Autumn is here, and that can only mean: 1) you’re back in school, 2) you’re enjoying something pumpkin-spiced, and 3) it’s time to start gearing up for Nutcracker season!

With auditions right around the corner, your schedule is bound to fill up with weekend rehearsals and time-constrained study breaks (don’t forget about those!). Between striving to execute the challenging choreography and working to maintain your GPA in school, it’s essential to power your brain with optimal fuel. To best prepare for this upcoming season, consider this a quick guide to creating the most nutrient-dense, brain-boosting power bites for your performance—both on and off the stage.

Tip #1: Find Overall Balance with Your Plate:

When it comes to fueling for the job, creating a balanced plate is the first step to optimal performance. As a practicing dietitian, however, I continue to see a great deal of hype circulating in the dance world around fad diets and trendy meal plans. Whether you’re restricting carbs, overdoing the protein, avoiding dairy, or limiting any other food group- I can assure you that unless it’s for a medical reason, it will do more harm than good to your long-term success. Restrictions create an overwhelming landscape for poor eating habits and further instill an unhealthy relationship between your mind, your plate, and your body.

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On the cellular level, your body is designed to burn carbs for energy. Furthermore, your brain requires glucose, which is the main sugar found in most carb-containing foods. If we deprive our body of that fuel, it will turn to other sources—like breaking down your hard-earned muscle mass. Choose high fiber complex carbohydrates from minimally processed sources like oatmeal, quinoa, faro, and grain-based minimally processed breads. These complex carbohydrates allow for a more stabilized energy release, keeping your blood sugar and fuel levels burning for longer periods—in other words… you won’t feel drained after one rehearsal! Additionally, include carbs as part of a balanced meal with protein and healthy fats to promote an increased production of serotonin in your brain. This balance eases anxiety levels, allowing you to relax at the audition and pick up new choreography at a faster pace

Tip #2: Freshen’ Up the Fruit Intake

As your rehearsal schedule picks up in momentum, your body’s metabolic rate will naturally increase. This coincides with a natural build up of stress and inflammation throughout your body. Counteract this exercise-induced stress by including a variety of fruits. Fruit contains anti-oxidative compounds like vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, which work to slow the inflammatory damage. Additionally, berries are high in ellagitannins, which support the brain’s memory control center, thus helping you to remember the steps!

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Tip #3: Nuts and Seeds are the Way to Be!

If there’s one macronutrient that needs a relationship makeover, it’s fat. Fats should NOT be feared. Healthy fats, or those found naturally in plant foods like nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and olives are powerhouses of antioxidants. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, which acts as a structural component to cells helping to protect against oxidative stress. Furthermore, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and natural nut butters are great sources of brain-boosting vitamin E.

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Quick Snacks for Optimal Brain Power

1)     Protein Plus Tuna Sandwich Create a protein-packed tuna salad by mixing a 3-oz serving of tuna (packed in water) with 1 tablespoon of whole milk Greek yogurt (alternative to your standard mayo) with chopped celery and dill. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, and spread on 2 slices of toasted whole grain Ezekiel bread.

2)     Pair cherry tomatoes and other freshly cut veggies with hummus or guacamole. Tomatoes are high in a potent antioxidant called lycopene, while avocados are full of monounsaturated fats, contributing to healthy blood flow and mental clarity.

3)     Add a minimally processed snack bar to your daily routine in order to keep hunger and energy levels stable. Suggested favorites include: LARA bar, KIND bar, Naturally Clean Eats Bar, and JonesBar.