Misty Copeland has been an inspiration on and off the stage for years. Her performances draw large crowds — and the American Ballet Theater’s spring season debut at the Metropolitan Opera House next week will be no different.
In her new book, “Ballerina Body,” Copeland shares her approach to healthy living. While none of us will ever be the first African-American female principal dancer for American Ballet Theater (that historic position has been filled), we can get an inside-look into how such a phenom eats and moves to sustain that caliber of expertise. “Ballerina Body” breaks down Copeland’s approach to nutrition and exercise, and offers guidance and inspiration so that anyone can emulate it.
IN PRAISE OF FAT
“One of the greatest secrets I have learned over the course of my career is that fat — eating it, absorbing it and burning it for energy — is key to building the muscle and providing the strength so important for ballerinas and all elite athletes to perform at such a high level for hours, day in and day out,” Copeland writes in her book.
Until recently, fat was thought to be taboo. On Copeland’s journey to better nutrition, she’s learned many things by trial and error. “I’ve since come to understand that fat burns fat. To put it simply, you need certain fats to cancel out the stubborn bulges that pop up around your belly, your thighs, and your hips.” She advises, “it’s not the kind of fat loaded into the doughnuts and corn chips I used to love so much. It’s the good fat — full of omega-3s — that flows through fish like tuna, sardines and, my favorite, salmon.”
Copeland became a pescaterian after meeting her now husband. She gave up meat cold-turkey, and she continued to experiment with her diet. “Along with a small portion of fish, I began to fill my plate with vegetables when I wanted something more substantial, or I’d grab a handful of pistachios when I felt a small snack was enough. I soon noticed that even though I was eating much less, I’d feel full and go to bed satisfied.”
So, what kind of fats are considered good fats? “Certain types of fish, and other omega-3-packed items like flaxseed oil, are kinds of wonder foods, experts say. Not only do they burn fat and build muscles, but omega-3s also can pump up your levels of serotonin, that natural, feel-good brain chemical that also gets a boost when you meditate or exercise.”
Another great thing about fat? “Fat also fills you up. I’ve realized that firsthand,” Copeland says.
BUILDING A MEAL
In the chapter, “Eating for Energy,” Copeland addresses the fact that the meals and recipes in her book are higher in fat than those seen in other eating plans. She groups food into two categories: Act I and Act 2 foods. Act 1 foods are the main ingredients: animal protein, plant fats and beneficial oils. These should be included in every meal and be the sole food source for breakfast. Animal proteins provide building blocks called amino acids for manufacturing muscle. Plant fats like nuts are Copeland’s mainstay snack for a “quick spike of energy.” As far as beneficial oils go, Copeland gravitates toward olive oil, coconut oil and flaxseed oil. She says olive oil “is one of my favorites to cook with.”
READ MORE > MISTY COPELAND’S PASTA-FREE ZOODLES PRIMAVERA
Then there are the Act 2 foods that play the supporting role with prominence in fiber and should be included in lunch and dinner. Think: vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu, breads and pastas. Copeland includes these in her daily diet. As far as fibrous starches like beans and lentils, Misty consumes these regularly in limited amounts.
Overall, her tips boil down to these six:
- Don’t skip meals.
- Eat only until you’re satisfied.
- Avoid “problem” foods.
- Eat a variety of foods.
- Stay hydrated.
- Enjoy two snacks every day.
In the chapter entitled “Meal Choreography,” Copeland shares how she plans her meals with a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat.
For breakfast, she suggests pairing her signature bran muffins with high-fiber blender jam, 6 ounces of Greek yogurt and coffee or tea.
For lunch, Copeland’s basic formula of Act 1 foods with Act 2 vegetables means a salad like her colorful shrimp caesar salad or Mediterranean wraps with garden pesto.
Dinner mirrors lunch with an added starchy plant food (Think: grilled salmon, green beans and brown rice).
Shop Misty Copeland’s favorite Under Armour gear.
As for those two snacks, Copeland relies on fruit to satisfy her sweet tooth. Instead of going for peanut butter cookies, Copeland will “grab a piece of fruit for an energy boost and something refreshing to nibble on.” For a hit of protein, a hard-boiled egg is portable and effortless — yogurt and cottage cheese fill the bill, too. Sushi and oysters or kale chips cover the more gourmet-minded.
Learn more about Misty’s time-tested exercises and eating plan in her new book “Ballerina Body: Dancing and Eating Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger, and More Graceful You,” available now.