OMG the things I’ve seen/heard about! As a dietitian in theatre I am (unfortunately?) attuned to how people are taking care of themselves, and the health practices are generally not great.
So I’m going to share with you my top tips for taking care of your body on and off stage in upcoming blog posts, talks (you can hire me to speak to your group!), and more coming 😉
This first blog, as you can gather from the title, is about eating right during tech. As Actors, dancers, musicians, techies, YOU ARE ATHLETES. So we apply principles of sports nutrition, with tweaks for the structure of days I know you have.
I know the days are long, especially as we get to tech. It’s long periods of standing around followed by bursts of crazy energy. Your body is getting used to the costumes and stage lights with the choreography, or hauling the set and lights around, when you haven’t been accustomed to it.
You’re tired. It’s been weeks of rehearsal, and you don’t have the adrenaline of an audience yet. Sleep and life-balance are out the window so you cling to caffeine crutches.
You can feel better. And prevent scary issues like heat-stroke, fainting, digestive issues, and exhaustion with certain practices.
Let’s get into them!
This Dietitian’s top tips for tech week:
- Eat every 2-3 hours of rehearsal, or whenever you get a break. Your body is constantly running through energy (primarily glucose when you’re moving), and you can’t just eat “whenever” (or in costume!) when you are in a show/rehearsal. So you NEED to stay on top of fueling yourself with snacks throughout the day. This tops-off your fuel storage (if you want to get technical, glycogen) so you can sustain until your next break. Mixed snacks of carbohydrate paired with protein and/or fat are going to be your friend. Examples: nut butter and banana, cheese and crackers, trail mix, or ½ sandwich.
- Pack non-perishable snacks. Because you are going to be eating throughout the day, you need to plan ahead. Keep snacks in your bag/dressing room. Crackers, nuts/trail mix, fruit like apples and bananas, granola/protein bars…what else do you like to snack on?
- Stay hydrated! Sip water throughout the day, and note that you may need more than usual under the hot stage lights and costumes.
Fun (not really) story: I was in dress rehearsal for Gypsy (as Gypsy/Louise) and because of the quick changes and little time off stage in which I could use the bathroom, I was not drinking much water. With the dancing, stage lights, and layered costumes to make the quick changes happen, I ended the show cold and clammy and feeling like I was going to faint. It was the first stages of heat stroke! This is something we usually associate with working hard out in the sun, but those stage lights are no joke! My cast was great and got me sitting down and brought me water and cool wet towels to put on my neck and chest (Thank G-d for my veterinary training that I knew what to do). I was able to get my temperature regulated, but I shudder to think what would have happened if the show had been longer.
After that I made sure to hydrate and had a sports beverage to drink during intermission while I stood in my underwear in front of fans. (bonus: you can see an embarrassing photo of me in the section about this in my online health class Whole Health For Performers)
- Meal prep. It is sooooo helpful to have food ready to eat whether it’s grab-and-go, or heat and eat when you get home. You can do slow cooker meals, pre-cut your veggies and pre-cook meats and grains. Or if you have the cash and are not a chef, get some prepped meals from the store or delivery companies. Just keep a tab on the frozen meals as they tend to have a lot of sodium! (FYI – A Trader Joe’s pre-made salad is not a full meal – add something to that, but it can be a good base.)
- Don’t wait to eat until you get home from rehearsal. For all the reasons stated above, don’t hold off eating until after rehearsal/the show. You won’t be giving your best performance if you are not fueled. Eat before, and if it’s a long rehearsal – eat during. If your commute home is long, eat something before you leave or on the drive home.
- Try different amounts of time eating before running the show to see how your body reacts – don’t wait until the show opens! Everyone is a little different in how their digestion works, and how it responds to certain foods. Try different lengths of time for before running the show to see what sits best with you. Typically 30 minutes to 2 hours before curtain is best for a full meal.
- Eat a mix of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, with the majority coming from carbs which are your primary source of energy – and you will be going through them during tech, and rehearsals and shows. (This is NOT the time to try keto – and really there is never a good time). Remember, you are an athlete, and more specifically an endurance athlete. Fuel like one. If you need more help figuring out your specific needs work with a Registered Dietitian who does sports nutrition. Contact me if you need help finding someone.
- Finally, No energy drinks! If you need the caffeine please have coffee, yerba mate, matcha or other tea (and if you have any heart conditions check with your doctor first). Energy drinks can be very dangerous. Even though they appear to have the same amount of caffeine as 1-2 cups of coffee in the average can, the other ingredients like guarana have a compounding effect on the caffeine and can raise your heart rate to dangerous levels, creating tachycardia, arrhythmias, and cardiac arrest. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or 1,000th energy drink, it could be deadly.
Additionally, you are already getting your heart rate up through movement, so increasing heart rate with energy drinks (or caffeine for that matter) can be dangerous.
The takeaway, energy drinks are the only thing I say people should definitely not consume because there is just too much research proving risk factors. This applies to every day life. And a bonus tip – don’t have caffeine or energy drinks before any exercise (check that pre-workout) for this reason of elevated heart rate. Fuel with food, the true definition of energy, hydrate, sleep, and let the workout be the pep in your day.
Let me know what other health tips for performers you’d like to learn about, this is only the beginning!
Break a leg!
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