Guest Post: High Performance Nutrition

Nutrition Post Pic

In order to be a successful performer you MUST take good care of your body. I’m pleased to share this article by Gwendolyn Walker, Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre (Voice) at the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre, University of Oklahoma and Tiffany Byrd, Director of Sports Nutrition, Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, University of Oklahoma Athletics. You will find a wealth of knowledge that will greatly improve your ability to meet the physical demands of live performance. Enjoy! ~Matt

At performing arts schools and universities across the country, most students come to school not knowing enough about nutrition. At the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre at University of Oklahoma students are essentially triple majors in music, dance, and drama. They take a full schedule of classes every day, often with little more than a short break between classes, and then they also have to rehearse at night. This mirrors the life of a professional performer: students are expected to always be ready to perform. This can be difficult when your body is tired and depleted from lack of proper nutrition and body maintenance.

Students have access to a wealth of information on this subject, but much of it is misinformation. Musical theatre students who have just left home for the first time may find it difficult to discriminate between good information and bad, and their schedules leaves them little time to investigate. The entertainment industry’s emphasis on being thin and fit only exacerbates the problem: when trying to lose weight, students become malnourished – they either do not eat a balanced diet, or they do not eat enough (or both). As a result, their performance, as well as their overall health, suffers. In effect, students who try to do the right thing simply do not know how.

Students who wish to have a lengthy, sustainable career must treat their bodies as instruments and remaining healthy – eating well, exercising, getting proper rest — is vital. Poor eating leaves the body nutritionally bankrupt and results in a body that does not perform optimally.

To address this issue, I have sought the counsel of Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, Tiffany Byrd. She is the Director of Sports Nutrition for all twenty-one sports at the University of Oklahoma. She is an expert on fueling athletes to perform optimally by incorporating the proper quality and quantity of food throughout the day to sustain the impact, duration, intensity, and volume of training that oftentimes make up the life of an athlete. Given the similar demands of a professional performer, whether you are a singer, a singing actor, or a singer who dances, this article contains vital information for you.

GW: When I talk about nutrition to my students, they quickly get overwhelmed with the information about the foods that they love that are not good for them (high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, sugary and processed foods). My strategy has been to tell them to add one new good habit a month. For example, in the first month I advise that they might try to incorporate fruits and vegetables at every meal or possibly attempt to eliminate soda. I try to use simple, baby steps to change their dietary habits because I believe that it becomes a larger possibility that these changes might become life habits that way. Where do you begin with your athletes when you talk about nutrition?

TB: Instead of making this about “good” foods and “bad” foods, I try to educate the athletes on how to build a performance plate. We discuss a few categories that are of crucial importance to the performance diet:

  1. Fruits and vegetables are crucial in the recovery process due to the many vitamins and minerals that they contain as well as the water, which causes them to act as a source of hydration.
  2. Lean protein to protect their muscle as well as provide satiety.
  3. Complex carbohydrates and their role in providing the main source energy to the body. In fact, carbohydrates break down to glucose, which is the only fuel source that your brain utilizes to operate so without adequate carbohydrates in the diet, not only does your performance suffer due to lack of energy but you cannot think.
  4. Hydration and its importance on muscle function. The body is 60-70% water and most of the muscle in the body is made up of water. As little as a 2% decrease in body weight during exercise, has a negative impact on performance. For example, a 110# dancer weighs 105# after an intense rehearsal. She has lost 4.5% of her body weight in sweat. At this point, her performance can and will suffer.

I also emphasize the importance of moderation and balance. Food is their fuel source and is used to make their body perform optimally. Similar to a Ferrari, their body requires premium leaded fuel to perform at its best. If they continually put in unleaded, their body will not operate at its maximum potential and create risk of injury.

GW: I tell my students that if it looks like it did when it grew out of the ground or walked around on a hoof, put it in your mouth. Otherwise, think twice. Another thing I say is that if food goes bad, it is good for you. Do you have a way of keeping the nutritional information simple for your athletes?

