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Nutrition impacts performance, creativity, productivity and mental health. The belief that artists must suffer to create is outdated and can be quite harmful to many. While art can be an outlet for pain and a way to cope with one’s struggles, great work too can come from a state of health and happiness. Many artists find when they address their wellness it improves their longevity in the studio and helps focus their artistic vision, while enhancing mental clarity. Eating well and engaging in other healthy behaviors on the road–such as maintaining a sleep schedule and physical activity routine–can also support endurance and performance, boost immunity, lead to fewer canceled shows, and reduce burnout for touring musicians and crew.
When it comes to eating well on tour, sourcing healthy food can often feel like one more arduous task that artists, crew, and tour managers simply do not have time or finances for. However, there are plenty of healthy options available at all budgets, and offerings have improved significantly over the years at fast casual or fast food restaurants, convenience stores, megastores like Target or Walmart, and even vending machines.
While it’s tempting to skip breakfast on the road when there are a lot of miles to cover to get to the next gig, or when facing a hectic load-in, having a quick piece of produce with a handful of nuts provides fiber and healthy fats, with a little protein as well, to quell hunger and provide some energy until there’s time for a proper meal. Apples, bananas and oranges all travel well and are cost-efficient options that can be added to a rider or picked up at any grocery store to stock the bus or van. Additionally, when purchased in bulk, raw nuts make a great snack and are a healthy option that fits within a tight budget. Walnuts will provide brain- and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, while almonds and Brazil nuts will provide selenium–an important mineral for detoxification.▼ Article continues below ▼
When it comes to a healthy rider, there should always be fresh produce available, with particular emphasis on produce that requires little to no preparation and/or can travel well. Pre-cut veggies make a healthy snack, particularly when paired with fiber-rich hummus instead of ranch dressing. Pre-made salads are another quick option that can be very cost-effective if purchased at a grocery store, such as Trader Joe’s, or a fast casual restaurant. When looking for a salad, focus on vegetables like leafy greens which are great for energy, digestion, immunity, mood and cognitive function.
If the salad will serve as the entire meal, it should also include complex carbohydrates such as quinoa or sweet potato, a high-quality protein like beans, tofu, fresh wild caught seafood, hard boiled eggs or poultry (ideally pasture raised). The least healthy component of many salads is the dressing it comes with. Pre-made dressings are often filled with additives, sugar, and inflammatory fats. Opt instead for extra virgin olive oil and vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon or lime. A bottle of high-quality olive oil can be kept on the bus or in the van, or added to a rider, for an easy alternative to less nutritious dressings.
If salad isn’t your jam, look for plant-forward bowls like a burrito bowl using brown rice as a base, beans, plenty of veggies, and a healthy fat (like avocado). Chipotle is typically an easy option for a quick meal that isn’t fried, and many salad restaurants like Sweetgreen offer creative bowls as well. As with most fast food and fast casual restaurants, sodium (salt) content will be high, so being sure to drink plenty of water to counteract that is important.
Air inside tour buses, airplanes, hotel rooms, and sometimes even Sprinter vans tends to be dry, which can exacerbate dehydration. Starting the day with at least 16 fl oz of water and staying hydrated into the evening is paramount to support energy, sleep, mood, cognition and digestion. Caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating, along with sweating during a performance, exercise, or simply from sun or heat exposure in the summer months. Prioritizing sleep, taking vitamins, and eating well can all support energy, instead of solely depending on caffeine.
Because limiting alcohol is also a crucial piece of the equation, it is paramount to keep non-alcoholic healthy beverages around for when water doesn’t sound appealing. Herbal tea or iced herbal teas, kombucha, cold pressed juices, and coconut water are all great rider additions. Coconut water in particular is great for hydration due to its electrolyte content (namely potassium). Bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, and leafy greens are other food-based sources of potassium. In addition to assisting electrolyte balance, potassium can be beneficial for supporting healthy blood pressure, which is particularly important when considering the quantities of the sodium people tend to consume when constantly eating out.
Perhaps the most detrimental aspect of nutrition on the road is late night food options, or lack thereof… When faced with challenges of sourcing healthy late-night food it’s best to look for the least detrimental option rather than trying to find something perfectly healthy. Protein and carbs aid recovery after performance, making a grilled chicken sandwich or a tofu, rice and veggie stir fry a good alternative to heavier foods like pizza or wings. Even a thin crust vegetarian pizza that’s light on cheese, topped with veggies and (ideally) on a whole grain crust makes a filling post-show meal that isn’t too heavy, particularly if paired with salad or a plant-based side. Acid reflux or sleep trouble can be lessened by building in at least two hours after eating to digest before going to bed.
There are many challenges artists face on and off tour, causing nutrition to often take a backseat. However, prioritizing nutritious foods and other healthy habits can enhance productivity, performance, and creativity, while supporting digestion, sleep, cognition and mood.
Emmaline Rasmussen, MS, RDN, E-RYT is the founder of Sound Nutrition, a company focused on providing nutritional and wellness guidance and counseling for musicians, particularly touring musicians. LEARN MORE at https://www.soundnutrition.co
photos copyright Jon Hillenbrand