When I was on the swim team as a kid, our parents would load us up with Little Caesar’s pizza the night before an event – ‘for the carbs’. I started off my mornings before practice with Toaster Struddles or Fruity Pebbles. Before, during and after practice I snacked on Teddy Grahams and drank endless, large bottles of what was basically Koolaid. It was the same on race days. Looking back, it’s a miracle none of us fell into diabetic comas, let alone survived a meet! But we were KIDS then, so we had endless energy and high metabolisms which seemed to made up for any poor nutrition habits.
Skip ahead, many years later when I was playing with my death metal band, KEVORKIAN, on the East coast. It was very drumming-intensive music that took every ounce of energy and endurance I had to play. I was maybe 24-25, working a full-time 9-5 job, and not getting ANY exercise outside of drumming. Plus, I was a single guy who didn’t cook; I was living solely on pizza, Hamburger Helper, White Castle, and general Tso’s chicken. I started noticing that it was increasingly harder to play at my usual energy levels. Sometimes it was hard just to make it through certain songs.
Around that time I met my wife who was/is a terrific cook; she even ended up going back to school for culinary arts and graduated as a chef! I learned a lot about nutrition from her, and she helped me tremendously in changing my eating habits for the better:
- I cut out soda and stopped drinking so much Red Bull on a daily basis.
- I cut most junk food and snacks out of my diet.
- I drastically calmed down on fatty, greasy foods like White Castle and General Tso’s Chicken and made those only ‘once in a while’ treats.
- I cut back on red meats and started eating better protein, like chicken and fish, as well as good carbs and vegetables.
- I even bought a juicer and was making vegetable/fruit juices almost every day.
I lost 10 pounds or even more. I no longer looked puffy and sickly from all the greasy junk food I had been living on. I felt better. I noticed I didn’t have 75% of the stomach issues I usually endured. I was generally MUCH healthier, even when the people around me were getting repeatedly sick. And best yet: when it came to my drumming, I once again had the high energy and endurance I needed to play my best! I wasn’t struggling to keep up at practices any more, and I didn’t feel totally drained after the first couple songs at live shows. I was able to focus on the show and my drumming instead of worrying about how exhausted I felt or how I was going to make it through the next song.
As I see it, as you get older, you tire faster. There are more daily stresses to deal with, you’re probably working a full-time job or more and people generally get less and less exercise. I used to rollerblade several hours every day when I was a student in Boston. That completely stopped once I got a car and started working full-time. Even the shift from part-time to full-time at my job took a noticeable toll on me, and I found myself much more tired at the end of the week. With musicians, it’s even more of a physical challenge to work a day job and then go play a high-energy, late show that evening. When you’re needing energy to play that show you’ve practiced so hard for, unfortunately White Castle and Doritos aren’t going to do it for you. Trust me, I’ve tried 🙂
So What Do You Do For Better Energy?
My wonderful wife started making me chicken, pasta and vegetables for dinner before shows – a perfect combination of carbs and protein for high energy while still being fairly light and not weighing you down like heavy grease foods.
Sometimes, you have fairly limited options if you have to eat out before a show. In these cases, I try to avoid greasy, fast-food restaurants and instead look for places that have pastas, grilled chicken or other non-fried food. Even a Subway sandwich is much better than eating a quintuple-stack cheeseburger with fries at McDonald’s. Avoid the fried foods at all costs!
At some point, I started buying protein shakes. There is one at GNC that I like which has something like 50g of protein in it, and I drink one the day of any show I play. They come in chocolate, cookies & cream, vanilla, and other flavors so they don’t taste half bad either. The high protein is a great supplement for energy later on plus it is a good ‘reserve’ in case you don’t have very good food options later that day. You can even find some of them at gas stations so they’re usually not so hard to find when you’re driving through strange lands to a show.
Drink, drink, drink! Can’t stress that enough. However, not beer, liquor, energy drinks, McDonald’s shakes, or soda. LOTS of water or other more natural, lower-sugar fluids is best. Good hydration helps transport nutrients to your various organs, it gets oxygen to your cells, and it helps to protect your joints and organs. As a drummer, you are exerting yourself physically (even more at a live performance), and keeping hydrated helps your cells get rid of waste and helps to avoid stomach and other cramps.
If you are up until 4am bar-hopping the night before your show, you most likely aren’t going to play 100% the next day. You don’t need to go to bed at 6pm the night before, but just be mindful of how much sleep you’re getting, and try to get as much rest as possible the night before. Maybe pass on going out and getting trashed that night and save it for after the show – let your body rest and prepare.
Everyone is different. There are plenty of people who can play just fine while completely trashed, on no sleep, and/or on a steady diet of McDonalds – power to ‘em! But as I got older and busier in life, I realized that I needed to take some extra steps if I wanted to play my best and, for me, that’s what it’s all about: playing the best I can. I don’t think anything I’ve mentioned is any new, crazy concept,- it’s more common sense. When you watch the Olympics, you don’t see the top athletes closing the bar the night before or scarfing down a bag of chocolate donuts just before their events, do you? These are just points that I see a lot of drummers (and other musicians) commonly overlook. Drinking a protein shake before your show isn’t going to give you super powers, but I can almost guarantee it’s going to help you a lot more than Little Caesar’s and Toaster Struddles!