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Irish Dance Timing - not your steps...when to eat!

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Irish dance nutrition; Irish dance training; Irish dance strength and conditioning

Let’s talk about timing… not of your dance steps but the timing of your food!

Many of the dancers I’ve had nutrition consultations with want to know what foods are best to eat before or during their long afternoons/evenings of dance classes, following a long day in school or on competition days. While fueling in these time frames is important I encourage them, and you, to not ignore the other important times – hours and, even, days before and following an event or dance class. To be your healthiest, strongest, and most focused, you’ve got to fuel throughout the day, not just before class or competition.

In my practice, I speak to many children and young adults who eat very light breakfasts and lunches, or none at all, due to limited time or social limitations (too many friends to talk to at school!). I agree that most schools do not provide students enough time to eat a healthy meal (and anyone who knows me will confirm that I am not naturally an early riser) but breakfast and lunch are critical times for providing adequate fuel for young athletes. Remember, young athletes are not only providing fuel for their increased activities and physical demands but also require adequate nutrition to promote healthy growth and development of mind and body.

Irish dance nutrition; Irish dance training; Irish dance strength and conditioning

Everyone needs a good balance of all five food groups (USDA MyPlate) which include the three main macronutrient groups that are critical for health, growth and adequate energy – healthy carbohydrates, protein and fats. Balancing the timing and proper energy requirements can be rather tricky between school, Target Training classes and evening dance class but doable when planning ahead. It’s also really important for fueling the young athlete to be a “team effort” – most parents are buying the food but it is incredibly frustrating to buy food that returns home in the lunchbox every day. And we’ve all been the kids looking in the lunchbox hoping that something else will appear. It can take some creativity and teamwork but working together with your parent or dancer can make the process much easier for everyone. 4 Top Tips to Fueling the Irish Dancing Athlete

Irish dance nutrition
  • Work as a team – talk to your parents about what healthy foods you’d like to see in your lunch box. I mean, I’d love to find a chocolate chip cookie in there every day but they are not really an ideal food for “fueling”. Be open to new ideas and work WITH your parents. Often, I hear from young adults that they “like a lot of healthy foods but [their] parents never buy them”. Ten times out of 10, the parents are shocked to hear this – trust me, if you’ll eat it, they’ll buy the healthy stuff. And dancers, you can help pack your lunches/prep breakfast the night before! Everyone is busy, especially the schedules of most dancers I’ve met. Work together to get your lunches packed and breakfasts planned. My kids prep the fruits, vegetables and dairy, I take care of the rest.

  • Plan ahead – Healthy eating takes planning. On weekends, my kids and I talk about what we think should be in their lunches that week, we head to the grocery and pack most everything on Sunday nights. I have a billion little containers that we fill with fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheese… anything! By prepping ahead, packing lunches on weeknights takes little time. And we talk about breakfast the night before so there is no crankiness, at least not about food, in the morning.

  • Try LOTS of new foods – Your palate, or taste buds, change over time. Just ask your parents – are there foods that they ate as kids that disgust them now? Are there foods that they dreaded when they saw them on the dinner table as a child but are favorites as adults? It takes 15-20 “tries” of a new food before you start to accept the flavor! That’s a lot more than most people realize. (And a “try” includes chewing it up and swallowing it – no spitting it out!). Be open to tasting new things – at least one per day. There are so many tasty, healthy things out there!

  • Make healthy eating a priority – Easier said than done, I know. I’m a dietitian so it is naturally a priority but I’m also a single-mom who works full-time and tries to still balance kids’ activities, school, working out and managing a bit of fun for all of us. I completely understand. By incorporating the prior three tips, you can make healthy eating part of your life more attainable. As a dancer who is also balancing school, training, friends, other activities, homework and more, it can feel overwhelming.

Be on the lookout for the next couple blog posts for ideas to help make fueling your life and dancing possible!


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Jessica Gahl Irish dance nutrition

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