What a Nutcracker Ballet Dancer Eats in a Day
How Jenelle Manzi fuels to combat health condition and get through her busiest season
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It’s 7:30 a.m. on a December morning in New York City. Ballet dancer Jenelle Manzi is already moving through her morning routine of water, coffee, breakfast, and a quick meditation. Even though it’s the early hours of the day, she’s already preparing for this evening’s performance of “The Nutcracker.” In the midst of her busiest time of year, Manzi feels energized, fueled, and ready to take on the day.
It’s taken Manzi 10 years to get to this point— to feel healthy, strong, and confident in her body.
Manzi started dancing with the New York City Ballet at the age of 16. But at 18, Manzi was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. Known commonly as stretchy skin condition, it makes her joints overly flexible and more prone to injury– not ideal for a professional ballet dancer.
As a result of Ehlers-Danlos, Manzi spent years burdened with inflammation and food allergies.
“The hardest period of my life was when I was diagnosed with Ehlers,” she says. “I was literally relearning how to walk in a pool in college, not knowing if I was ever going to be able to dance again.”
It wasn’t until Manzi started seeing a holistic nutritionist, meditating, and practicing yoga that she started to relieve some of her symptoms. Nutrition is one of the most important factors in keeping her body healthy and strong.
We wanted to know what a day in the life of a professional ballerina is like, so Manzi took us through her routine.
A Day in the Life of a Ballerina
Breakfast like a Ballerina
Manzi wakes up around 7:30 a.m. and chugs a big 28-ounce bottle of water before sipping on coffee with almond or oat milk. Breakfast is usually cream of rice with collagen and plenty of fixings (flax, almond butter, maple sugar, goji berries, and pumpkin seeds). The inclusion of collagen is important. Research shows that the supplement may increase flexibility and strength in connective tissues, potentially reducing joint pain.
When she wants to mix things up, she’ll opt for Breadblok sourdough bread with almond butter, cinnamon, banana and honey.
After she finishes eating, she does a 10-minute meditation using the Parasetter, a foam rolling tool that utilizes a shallow breathing technique. She then spends a few minutes scrolling through her email, before heading to the studio to squeeze in a warm-up before class.
Refueling Recovery Snack
Because it’s performance season, class begins at 10:30 a.m. and lasts an hour. Afterwards, Manzi will either have almond butter with a banana or a shake with blueberries, bananas, almond milk, collagen, glutamine, and flax.
“It’s all about protein and recovery,” she says. But unlike other professional athletes, Manzi doesn’t turn to a tried-and-true protein powder. “I’ve tried so many protein powders and have yet to find one that doesn’t hurt my stomach.”
Since her schedule is unpredictable, Manzi embraces her status as a “certified snack queen.” Due to the on-call nature of her job, it’s difficult for Manzi to plan when she’ll have her next meal. For instance, she might be slated to have a three-hour break for lunch, but if someone gets injured, she may be asked to dance. In an instance when she can’t go home to eat, Manzi is stocked up on nut mixes, nut butters, bananas, and even her own product, Get Golden bars.
Get Golden, Manzi’s snack bar company, was born out of necessity. With such short breaks during her day, she needed a nutritious snack to munch on while changing her pointe shoes.
“I always found most bars gave me stomach aches because they were filled with whey proteins, additives and just crap for your body,” Manzi says. “Before I even started the company, I’d make bars on my living room floor and put them in tupperware to bring to the studio.”
Her bars are made from organic ingredients: almonds, pecans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and coconut butter. Unlike many processed bars on the market, Manzi wanted to keep the ingredients pure and simple with as few additives and fillers as possible.
Lunch is always the same: a sandwich on my gluten-free sourdough bread with lean protein (grilled chicken or turkey), avocado, radicchio, and goat cheese. She drizzles this epic creation with olive oil, hot honey mustard, and a pinch of salt.
“It’s very basic and settles well in my stomach,” Manzi says. “No intense amount of garlic and none of those complex spices for me. Personally, it’s a no-go.”
Dinner (and Dessert) for a Dancer
Sticking to her mantra of simple eats, her dinner is usually a bowl of greens with avocado, white rice, sweet potatoes, and a lean protein. Occasionally, she’ll switch it up by cooking some Banza pasta with romano cheese and broccoli. But regardless of the dinner, there’s always room for dessert.
“I love sweets and chocolate,” Manzi says. “I make my own fudge squares with collagen and have that with tea.”