If you think your holiday schedule is jam-packed, consider the demands on a Radio City Music Hall Rockette.
Called the "hardest working women in show business," the troupe performs 32 shows a week during the holiday season. Two dance companies share the load in New York City, but an individual Rockette can dance as many as five shows a day, starting at 9 a.m.
And the 90-minute "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" includes 45 minutes of dancing, including those famous eye-popping high kicks. During lightning-fast costume changes, the dancers are handed cups of water much like you see when long-distance runners are pushing through the miles.
"It really is a marathon," the Rockettes' head athletic trainer, Elaine Winslow-Redmond, said.
So when someone asks if dancers are athletes, she is quick to reply: DEFINITELY, YES!
Winslow-Redmond should know. She was a Rockette herself for 11 years before becoming head trainer. She also has a master's degree in nutrition, so in addition to keeping dancers on their feet, she keeps them eating healthy. That's essential if dancers are going to keep up with the crazy pace, she said.
Dancers May Eat Too Little
Dancers often underestimate the amount of calories they need, Winslow-Redmond said. It can take some convincing to get a dancer to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread, even though it's the perfect, power-packed snack.
When you're dancing all day long, "that's not going to make you fat. It's going to replenish what your body used," she said.
Her top recommendation for the Rockettes is simple: Eat a breakfast packed with energy and nutrition. She suggests a spinach omelet (the recipe is at the end of this article) plus whole-grain toast. Once the dancers arrive at the theater, there's not much time to eat.
The time between shows can be as little as an hour and, after so much exercise, sometimes the dancers don't feel like eating. But Winslow-Redmond encourages high-quality snacks, such as a banana, yogurt, or a handful of nuts.
The dancers drink sports drinks between shows, but never energy drinks because they contain too much caffeine. And soda is a definite no-no. "Don't even bother," Winslow-Redmond said. "It's just wasted calories."
The Rockettes eat lunch during a longer break. According to Winslow-Redmond, pasta salad with chicken, tomatoes, and mozzarella makes an ideal lunch during these busy, dancing days. Dancers get protein (chicken) along with the carbohydrates in the pasta, and vitamins from the tomatoes.
And after the Rockettes have finished their long day of dancing, Winslow-Redmond recommends a serving of lean red meat. That's also a hard sell with some of the dancers, but it's a great source of iron and can combat anemia.
Other good dinnertime choices include a grilled chicken breast with a baked potato (leave the skin on) or whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce and veggies, such as zucchini, yellow squash, and asparagus.
Shows Get More Demanding
The "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" has drawn thousands of people every holiday season for the last 75 years, but the longstanding tradition has changed a lot over time, Winslow-Redmond said. The Rockettes are on stage more than they used to be and their routines are far more physically demanding.
This year, that's prompting her to add a nutrition lecture to the Rockettes "training camp." She thinks better nutrition can prevent injuries and help dancers recover more quickly if they do get injured.
The Rockettes need to see food as necessary fuel that will help them achieve peak performance — just like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps does. "He's ideally fueling his body," Winslow-Redmond said. "That's exactly what they need to do."
Rockette Jacey Lambros takes her nutrition seriously. Find out how she prepares to hit the stage.
Born in Oneonta, N.Y., Jacey Lambros moved to New York City after graduating from college with a degree in psychology. Since moving to NYC, she's been an NBA dancer for the New York Nets, has appeared in several commercials, and was a dancer in the Disney film "Enchanted."
Lambros calls being a Rockette "a dream come true." In addition to dancing, she loves learning about fitness and nutrition. "Being healthy has helped me become a successful dancer," she said.
Here's what she had to say about eating right:
What's your favorite healthy food? This is a tough one to narrow down. If I had to pick only one it would be peanut butter ... no, hummus! The roasted red pepper flavor — soooooo yummy! You can dip anything in it ... carrots, pretzels, pita crisps, just to name a few. (If you haven't had it, hummus is a dip made from a mixture of pureed chickpeas, sesame paste, garlic, and other seasonings.)
What is your favorite pre-performance meal or snack? My favorite pre-performance snack is a tangerine vitamin C drink and a scoop of almond butter alone ... or almond butter on an apple. Sometimes, I even make ants on a log ... you know, when you fill celery with almond or peanut butter, then put raisins on it.
What's your favorite post-performance meal or snack? Ooh, that's easy — a banana, for sure. I usually have a banana and some source of protein. Usually a handful of nuts. During the season I make a giant container of trail mix, with raisins, yogurt chips, pretzels, almonds, and peanuts.
What's your favorite junk food and do you limit how much you eat? Pizza! Pizza! I can't get enough of it. I limit myself by rewarding myself with it on the weekend, usually Fridays. I also opt for the thin-crust margarita style and load it up with veggies. Some places even offer a whole-wheat crust. I also have a slight obsession with peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.
Have your eating habits changed since you were a kid or teen athlete? Yes, they have definitely changed since I was younger. I was never a particularly bad eater, but I always ate waaaay too many sweets. My mom would catch me eating spoonfuls of sugar from the jar. Now I eat for energy and strength. I wouldn't call it a diet but rather a lifestyle change. I have learned how food affects my moods, my energy, and my performances.
Any food advice for kids and teens who are working hard at learning to dance? Yes, eat eat eat. Don't fall into the bogus beliefs that dancers don't eat or need to be rail thin.
Eat eat eat. Load up on healthy proteins, and colorful produce. Carrot sticks are fun, peanut butter crackers are great too! Make a trail mix of your favorite healthy snacks: nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, cereal ... anything ... be creative. Stay away from soda and other sugary drinks. Be sure to load up on water before, during, and after dance classes or rehearsals.
Winslow-Redmond recommends this breakfast to Rockettes who have a long day of dancing ahead. It includes whole-grain carbohydrates (the wheat toast), lots of protein from the eggs, plus the powerful vegetable that Popeye made famous: spinach.
Rockette-Powered Breakfast for Two
What You Need
1 cup torn, fresh spinach
3 egg whites
1 egg with yolk
¼ cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese
Splash of low-fat milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Whole-grain toast, lightly buttered (choose bread with 3 or more grams of fiber per slice)
Equipment and Utensils
Nonstick skillet or omelet pan
What to Do
Coat the nonstick pan with cooking spray.
Combine three egg whites and 1 egg in medium bowl. Whisk.
Whisk in a splash of low-fat milk. Set aside.
Add torn spinach to heated pan. Cook until wilted.
Add egg mixture to pan.
When eggs start to firm up, sprinkle with shredded cheese.
Add salt and pepper to taste. (The cheese will make it salty, so you won't need much.)
Fold over omelet or just cook eggs scrambled-style.