Protecting Your Energy As A Performer

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Protecting Your Energy as a Performer

Protecting your energy as a performer isn’t always a walk in the park. As artists, having enough energy and stamina to get through a performance week without feeling depleted is the ultimate dream. Few of us reach this point, and it has become the norm to feel constantly fatigued, run-down, and burnt out. This feeling of “barely making it through” is never questioned. It is totally accepted and, sometimes, a badge of honour to show how hard we’ve worked. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we take care of ourselves, we are more than capable of making it through a performance week without feeling depleted and mentally drained. Here are five things that are draining your energy as a performer–and what to do about them.

Energy tip 1.
Consuming enough/efficient calories

While I am not an advocate for focusing solely on calories, I think it is important for performers to realise that they should consume upwards of 2,300 calories per day. Performers underestimate how many calories they need, especially if they are following fad diets designed for people who are sitting at a desk all day. Performers may follow standard nutritional advice, without realising that we need more calories than the average person. Athletes know this. So professional sports teams invest thousands of pounds in nutritionists and coaches to have access to the latest nutritional science.

Performers, it’s time to train like an athlete.

A 1,200-calorie diet will not give you the energy you need to perform at an elite level. It is also important to note that a calorie is simply a unit of energy, and should not be relied on too closely. The number of calories you need will vary based on your age, weight, activity level, etc. Instead, learn to listen to your body’s hunger cues. Do you feel overly tired and weak? Are you feeling irritable? Do you have trouble sleeping through the night? Are you experiencing an increase in injury, slow recovery, or menstrual cycle irregularities? These are all signs you may not be consuming enough calories.

Another reason some performers aren’t eating enough calories is simply because they are super busy. If you know you have a long rehearsal, make sure you aren’t going more than three hours without eating. It is always better to have more food than not enough, so don’t be afraid to go overboard with meals and snacks – always pack more food than you think you need.

Snacks that are high calorie, high protein, and high carb are best.

Some of my favourite ideas for snacks are apples and bananas with nut or seed butter, hummus with vegetables and sourdough bread, nuts and seeds, and overnight oats with yoghurt and berries.

Energy tip 2.
Eating enough protein and carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy and are especially important during intermittent high-intensity workouts. Carbs are also needed to replenish glycogen (storage sites) in the body for energy and recovery. Performers need carbohydrates (from starches, veggies, and fruit) to have enough energy to fuel their bodies, and help them recover from strenuous activity. Some great sources of carbs are rice, pasta, oats, sweet potatoes, beans, fruit, and vegetables.

Performers tend to underestimate how much protein they need. The International Society of Sports Nutrition’s daily protein recommendation is 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight for athletes. So, this means for a 170-pound person, that’s 153 grams of protein each day.

Again, I am a firm believer that performers are athletes. We use our bodies as our tools, and spend long, gruelling hours in rehearsals and performances.

These guidelines are helpful, but it is important to remember that the amount of protein you need is individual. As a rule of thumb, if you’re ever feeling unexpected hunger, not sleeping well, or not experiencing good energy levels, dialling up your protein is the first thing you should adjust. Great protein sources are fish, peas, beans, nuts and seeds, poultry, beef, and protein powder.

Energy tip 3.
Hydrate

Did you know that dehydration is one of the major causes of daytime sleepiness? Water is a powerful solvent that carries nutrients to your cells and gets rid of toxins from the body. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that even mild dehydration had a significant negative impact on fatigue, mood, reading speed, and mental work capacity in collegiate test subjects.

It is important to remember that hydration isn’t just about drinking more water, and that electrolytes are often overlooked in the talk about hydration. Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electrical charge, and without them, you won’t be sufficiently hydrated, no matter how much water you drink. We lose loads of water and electrolytes during physical activity, especially sodium. It is therefore a good idea to add a pinch of sea salt to your water before and after a long rehearsal or performance.

Drinking coconut water can also help to replenish electrolytes lost during physical activity. I am not a big fan of most sports and energy drinks because many contain excessive amounts of sugar. If you try an electrolyte drink, always check that there is little to no sugar in it. Other ways to replenish electrolytes are adding fruit and herbs to water such as berries, cucumbers, lemons, limes, basil, etc. Experiment with different flavours and see which ones you like.

Energy tip 4.
Eliminate stress

Everyone deals with stress from time to time. But constantly having stress on our plate without knowing how to cope with it will leave us drained and exhausted. This is because stress puts us into fight-or-flight mode, where our heart rate is faster, our breathing becomes shallower, and our body is getting ready to fight or run away. This puts an enormous amount of stress on the body, and if we never get back to “rest and digest,” then our body stays in this place, draining all of our resources. It is therefore important to experiment with activities that reduce your stress levels. If you are stuck, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Journaling
  • Listening to music
  • Meditation
  • Going for a walk
  • Getting out in nature
  • Phoning a friend

Energy tip 5.
Prioritise sleep

We take sleep for granted, and it is usually the first thing to go when we get busy. Most people already know that sleep is important for their energy and overall well-being, yet so many people don’t make it a priority. We put sleep off, as though we can just “get it back.” This is a myth – if you lose a night of sleep, you cannot get it back. It is impossible.

Sleep is important for not only muscle repair and recovery, but also for our mental health.

This is because while we are asleep, our brain gets rid of the gunk in our brain, allowing us to wake up with more mental clarity. Skimping on sleep can affect our endurance, energy levels, and focus.

The key is to make sleep a priority. When we are kids, we have strict bedtime routines that help us fall asleep. We think that our adult selves don’t need this. Newsflash: adults need bedtime routines, too! Creating a bedtime routine is key to optimising our sleep. It tells our body it is time to get ready for sleep, and can also help the production of melatonin (our sleep hormone). Here are a few ways to optimise your sleep:

  • Keep your room dark, cool and quiet
  • Avoid scrolling on your phone and exposing yourself to blue light at night (stop the scrolling at least two hours before bed)
  • Have a warm bath
  • Have a cup of chamomile or soothing tea
  • Read a book
  • Do meditations
  • Write down three things you are grateful for
  • Write down three things that went well today
  • Journal

The Bottom Line

Feeling constantly drained is not normal and doesn’t have to be our reality. Looking at these five areas of your life is a good start at optimising your energy, and showing up as your best self – both on and off stage.

This article was originally published on TheatreArtLife.com.
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Crystal Nicholls

Originally from Barbados, Crystal Nicholls is a Professional Dancer and Nutrition Coach, based in London. She has performed on tv, the high seas, and Disney’s The Lion King. Through her 1:1 coaching programs, she helps high level performers overcome stress, to find balance in their lives and achieve their goals.