When I proposed creating a fitness blog for singers on the NEW new forum for classical singers, one of the first questions I received for OPERATHLETIC was: “What can I eat during tech week and/or during a long performance that won’t jeopardize my singing, and help curb the post-performance binge?” Let’s face it, we’ve all been there: after a long day of rehearsal with little (or no) time to prepare a nutritional meal, it’s nearly impossible not to go home and reach for a high-calorie option with low nutritional value. Or, during a lengthy opera, singers often face the ultimate dilemma: to eat, or not to eat? If you eat, you run the risk of enlarging your stomach in a way that inhibits the movement of the diaphragm. However, if you don’t eat, the drop in blood sugar could result in a loss of crucial performance energy and encourage binge-eating after the show. What’s a singer to do?
Let me introduce you to your new best friend: the protein shake. It is a common misconception that the protein shake is exclusively for competitive body builders, and “normal people” should avoid drinking them. To the contrary, a protein shake will give you the energy boost you need to make it through a performance, and keep your blood sugar levels stable, ultimately helping you bypass the post-show/rehearsal binge. It’s a nutritionally sound choice that won’t over-fill your stomach, especially when consumed slowly rather than chugged. Additionally, since it’s a drink, you can take a sip or two during rehearsals (preferably when you’re not singing) without being disrespectful. Say goodbye to mid-tech rehearsal stomach pains!
Here’s what you’ll need:
1/2 cup of unsweetened Almond milk
1/2 cup of ice or water
3-5 oz. banana (roughly 3/4 of a medium-sized banana)
1-1 & 1/2 oz. natural peanut butter — look for a brand that lists ONLY peanuts in the ingredients, such as the Wegmans Natural Peanut Butter in a glass jar; it comes in both smooth and chunky.
1 scoop of protein powder — I recommend Warrior Blend Raw Vegan Protein powder (comes in chocolate & vanilla)
A shaker cup
Directions: in a blender, combine the Almond milk, ice or water, banana, and peanut butter. You can add a bit of non-sugar sweetener like Stevia or Truvia (found in the sugar aisle) to sweeten it up a bit if you’d like. I prefer this recipe when it’s nearly frozen — if your blender can’t handle ice cubes, prepare your shake with water and freeze it is either A) completely frozen, if you’re not going to start drinking it in >4 hours post-preparation, or B) partially if you’ll be consuming it in <4 hours. Wait until you are ready to drink the shake to add the protein powder, because some brands of protein powder expand and make the shake clumpy over very long periods of time. I recommend the BlenderBottle Prostak because it has a standard (yet highly effective) mixing ball, and an attachable container for protein powder. This means that although you are keeping your protein powder and shake separate until consumption, they will be together so you don’t misplace one or the other.
Admittedly, I began adding banana to my protein shakes because frankly, most protein powders tastes very chalky and bland in a simple almond milk and/or water concoction. However, the addition of a banana has a few other notable benefits: first, when a protein shake is completed with a carbohydrate (banana) and a healthy fat (peanut butter), it can act as a full, nutritionally-balanced meal replacement; second, as many of you probably know from experience, musicians have been using bananas for years to help combat stage fright. This is because bananas act as a natural beta-blocker, containing high levels of Vitamin B, tryptophan, and potassium.
Frequently asked questions
“Why do you recommend Warrior Blend?” Great question! I recommend it because, at $1.04 / serving, it’s one of the more economical protein powder choices out there. It becomes an even more economical option when you buy them at a vitamin store that you have a rewards card with such as Vitamin Shoppe, you can rack up reward dollars to use on future purchases. Additionally, Warrior Blend is milk free, dairy free, gluten free, peanut free, corn free, egg free, fish free, shellfish free, soy free, starch free, sugar free, tree nut free, wheat free, and yeast free. The vast majority of protein powders on the market are Whey powder, which is a protein derived from milk. If you normally have any vocal reaction to dairy, you should avoid Whey protein powder during rehearsal & performance periods, just to be safe.
“I’m allergic to peanuts…” or “Someone in my cast that I have close contact with in the show is allergic to peanuts; can I make this shake without peanut butter?” YES. It’s delicious with or without peanut butter! Don’t jeopardize your own health or that of any of your cast mates — especially if that cast mate is the leading tenor you have to passionally make out during the show. You could also try adding 1/4 – 1/2 avocado for your healthy fat; Jennifer says that “¼ – ½ avocado in a smoothie gives it a velvet texture, gives it a rounded, rich flavor and will make the meal balanced and complete. Not to mention rev the metabolism. And it really doesn’t taste all “avocado-y”, instead it acts like an overall flavor enhancer.” If you or a cast mate is allergic to ALL tree nuts, you could substitute the almond milk with Soy milk instead, or just use water/ice exclusively.
“I’m on a gig where I’m living in a hotel without a kitchen/blender. Any ideas?” If it’s a gig where you can spare some extra luggage room, consider investing in this cheap, small blender by Hamilton Beach — the cord wraps up and everything!
“If I don’t want to use Warrior Blend, are there any other guidelines for choosing a protein powder?” Yes; make sure the protein powder you choose has more grams of protein per serving than carbs. There are so many brands of protein powders out there with more carbs than protein, making one wonder why they aren’t called “carb powder” instead. Additionally, avoid anything that is high in sodium or sugar. Mark MacDonald of Venice Nutrition recommends Warrior Blend, Core, BNRG ProtoWhey, or VegaOne. As mentioned above, I prefer Warrior Blend because it is the cheapest allergen free option.