Ask a Dance Dietitian: I’m Afraid of Eating Carbs!

June 6, 2024

I am afraid of eating carbs like bread, pasta, etc. Are carbs necessary for dancers? —Olivia

Thanks for this great question, Olivia. It’s one that underlines a major dilemma facing dancers: the harm of nutrition misinformation. With a barrage of food advice flooding our phones, it remains difficult for dancers to decipher nutrition truths from trends. But understanding the basics of nutrition science can help us dismantle the myths and challenge the fears surrounding this macronutrient.

In your body, carbohydrates are the major source of energy that fuel you physically and cognitively. Upon digestion, carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, cereal, pasta, rice, crackers, and fruit break down into their simplest form: sugar. Since sugar is fundamentally an energy source, it’s either used immediately to fuel your allégro or stored for later to delay the onset of fatigue after a week of rehearsals. Adding carbohydrate-rich foods to your day is the most effective way to replenish energy and keep your body primed for dancing.

potatoes baked with sesame seeds, herbs and spices in the oven in a ceramic form.
Getty Images.

Your brain also runs on carbohydrates, using them to enhance focus and concentration so you can pick up demanding choreography. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables provide a steady release of energy, while simple carbs like pretzels, candy, and baked goods offer a quicker onset—a jolt of energy to power your next move. While complex carbs are mostly encouraged to support longstanding energy, both types can fit into your meal plan. They also help spare nutrients like protein, which you need to rebuild muscle, because without ample storage of carbs your body begins to break down other macronutrients for energy. In the long term, this can have significant negative effects on your strength.

As you can see, carbohydrates are necessary for dancers. Many carb-rich foods like grains, cereals, and bread are also reliable sources of B-vitamins, which support your metabolism, and fiber, which helps keep digestion regular. To maximize all the benefits that carbs have to offer, I encourage you to incorporate them alongside foods rich in protein and fat. This ensures that you’re receiving the full range of necessary nutrients that support the longevity of your dancing. Pairing crackers with cheese, cereal with yogurt, and pasta with chicken or tofu are all examples of balanced options.

Have a question? Send it to registered dietitian nutritionist Rachel Fine at [email protected]. She’ll be answering questions on Pointe+ each month. Ask the Dance Dietitian responses are for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for individual medical or mental health advice.