TB: We try to provide information that is easy for our athletes to remember. Also, we try to feed them food that is as close to its natural state meaning that it does not contain a lot of preservatives, food dyes, antibiotics, hormones, or added sugars, creams, salt. We also try to encourage our athletes to cook or consume food that has been cooked instead of constantly buying items that are processed or come in a box.

GW: In your experience, what is the largest nutritional deficit in the athletes that you coach?

TB: Most athletes that come to OU are not aware that there is a healthy way to eat. Food is very personal and becomes a part of our culture – our family dynamics. Asking athletes to change their eating behaviors is similar to asking them to give up the comfort of home. Our athletes come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and some of them are international students, which creates an entirely new set of circumstances. Many of our athletes have never tried a vegetable or automatically say that they do not like the way they taste. It takes about twelve introductions of a food in order to make an accurate assumption regarding that food and most people do not try again after the first poor experience. It is extremely common to hear that our athlete’s diet is mostly made up of fast food, fried food, and very few foods containing any nutritional value when they arrive at campus. Typical high school eating behaviors include skipping breakfast, getting a snack from the vending machine, eating school lunch of fried food or going off-campus to McDonald’s for lunch, heading out to practice without much in their stomach, drinking Gatorade during practice, and then eating dinner that they pick up on the way home. Their bodies rarely recover due to lack of sleep and they are walking around full of inflammation due to inadequate recovery methods including lack of nutrients and inadequate rest.

GW: That is a great point that you make about food being part of our society and home life. “My Mom fed me fried chicken and now you say that I should not eat fried chicken. Are you saying that I have a bad mother?” I’ve experienced that a lot. It is certainly something to be very cautious about when discussing dietary changes with young performers.

Another big topic of concern is hydration. If a performer has to dance for three to four hours a day, how much water should they drink?

TB: Typically, an athlete should drink about half their weight in ounces per day. If they are dancing three to four hours, that might differ for each dancer depending on the amount of sweat. A good practice is to weigh in before and after a practice to make sure that they are adequately hydrating. For every pound of body weight lost, the dancer should replenish sixteen to twenty-four ounces of water. Performers should pay extra attention if they are “salty sweaters” – meaning if they have a ring of salt around their neck or salt on their cheeks after exercising. These dancers need to replenish their electrolytes. With most dancers being concerned about their weight, instead of choosing a sports drink such as Gatorade, they can consume coconut water or hydrate with fruits and vegetables or eat some soup which contains high amounts of sodium after exercise. For the salty sweaters that we mentioned briefly, they may need to consume a sports drink. Choose either G2 or Powerade Zero which has all of the electrolytes but half the calories and half the sugar.

GW: Most performers are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. What are the most important things to remember when you are cutting calories?

TB: You have to eat! If you are trying to lose weight, most do so by cutting calories and thus starving themselves. Protein foods tend to be eliminated as well as portion sizes. Also, meal timing is crucial for weight loss. A dancer trying to cut weight needs to remember to consume protein every time they eat in an effort to hold onto their lean muscle mass as well as provide satiety. Additionally, they should eat five to six times each day. Typically, when we are striving to lose weight, we eat one to two times a day. This causes our body to go into starvation mode and store everything that we eat (our metabolism slows down to accommodate for the lack of nutrition), and so our plan backfires. If we continue to eat five to six times per day, including lean protein sources each time, our metabolism does not suffer. A performance plate for weight loss should consist of:

  1. ½ of a plate of fruits and vegetables (three to five different colors – hint – eat the rainbow)
  2. ¼ of a plate of grains such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potato, couscous, quinoa, oats, or 100% whole wheat bread
  3. ¼ of a plate of lean protein sources such as turkey, ham, roast beef, chicken, lean ground beef (93/7), eggs, Greek yogurt, and peanut butter to name a few.
  4. Remember to hydrate throughout the day. Fluids to consume at meals should consist mainly of water, low fat or fat-free milk or chocolate milk, diluted fruit juice, and calorie free flavored beverages. Be aware of what each athlete is drinking. There are many hidden calories and sugars in drinks and most are not aware that they are consuming them. For example, lemonade, fruit punch, sweet tea, sodas, sports drinks, and alcohol are nutrient poor meaning they do not contain any nutrients that will contribute to your performance. They simply taste good. If you want to drink them, do so with awareness and not just out of habit.

