend to see in the media, and even some older dance nutrition-focused books (or single chapters in dance books that talk about nutrition in very outdated ways) suggest that dancers take their BMR and add X number of calories to determine their daily personal energy requirements. This is not only incorrect but actually can be quite harmful to your performance AND longevity! Let’s break this down.

What is BMR?

BMR is the acronym for Basal Metabolic Rate. It’s an educated guess of your energy requirements/daily caloric needs for life sustaining activity. Life sustaining activity is essentially a day of you laying in bed, watching Netflix. No standing, no eating, no drinking, no going to the bathroom, simply regular breathing, and other “life sustaining activities” needed while chilling on the couch.

If you Google “how to determine your BMR,” you’ll notice that the automated calculators require similar inputs to if you were calculating your BMI (body mass index), which I’m realizing we also need to discuss in the blog. To make a super long rant short, BMR and BMI are incredibly superficial determinants of health, and no where near the best way for you to determine your daily energy requirements.

Figuring our your BMR goes beyond height, weight, and age (that’s how it’s an educated guess, as I mentioned above). Other vital factors that are vital to consider are genetics, family history, body composition (muscle + fat mass), hydration status, sleep quality + quantity, physical activity + rest, and so much more.

So if BMR is an educated guess…

How do I know if I’m reaching my daily energy requirements?

There are some pretty obvious symptoms you might experience if you’re not meeting your personal energy requirements on a regular basis.

  • When sleeping, do you wake up sporadically for an unknown reason?

  • Do you feel really groggy and it takes you additional time to really wake up in the morning?

  • Have your energy levels generally hit a slump no matter the amount of caffeine you consume?

  • Are you experiencing periods of extremely high energy and periods of extremely low energy over the course of your day?

  • Are you noticing new and annoying aches and pains that aren’t usually present?

  • Do these aches and pains persist even when you do your normal body care routine (like warming up, cooling down, stretching + foam rolling)?

  • Are you continually feeling weak even though your cross training/strengthening routines have helped you feel strong and boost muscular tone before?

If you answered yes to any, some, or even all of these questions, it’s a good idea to take a look at the what, how, and when of your food + nutrition habits. Chatting with your dance nutritionist is a great first step. If you’d prefer to try something on your own first, maybe start by eating breakfast, adding a pre-class, and/or adding a pre-rehearsal snack and see what happens to your responses to the questions above.

Not meeting your daily energy requirements overtime, worse issues are likely to arise. These are symptoms that dancers really don't want to experience because they decrease your performance longevity, things like increased risk of injury, loss of bone strength, decreased muscle mass and strength, reduced immune health, and other things like hair loss, poor sleep, chronic fatigue, and more.

Consistency is your key to success, and don’t let some arbitrary number determine whether your daily food habits are adequate for your high levels of dance training and performance.

While writing this blog, I got about 15 bajillion ideas for new blog posts so stay tuned for more on similar topics like BMI, calories, body weight, body composition, and more!


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I'm a Nutrition Educator & Wellness Coach based in and serving Washington, DC and the DMV region. My lifestyle-focused method has successfully helped clients achieve personal results and enhance athletic ability, eMpowering performance in class, rehearsals, and on-stage. As professional dancer myself, I have gained nutritional balance and improved my own relationship with food through many years of practice and a Masters of Science in Nutrition from University of Bridgeport. I bring this depth of personal and academic experience to a variety of clients, particularly performance athletes and fitness enthusiasts. In my spare time, I teach yoga and manage Ballet Embody, a professional contemporary ballet company.
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