Pure Energy

What you eat can make a considerable difference in your drumming energy and stamina.

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.

The Results?
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?

Pre-Show Dinner
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!

Protein Shakes
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!

2 thoughts on “Pure Energy”

  1. My problem is after the show I have about 2 hours’ then I am wiped out for that evening and next day. Playing 4 hours’ and loading and unloading is tough ,ANY TIPS ON HOW TO STAY COOL not just water I talking about body temp. thanks

  2. hi greg,

    rest and eating well will definitely give you tons more energy which would help (more than you think). however, i know what you’re talking about – it’s like a marathon playing shows between all the packing up, traveling, unpacking, playing, packing up, traveling back, unpacking again….(then sometimes going to work just a few hours later…ugh!)

    i’m really not a huge fan of energy drinks, but i did find that half a redbull about half an hour before i played a show did give me some surprising energy for the night. for me, it seemed to kick in more AFTER playing which gave me a lot more energy for all the packing up.

    regarding staying cool, lots and LOTS of fluids for sure….before, during AND after playing the show. as a drummer, you’re physically exerting yourself so you’re bound to be running hot and thirsty no matter what you do. i used to have a portable fan i took with me that i kept pointed at me while playing, and that helped me keep a bit cooler. i usually kept a gallon of water next to me and kept drinking throughout the show which always helped too. last, make sure you’re wearing fairly light clothes that ‘breathe’ when you play. i never understood guys who would play in long jeans, shirts AND hoodies. i’m a sweaty mess when i play and would completely suffocate. i had shorts and a comfortable shirt i took with to change into at shows. you can buy shirts/shorts made for excercise/workouts with special light material for ‘breathing’ for pretty cheap at Target or similar. simple black or other colors too, so it’s not like you’d look like you’re starting your cross fit routine at your grindcore show 😉

    hope that helps. thanks for the comments!

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