GW: I do not believe in diets and recommend that my students do not go on one. I recommend slowly changing their regular dietary habits instead, which takes some time. I believe that you really need to change your nutritional landscape and dietary lifestyle if you are going to be able to maintain the changes for a lifetime. Are there any diets that you recommend?

TB: I do not recommend any diets because diets do not last. In order for an athlete to have successful weight loss or weight gain, you have to get them to make lifestyle changes. Without changes to their habits, they will continue to battle with their weight.

GW: Do you have any specific nutritional weight loss advice?

TB: Yes! Get up in the morning and eat breakfast within thirty minutes of waking. Keep your carbohydrate intake in and around activity consisting of complex carbohydrates (examples listed above). For example, at dinner your plate should contain ½ plate of lean protein and ½ plate of fruits and vegetables. Snack on items such as fresh fruit and peanut butter, Greek yogurt, beef jerky, lunch meat and cheese (not American), low fat cottage cheese, low fat chocolate milk, and nuts. Eat every three hours including protein every time you eat. Fill your plate full of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Try to eat fresh foods and to limit fast food, fried food, alcohol, candy, sweets, baked foods, and processed foods as these items tend to have poor nutritional value and contain many calories. Also, be aware of what you are drinking as fruit juices, tea, lemonade, sports drinks, and soda all contain little nutritional value and are loaded with added sugars and excess calories.

GW: There are some performers who have to put on weight so they can work. What foods would you advise for them?

TB: Those performers that need to gain weight suffer as much as those who need to lose weight. Dancers who must gain weight need to ensure that the foods that they eat contain nutritional value but also contain more calories than the foods that someone who is not trying to gain weight would typically consume. Items such as nuts, trail mix, guacamole, cheese, protein shakes, and drinking 2% of whole fat milk with meals will all help them achieve their weight gain goals. Also, they must eat consistently every two to three hours making sure to include protein every time they eat. Whereas a dancer trying to cut weight may consume a snack of 200-250 calories, one trying to gain weight would include 500-600 calories in a snack. Another trick is to have a dancer include a late night snack. Research has been showing that consuming 20-30 grams of casein (milk contains 2 proteins: casein and whey. Most protein powders are made of whey because they are fast acting. However, overnight, our bodies go into a fasting/starvation mode so consuming casein – a long acting protein, it can actually help to preserve lean mass) late at night may help with muscle maintenance during the fasting part of the night and help with those athletes needing to gain weight. Regardless of your weight goals, you must consume fruits and vegetables. A performance plate for weight gain is one-half of a plate of grains, one quarter of a plate of fruits and vegetables, and one quarter of a plate of lean protein. Beverages to include at mealtime should contain calories as well as nutritional value. Examples include: 2% or whole fat milk, chocolate milk, protein drinks, fruit smoothies to name a few. Despite your efforts to gain weight, you must continue to drink water in an effort to remain hydrated.

GW: You hear so much about carbohydrates being bad for you, but in fact, when you are dancing and having long class/rehearsal days, they are essential for your energy. I talk about processed/refined carbohydrates vs. healthy, whole grains. Can you talk a little bit about which carbohydrates are good for you and which are not?

TB: Yes, carbohydrates get a bad reputation for making us fat. However, did you know that fruits and vegetables are a source of carbohydrates? I am not sure of many people who would tell you not to eat fruits and vegetables. Consume carbohydrates in and around activity. In essence, carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is sugar. In fact, glucose is the only source of fuel for your brain. Without it, your brain cannot function so cutting out carbohydrates is ensuring that your brain will not think properly. I try not to associate the words “good” and “bad” when referring to food. Whenever we eat, we want to make sure that our food contains nutritional value. Complex carbohydrates or grains that contain fiber or whole grains are considered to be “healthier” than their counterparts full of white flour. Consider switching white pasta for whole wheat pasta, white rice for brown rice, white bread for 100% whole wheat bread, sugar-sweetened cereal for cereals containing three to five grams of fiber, and switch processed grains and white foods for couscous, quinoa, oats, and sweet potatoes.

