The Life Of An Elite Ballerina: How She Eats and Exercises

American Ballet Theater's Isabella Boylston shares her daily diet and exercise regimen. ?

When juggling busy careers and lives, it's not always easy to find the time to hit the gym or prepare a healthy meal. For inspiration, we're asking influential women in a variety of fields to share a typical day of eats and fitness, to see just how they balance a healthy lifestyle with their jam-packed schedules. American Ballet Theatre's principal dancer Isabella Boylston, whose repertoire includes iconic roles like Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and the lead in Giselle, walks us through a day in her life, ahead.

I typically wake up around 9 a.m. and I try to always eat a pretty hearty breakfast whenever I have time. I love eating any kind of eggs in the morning with toast, that's kind of my staple. If I have time to have a sit-down breakfast, I'll really go for it with eggs and pancakes. This really hearty meal is from Grey Dog, which is one of my favorite breakfast spots. So, if I have time for a leisurely breakfast, I'll go there and get the Grey Dog's breakfast, which has a little bit of everything—scrambled eggs, French toast, fruit, and the chicken sausage is really good. I know it's probably not what people expect ballerinas to eat. I think people are usually surprised when they see how much we do eat in reality!

After breakfast, I head to ballet class, which is how we start our day. It's an hour and a half and basically for warming up and conditioning and working on perfecting your technique. I do it every single day, especially if I have a show. It's like a daily meditation, it gets you in touch with your body and gets your mind and body focused and in tune. 


I also rehearse every day–on an average rehearsal day I probably dance between six to nine hours a day. It's a lot. Definitely keeps you in shape. Usually, our rehearsals are from 12 to 7 p.m. on days we don't have a show. If I do have a full-length, three-act ballet show like Swan Lake that day, then I'll take class and maybe do like a little bit of rehearsal, but usually not more than an hour or so. I want to save my body. 

This salad is from Sweetgreen. It's so good: kale, arugula, potatoes, mushroom, red cabbage, and white cheddar and apples with whole wheat bread. I don't eat a salad every day for lunch, I'll eat a sandwich too, but I feel like a salad really packs in the vitamins and minerals so I try to eat salad at least once every day either for dinner or lunch.


Lunch could be any time, whenever I have a break. Sometimes, I'll just be stuffing my face as quickly as I can in between rehearsals if I don't really have a break. But, I always try to eat three solid meals a day and if I do snack, I'll usually eat fruit or I'll have dark chocolate with sea salt. I also definitely have two cups of coffee a day first thing in the morning and after lunch, too.

I do physical therapy basically whenever I have free time, usually right after class. I have a persistent knee problem that's really annoying, but it's really typical that dancers are dancing through minor injuries, unfortunately. I do a stim treatment and there's an electrical charge so it gets circulation going and also gets the [anti-inflammatory corticosteroid cream] to pass through your skin into the tendon. 

I don't work with a trainer. There's a gym in ABT, so I just go there and the exercises that I have are usually given to me by the physical therapist. They're an important part of injury prevention.  Planking is a really good core exercise. You can just hold that plank for 30 seconds or up to two  minutes. If you do it correctly, it works your abs, your back, your butt–it's harder than it looks! The other exercise that I do a lot is the bridge where I'm laying on my back and my pelvis is lifted. That really gets my butt and lower back going. It's a great stability exercise and helps you so that when you're dancing, you use both sides evenly.


I'll do these exercises maybe three times a week, when I've had a lighter day or if I had some sort of pain going on. A lot of the injuries that we get come from working asymmetrically. So, I try to do exercises that balance out my symmetry so my body is working really evenly.


This exercise on the bosu ball is really, really hard, but I've sprained my ankle so many times and at a certain point, I was just like "Okay, I need to start doing some major stabilizing for my ankles." The bosu ball really helps with that. I try to do ankle stabilizers every day.

At ABT, we have massage therapists in house so I get a massage once a week usually at the end of a day. Here, the therapist was working on my hips, trying to get it relief. 

I'll take a nap in the afternoon and then wake up and get my favorite pre-show food: pasta. I eat pasta before every show, about 5 hours before so I have time to digest it, and usually at a restaurant. When, I get really nervous before the show, so then it's kind of hard to eat and I find bananas to be one of the most palatable things–also coffee, like I'll drink a coffee while I'm putting on my makeup.


I❤️NY! Photo by my friend @karolinakuras dress by @andforlove

A photo posted by Isabella Boylston (@isabellaboylston) on


I'm unfortunately not much of a cook, so I either rely on my husband to cook for me or I just go out to a restaurant although pasta is the one thing I do know how to make. My neighbor, also one of my best friends, made that pasta, spinach, and salmon dish for me. It's just olive oil, salt and pepper, and lemon. Really simple. People think like pasta and bread are so evil! I think if anything, probably the thing to stay away from is sugar. I don't eat a ton of sweets, if I'm craving sugar I'll eat it, but it's not a normal part of my diet, except for dark chocolate.

I usually eat a couple bananas before and during the show just to like keep my potassium level up because you just lose so much energy in one act, so I try to replenish at the intermission and I'll also drink water or Gatorade. Coconut water is really great, too!

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