Ever wondered what ballet dancers eat to maintain their strong but elegant physiques? Their jam-packed training sessions and back-to-back performance schedules can be gruelling, so how do they nourish their bodies? And how strict are their diets? Céline Gittens, a principal dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, takes us through her eating and exercise regime on a typical training day.
A cup of Yorkshire tea with milk, eggs and avocado on granary toast, plus one multivitamin.
"The UK is known for its love of tea, so I had to find my favourite [Céline moved to Birmingham from Vancouver, Canada, in 2006]. I have a cup each morning with my eggs on toast. It's really great to have eggs for a source of protein and long-lasting energy to carry me through the morning. I’ll have avocado as well - that’s usually quite a good fuel for my day - and I take a multivitamin daily. After eating, I get to work at 9.30am. I'll do a 45-minute pilates session followed by an hour and 15-minute ballet class, which is focused on stamina building.
Banana or oatcakes, a diluted juice with salt.
"Once class is over, I'll go into the first rehearsal of the day. Before this starts, I like to have a banana to keep my energy, focus and brain power going. Sometimes I'll have oatcakes - another great source of energy.
"Water is the number one thing I drink during training. I also like to have a juice with a pinch of salt mixed with water post activity - it's a good rehydration drink as I sweat a lot! I sometimes have coconut water too - it's great for replenishing the minerals lost in the body."
Cheese sandwich with lettuce and shredded beetroot or a chicken pasta with stir-fried vegetables, and fruit on the side.
"Our lunch break is an hour. It's enough time to eat and digest before we start dancing again. Although we have a really good canteen that offers a lot of healthy options, I always bring in my snacks and lunch from home. As well as being a money saving strategy, I also think it's best to cook to make sure you get all the nutrients you need. I'll have a cheese sandwich with lettuce and shredded beetroot, because it's a good source of protein and carbohydrate, or chicken pasta with stir-fried vegetables. I have really cut down on refined sugars, so after lunch I'll have a piece of fruit or something sweet."
Handful of nuts or a banana.
"We have one or two 90-minute rehearsals in the afternoon, so I'll snack on nuts or a banana in-between these to keep me going until we finish for the day at 6.30pm."
Grilled salmon with salad or chicken with stir-fried vegetables.
"During a regular training week, I try not to eat too many carbohydrates in the evening. I’ll have some grilled salmon with salad or chicken with a stir fry. It's different when I'm performing. I'd have something more substantial like a pasta bolognese after a show."
Things to avoid:
Refined sugars and skipping meals.
"I try to stay away from refined sugars and fizzy drinks. As the body tries to process the sugar, it really puts on extra strain - it's something that us athletes could do without.
"After a performance, I might occasionally have a Coca-Cola if I'm really craving it. Sometimes you have to listen to yourself. But I think the most important thing is not to skip meals if you're trying to keep healthy. You need to keep your metabolism going and when it stops being fed, it slows down and can make your body hold onto weight."
When she's not training:
Doughnuts and walking.
"My days off and summer time are more relaxed. I usually go home to Vancouver and I’ll try out the amazing doughnuts or I’ll eat whatever I’m craving at that time. My diet isn't as restricted as when I’m training and while other dancers try other forms of exercise such as cycling, I choose to rest rather than taking on a different training option. The most I would do is go for a walk."
"It takes a lot of discipline and time to change your eating habits – planning is key if you want to stay on track and reach goals of cutting out naughty foods. In the end you get into that routine and it has good effects.
"I would also recommend exercising at least twice a week – it doesn’t have to be running a marathon, it could just be walking or cycling somewhere you would usually use a car or public transport to get to. Anything that is active can be fun, especially if you exercise with friends. Then you have a support group when you don't really feel like working out."
From Harper's Bazaar UK