GW: What are whole grains?

TB: Grains are divided into two groups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire kernel: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Not only do they contain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are necessary to keep your body healthy but they contain dietary fiber which may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Refined grains are products made of white flour which increase blood sugar levels and are stored as fat. They contain little to no nutritional value.

GW: Sugar seems to be in everything these days. What do you tell your athletes about sugar?

TB: Sugar seems to be a key word in today’s world. In my expert opinion, no one single nutrient is responsible for poor health, weight gain, or obesity. Diet is multi-faceted and made up of not only food but lifestyle (sleeping habits, exercise, activities of daily living, et cetera). We cannot single out a single ingredient like sugar and say it is the culprit of our obesity epidemic. However, we can say that we are eating too much added sugar – the kind that is mixed in during cooking and processing – and is not utilized for nutritional value but broken down and stored mainly as fat. Today, men average 335 calories from added sugars (20 teaspoons/day) and women average 239 calories of added sugar (15 teaspoons/day). The majority of added sugars come from foods such as sodas, desserts, baked goods, candy, and sauces. Added sugars enhance flavor but have no real nutritional value. Sugar has no vitamins, minerals, or plant based compounds that are important to health. Instead of getting caught up on eliminating sugar (remember, your brain needs glucose – a sugar, to function), I recommend that my athletes work on limiting their consumption of added sugar.

GW: What are some of the names for added sugar that people should look for on food labels? I know that the list changes often and that food companies can get tricky by changing the names of many added sugars so that you do not know what you are eating.

TB: Ideally, you are consuming products in their natural state so that you do not have to worry about this as much. However, we do live in a fast-paced society and must be able to eat quickly and on the run frequently. When researching for this question, I found that sugar actually has 56-57 different names! Sugar can hide under many names such as high fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, cane sugar, maltodextrin, invert sugar, organic raw syrup, fruit juice, maple syrup, evaporated cane juice, molasses to name a few.

GW: Does your body differentiate between fruit sugar and refined sugar?

TB: Yes and no. Your body does not know the difference between sugar from candy and sugar from fruit. However, sugar from fruit contains different vitamins and minerals that aid in health whereas sugar from candy is just that: sugar. In the long term, candy, although it tastes great, contains very little to no nutritional value and are just added sugar whereas fructose (the sugar in fruit) is a natural sugar containing crucial vitamins and minerals needed for health as well as fiber. Since we mentioned fiber, we might as well discuss this word here. I am oftentimes asked the question “is a calorie a calorie?” Here is my answer to this question. Let’s take 160 calories of almonds and 160 calories of soda. When the almonds are consumed, they go through digestion and the fiber causes it go slowly through the liver, not altering the blood sugar levels, giving the body time to digest and absorb the nutrients. Whereas, the soda goes into the bloodstream, immediately elevates blood sugar levels causing the body to react and, in turn, is stored as fat. In a nutshell, fiber is important for heart health and gastrointestinal health but it also plays a huge role in the body’s fat storage.

GW: Excellent. That is great information. Should performers drink sports drinks?

TB: Sports drinks can be necessary in an around activity. As the newest Gatorade commercials say “you must sweat it to earn it.” Sports drinks receive bad publicity mainly because people drink them incorrectly. They are not to be consumed as a leisure drink at all meals. People should drink water, low fat dairy, and non-calorie beverages throughout the day. However, if you are practicing (or rehearsing) at moderate to high intensity for more than sixty minutes, a sports drink may come in handy in order to replenish the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat. Keep in mind that sports drinks contain calories and sugar. If you want to lose weight, try consuming G2 or Powerade Zero, which still contain the electrolytes but half of the sugar and calories as a regular sports drink.

