Food for Thought

What fuels Houston Ballet dancers during The Nutcracker? You might be surprised

What fuels Houston Ballet dancers during The Nutcracker? You might be surprised

Houston Ballet, The Nutcracker, Sugar Plum Fairy, Sara Webb
"Lots of protein!" says principal Sara Webb. "I have found that eating extra protein helps my muscles recover faster. A trip to Becks Prime the night before a Sugar Plum performance is sometimes a must." Photo by Amitava Sarkar
News_Nancy Wozny_new dancers_Houston Ballet_Melissa Hough
Melissa Hough admits, "I am also a bit of a cookie monster. I love Christmas cookies!" Courtesy of the artist
News_Nancy_Allison Miller_Ballo della Regina
Allison Miller, here in Ballo della Regina, says, "I make sure to give in to my sweet tooth regularly, whether it is with a Crave Cupcake or homemade cookies. I don't make it through the day without a stop (or two) at Catalina Coffee." Photo by Amitava Sarkar
News_Nancy_new choreographers_Oliver Halkowich
"With two shows per day, Nutcracker time is all about keeping the energy up," adds soloist Oliver Halkowich. "I find that a heavy protein diet keeps me going longer, so I’ll start with eggs and some delicious Revival Market bacon for breakfast." Photo by Zuzana Leckova/Art Institute of Houston North
Nancy, rehearsals, August 2012, It was in a rehearsal watching Joseph Walsh that I decided he would be a principal soon. He was promoted to principal a few months later
"Whenever The Nutcracker rolls around, I find myself looking for a food source that can give me sustained energy," says principal Joseph Walsh.  Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Houston Ballet, The Nutcracker, Sugar Plum Fairy, Sara Webb
News_Nancy Wozny_new dancers_Houston Ballet_Melissa Hough
News_Nancy_Allison Miller_Ballo della Regina
News_Nancy_new choreographers_Oliver Halkowich
Nancy, rehearsals, August 2012, It was in a rehearsal watching Joseph Walsh that I decided he would be a principal soon. He was promoted to principal a few months later

Houstonians love the holiday tradition of Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker. More than one million folks have seen the holiday classic, choreographed by former artistic director Ben Stevenson, that celebrates its 25th anniversary this season. 

And while you might go once a year, the dancers have to perform the ballet over and over and over again throughout the program, which runs through Dec. 30, with two shows on some days. It is a grueling performance run for the dancers.

So what do all those thin dancers at Houston Ballet consume to get them through The Nutcracker?

A lot. A lot of protein, a lot of carbs and . . . a surprisingly sweet treat.

 While most of us trying to stay slim and trim, particularly during the holiday season, existing on perhaps 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day, these dancers need more. 

While most of us trying to stay slim and trim, particularly during the holiday season, existing on perhaps 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day, these dancers need more.

"Calorie needs are variable but a petite adult female dancer may require 2,000 to 2,200, whereas the men can require 3,000 to 3,500," says  Houston Ballet nutritionist Roberta Anding. "Fueling your body with high-quality fuel not only helps performance but can safeguard the immune system."

So what, exactly, are they eating to keep dancing as fast as they can for all of those performances?

"Lots of protein!" says principal Sara Webb. "I have found that eating extra protein helps my muscles recover faster. A trip to Becks Prime the night before a Sugar Plum performance is sometimes a must.

"And, it is that time of year, so extra sweets too. Many dancers and friends will kindly bake, create and share irresistible treats with all of us in our dressing rooms to help us survive the run of Nutcracker performances. It is not uncommon to see dancers grabbing a cookie on their way to the stage for an extra boost of sweet energy, myself included."

Cookies!

"With two shows per day, Nutcracker time is all about keeping the energy up," adds soloist Oliver Halkowich. "I find that a heavy protein diet keeps me going longer, so I’ll start with eggs and some delicious Revival Market bacon for breakfast. Then almonds and a banana before the matinee."

"I used to religiously walk over to the Hard Rock Cafe between shows and throw down a burger and fries, but my metabolism isn't what it once was and now I conservatively go for a kale salad with roast beef, avocado and cranberries" Halkowich continues. "And if I give a good evening performance, I treat myself to a few scoops of Häagen-Dazs."

Yeah baby! Ice cream is the way to roll.

But back to real nutrition.

Balance . . . with the occasional treat

"A well-balanced diet is crucial for dancers, especially at this time of year," says demi soloist Allison Miller. "I always keep a bottle of Odwalla Superfood in my fridge, and packets of Emergen-C are on hand for when I begin to feel worn down."

 ​"A well-balanced diet is crucial for dancers, especially at this time of year," says demi soloist Allison Miller. 

Oh, but wait, she also says: "I make sure to give in to my sweet tooth regularly, whether it is with a Crave Cupcake or homemade cookies. I don't make it through the day without a stop (or two) at Catalina Coffee."

Coffee and cupcakes — man, I wish I could burn off those kinds of calories.

"Whenever The Nutcracker rolls around, I find myself looking for a food source that can give me sustained energy," says principal Joseph Walsh. "Besides the usual balance of carbohydrates and protein, I am a big fan of kale, kombucha and chia seeds. Kale gives me power, kombucha (a fermented sort of tea) gives me energy, and chia seeds (from a South American mint plant) sustain that energy."

"Kombucha is an ancient elixir that has made a comeback recently," Walsh explains. "I find it is better that chugging down a bunch of Emergen-C packets in order to keep away the flu. Whole Foods Market has a monopoly on Houston Ballet, almost every time I visit I see someone I know from the ballet."

Walsh is an amazing dancer, but what kind of healthy diet is that? No ice cream, no cookies, no cupcakes? Come on, you can burn it off.

Oh, and then there's first soloist Melissa Hough, who also subscribes to a healthy diet.

"I try to keep my diet full of lean proteins, fish, chicken and eggs, wheat pastas and lots of veggies," she says. "During Nutcracker, this is no exception, although I end up eating a lot of eggs due to convenience and comfort."

But, Hough admits, "I am also a bit of a cookie monster. I love Christmas cookies!"

There's my girl!

And if you're going to see The Nutcracker this season, you can dine at the Encore Café at the Wortham Center pre-curtain. They offer a great pasta and salad bar and made-to-order gourmet wraps. And while they have some sweets, you may have to make friends with the dancers to get at those homemade Christmas cookies.

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