GW: There is so much sodium in so many things. How much sodium does a performer need? What if they are dancing for many hours each day? Do dancers need more sodium than non-athletes?

TB: I educate athletes on choosing whole foods over processed foods and using herbs and spices instead of salting their foods. However, I do not have my athletes count their sodium content unless they have high blood pressure or a heart condition. I tend to worry about my athletes not having adequate sodium especially those who exercise outside in the heat during the extreme temperatures.

GW: What are the best forms of protein to eat that will fuel performers for a long rehearsal/performance/class day?

TB: Performers should consume sources of lean protein, which means that the food is rich in protein but lower in fat. A phrase that I often use with our athletes when choosing meat is “the less legs, the leaner.” This means that fish is leaner than chicken or turkey, and that chicken or turkey are leaner than beef. This does NOT mean that an athlete cannot consume beef. It simply means that they should not be consuming beef every single day. We recommend lean ground beef or steak one to two times per week for the iron especially for our female athletes. Females lose iron in their menstrual cycle and need to ensure that they are replacing what they lost through diet. Lean sources of protein include but are not limited to: fish, chicken, turkey, ham, roast beef, eggs, Greek yogurt, nuts, peanut butter, low fat dairy products, beans and legumes, and soy.

GW: That brings up an interesting debate. I have been hearing a lot of conflicting information about soy products lately – whether it is good for you or not. I eat a lot of tofu. Is that a bad thing?

TB: No, tofu is not a bad. Soy received a bad reputation for males when it came out that it contains estrogen. All of a sudden, every man feared growing breasts and turning into a female. This is not the case. In fact, soy can be a healthy protein alternative especially for athletes who choose to participate in a vegetarian diet.

GW: Oh that’s a relief! Thank you. What snacks do you recommend?

TB: For athletes, I tend to recommend that they combine carbohydrates with protein to provide energy, satiety, and muscle protection. Examples of such foods are: trail mix; beef jerky; Greek yogurt; string cheese; low fat chocolate milk; deli lunch meat and cheese; low fat cottage cheese; fresh fruit with peanut butter; fresh vegetables and hummus; berries; and protein bars with the least amount of ingredients. Some of these can also be utilized as recovery options. Recovery nutrition is viewed as a crucial component to the performance diet. In fact, many times the athlete who recovers the best will end up on top. Within 30 minutes of any practice, training, or competition, an athlete needs to consume carbohydrates and protein in a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio as well as water to replenish hydration. Examples of recovery nutrition are chocolate milk, peanut butter and fresh fruit, protein shakes, low fat cottage cheese and fruit to name a few. It is also crucial that the athlete follow-up with a well-balanced meal within 2 hours.

GW: You touch on something that I say to my performers all the time there – that if there is an enormous list of ingredients, it is likely that you should not eat that food because it has too many artificial and processed ingredients. “Put it back on the shelf and grab a banana instead.” is what I say.

How many calories a day should the average performer eat?

TB: This will vary based on their genetics, height and weight, amount of lean body mass, practice schedule, and gender in a similar way that this varies for my athletes. On average, a gymnast will require 1900-2100kcal, a basketball player 3000-4000kcal, a football athlete 4000-6000kcal. As you can see, it varies greatly so without tracking a dancer’s energy expenditure, I cannot say with full confidence how much they should consume. While researching for this article, I found that a 120 pound professional female dancer who takes 1 ½ hours of ballet and 4-6 hours of rehearsal in a day has an estimated caloric expenditure of 2100-2500 calories depending on how strenuous the rehearsals or performance. How should this be broken down to work throughout the day?

Breakfast – 350 – 400 calories

Snack after morning class – 200-275 calories

Lunch – 550 – 650 calories

Post-rehearsal fuel – 200 – 285 calories

Dinner before performance – 550 – 650 calories

Post-performance fuel – 200 – 350 calories

GW: Thank you! That is what my students really need to know. Is there a ratio of protein to whole grains to vegetables and fruit that is optimal?

TB: The ratio that we oftentimes hear when discussing carbohydrates to protein is in the recovery process. I emphasize recovery nutrition a great deal with my athletes. In fact, it was one of the first things I did when I arrived at Oklahoma – ensure that every single sport had a nutrition plan for recovery for their athletes. I consider recovery nutrition to be the “secret weapon” for my athletes. So what does recovery nutrition mean? Within thirty minutes of completion of exercise or training or competition, our athletes at OU are to consume carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates to replenish the glycogen that they just used up during their workout and protein to repair, replenish, and rebuild the muscle that they just damaged during training. We also emphasize hydration as part of this step. Research shows that a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is the key meaning 60:20 or 80:20. An athlete should follow-up recovery nutrition with a balanced meal within two hours post-exercise.

GW: “Recovery Nutrition” – I like that idea a lot. Thank you for teaching me about that.

I would like to talk about fats. I know that good fat is necessary for everyone and that you need a certain amount to keep you healthy. Can you talk a little bit about what fats are good for you in moderation and what fats you should avoid? Also, could you address how much fat the average performer needs in their diet vs. the amount of fat an athlete or dancer might need?

TB: Fat can get a bad reputation but we must have dietary fat. We have fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and they require fat for digestion and absorption. When educating our athletes on healthy fats, I encourage them to eat food items such as peanut butter, guacamole, avocadoes, nuts, nut butters, salmon, olive oil and avoid items that are high in saturated fats such as fried foods. I do encourage fish oil supplementation due to the research showing its benefits in heart health, joint health, brain/concussion, and role in decreasing inflammation. Fat also provides the body with fuel. If a rehearsal or practice lasts longer than 60 minutes, the body may begin to use mainly fats for energy. Using fat for fuel depends largely on the duration of the event and the athlete’s condition. Consumption of fat should not fall below 15% of total energy intake because it may limit performance.

GW: What is your advice about dietary supplements?

TB: I am a big advocate of food first. Supplements can be useful to do just that: supplement a well-balanced, adequate diet. I do advise supplements to assist with various weight goals. However, supplements should never be used to replace a healthy, well-balanced diet. I do provide a multi-vitamin and vitamin D3 for most of our athletes and, depending on lab work, some athletes also take additional calcium and iron. If a supplement is warranted, we ensure that our athletes are educated on purchasing a supplement that is 3rd party tested looking for the seal of NSF certified to protect them from consuming a product that contains any banned substances.

GW: Why do you recommend a D3 supplement?

TB: Research is still be conducting on the varying benefits of D3. However, vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, bone growth, bone remodeling. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones become thin, brittle, and misshaped. Your body actually synthesizes D3 from the sun. Groups at risk for vitamin D deficiency are breastfed infants, older adults, people with limited sun exposure, people with dark skin, people with inflammatory bowel disease, people who are obese or have had gastric bypass surgery. Ideally, they should be supplementing about 1000-1500mg of calcium and 600-800 IU of vitamin D3. I typically supplement up to 2000IU of D3. If tested, some athletes require a medical prescription of 50,000 IU to improve their vitamin D health.

GW: I have heard about banned substances being in supplements. Can you speak a little more about that and what is NSF and 3rd party testing?

TB: In short, NSF for Sport helps athletes, coaches, and trainers make more informed decisions regarding their choices in taking a dietary supplement. It includes product testing for over 190 banned substances, label content confirmation (does the content of the supplement reflect what is listed on the label), formulation and label review, production facility and supplier inspection (is the facility safe and products being produced in a non-contaminated facility), as well as ongoing monitoring in line with substance prohibitive lists. This information was provided off of the NSF for Sport website.

GW: I talk to my students about food as medicine – that foods can alter your mood and you should be mindful of what foods make you tired, cranky, fidgety, or even angry. Do you talk to your athletes about that?

TB: Food is medicine. Proper nutrition has a huge impact on your immune system. A change in diet to include higher nutritional content and less processed food can result in improved health and this may be especially beneficial during periods of high stress or in the winter months. Typically, everything I do with food, I relate to performance because that is what my athletes care about – whether it will help them perform better, and becoming more nutritionally aware and following some simple guidelines will improve the quality of their performance.

GW: Diet needs to be varied with lots of different fruits, vegetables, colors and flavors – this helps you get all the vitamins that you need. I tell my students to eat five to six servings of fruits and vegetables every day and to try to eat lots of different colors of fruits and vegetables – that way you get different vitamins. Do you have an easier way to remember this?

TB: When it comes to fruits and vegetables, I tell my athletes to “strive for five.” That is, consume a fruit and vegetable in every single color (red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple – the colors of the rainbow) every single day. Each pigment has different vitamins, minerals and nutrients and are necessary for optimal functioning of our body. In order to carry out consuming all five colors each day, I ask them to consume three different colors at every meal (pineapple, raspberries, and blueberries at breakfast, yellow, red, and green bell peppers at lunch with hummus, asparagus and side salad at dinner with purple onions, carrots, spinach, tomatoes).

GW: “The colors of the rainbow!” That is exactly what I was looking for – an easy way to remember that. Thank you.

As singers, getting a sick can cost you a lot of money and even your job. It is something we all worry about a lot. Do you have any nutritional advice for singers when they feel like they are coming down with a virus?

TB: Sometimes your body gets run down and you get sick. During these times, I emphasize rest (getting enough sleep), increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables for the vitamin and minerals that they contain, as well as adequate hydration. Sleep is oftentimes an overlooked aspect and college-aged students do not get enough!

GW: I tell my singers to eat out less and cook more. I realize that this is often difficult or impossible with their schedules. Do you have any advice like that that you give to your athletes?

TB: Time and money seem to be the limiting factor for cooking more. If time permits, yes, cooking at home can be healthier. However, if they are not going to do it or time does not permit, helping them understand what the healthy options are at restaurants or what options to choose once they get there seem to work well.

GW: Great thought. Maybe I should get a list of the nutritional content of the meals at the restaurants near my office and put it on my studio wall for my students so that they can make a list of healthy food that is nearby that will fuel their day. Any last thoughts or information that you think someone who uses their body as their instrument really should know?

TB: I use an acronym for teaching our athletes how to eat: B.O.O.M.E.R!


  • Eat within thirty minutes of waking up in the morning
  • Include carbohydrates and protein
  • Try to include three different colors of fruits and vegetables


  • Protein helps with satiety and in the repair and rebuilding of muscle
  • “The less legs, the leaner.”
  • Strive to consume your body weight in grams each day (easier to remember and gives a numerical goal to strive for throughout the day)
  • Consume protein every time you eat: twenty to thirty gram increments throughout the day


  • Muscles are mainly water.
  • Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day.
  • As little as a 1-2% water weight loss causes your performance to suffer
  • Check your pee! If it is clear or lemonade color then you are properly hydrated. If it is apple juice colored, you need to hydrate more.
  • Beef jerky is a good example of dehydrated muscle. When you bend beef jerky, it snaps. It would not be good if your muscle snapped in performance.
  • Steak is a good example of hydrated muscle. When you touch it, it bounces back.


  • Strive for five different colors every day (ROYGB/P).
  • Consume three different colors at each meal.
  • Crucial for growth, maintenance, and repair of the body
  • Necessary if you are going to ingest enough vitamins and minerals.
  • Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories, full of fiber, and they are heart healthy.
  • Fruits and vegetables help boost your immune system.


  • Ideally every two to three hours including protein every time you eat.
  • Skipping meals slows down your metabolism and causes your body to store your food thus increasing weight and body fat.


  • Consume “recovery nutrition” within thirty minutes of activity that includes carbs and protein.
  • Sleep – typically, you need seven to nine hours per night.
    • Sleep is when your body puts information into muscle memory as well as when it builds and repairs your body and mind.
    • When you do not get adequate sleep, your performance suffers…and sleep deprivation can lead to injury and illness.