As a registered dietitian nutritionist and fitness professional who works regularly with musicians, I’ve always been interested in their kinesiology, which is the study of their physical, mechanical, and psychological body stressors in relation to their energy needs when they perform. Musicians are like athletes in that they often have the same nutritional needs as someone running in a road race, so watching their performances can tell us a lot about their estimated nutrition and energy requirements. When I heard that The Winery Dogs, a high-energy power trio supergroup, were coming to Toad’s Place in New Haven, I purchased what is considered to be a special “gold circle” front row seat to take a closer look at the biomechanics of these high-energy rock musicians. The band had recently completed a world tour that included 100 concerts in fourteen countries, multiple interviews and appearances, a rock cruise, and a week-long music camp, all within a twelve month span following the release of their 2013 debut album The Winery Dogs. This meant often performing a few times a week in addition to their practice sessions, which is a tremendous amount of impact on the body not only from their performing, but from the wear and tear of traveling as well.
During their two hour show, it was difficult to tell who exerted more energy, but drummer Mike Portnoy definitely burned it up. Portnoy moves like a trained athlete as he transitions from a seated position to leaping into the air over above his drums without skipping a beat, often singing backup vocals while performing multiple tricks with his drumsticks, twirling and tossing them or bouncing them off various cymbals or other pieces of equipment. Later in the show Portnoy stood up on his stool to stir up the audience then continued with a remarkable routine away from his drums that included drumming on and around the stage in various squatting and kneeling positions. At one point he tapped his drumsticks on the back of Sheehan’s bass while keeping beat; needless to say he is not your typical drummer. It would take a great deal of dexterity, agility and strength of both the upper and lower body extremities to perform the way he does. Drummers like Portnoy require a tremendous amount of calories, nutrients and fluids to maintain their energy balance and strength to perform. Drummers are using their biceps, forearms, neck, and back muscles to name only a few, and Portnoy’s performance requires heavy use of his quadriceps and gluts as well. It appears that the Winery Dog’s drummer is very well conditioned and fit, and most likely knows how to keep well fed and hydrated in order to stay within a positive nitrogen balance. In simple terms that means consuming more than adequate protein and other nutrients to prevent muscle breakdown due to excess bodily losses of nitrogen.
Some of the most abundant nutrition requirements for the stressors of musicians on the road come in the way of obtaining adequate antioxidants from vitamins to phytochemicals with anti-inflammatory properties that are often found and consumed naturally with fruits and vegetables. There is a strong need for complex carbohydrates for energy along with a certain amount of fat that includes omega 3 fatty acids, and importantly, adequate protein to prevent and repair muscle tissue breakdown during high performance. Bassist Billy Sheehan portrays great stamina, energy, and leanness looking more like a cyclist than a bass player, but what’s more incredible is his age. At 60 years old, Sheehan moves non-stop while playing and singing back up vocals — that alone exerts a tremendous amount of energy. And what’s more incredible is he doesn’t appear to have any of the ailments some seasoned musicians have whether it be arthritis, rotator cuff problems, or tendonitis, and if he does he certainly doesn’t show it! To see and hear Sheehan perform a bass solo is exhilarating to watch; his high activity level and performance on stage along with the speed of his fingers moving up and down the frets hitting every string accurately has to be a tremendous amount of strain on his upper extremities and most likely his back as well.
Richie Kotzen may appear to move around less on stage due to being the lead vocalist while playing guitar, but his intensity of combined playing and singing may very well exert more caloric output then the activity level of Portnoy or Sheehan, not to mention his high-force guitar movements when he’s not vocalizing. Vocalizing is a strain alone on the body because it involves many organ systems and muscles from the respiratory system and lungs to the laryngeal muscles and larynx that house the vocal cords. Singing, especially while moving around, increases oxygen consumption and heart rate. Kotzen is gifted musician who plays several instruments, and his bluesy vocalizing alone may expel enough energy to eat up over 200 calories per hour, which is more than some people exert during exercise! Top it off with powerful guitar moves on stage and he’s probably burning up 400 to 500 calories or more per hour. Judging by the sweat pouring off of him under the hot stage at Toad’s, it’s apparent he requires as much hydration as a runner in hot weather – possibly more considering he needs to keep his vocal cords wet and hydrated. The stress from the guitar strap over his shoulder and the strength needed in his thighs for performing his lateral moves on stage along with the use of his forearms and biceps definitely requires quite a bit of carbohydrate for fuel and a great amount of protein to replace in his body for muscle repair. Water is the most important nutrient not only for keeping well hydrated, but for the vocal cords as well; unlike athletes who can handle caffeine, singers may not tolerate coffee as well, not only because of the diuretic properties that can dehydrate the mouth and vocal cord area, but because of the acidy level that may harm the vocal cords, or promote gastroesophageal reflux that can cause erosion to the esophagus. And lastly, something I’m sure these seasoned musicians are well aware of, going easy on alcohol is important as it can be very dehydrating and can impair both their performance and their singing as well as cause additional reflux.
Good nutrition may sound easy, but it’s harder when it comes to performing and traveling all over the world night after night, often not having access to food 24/7. Good nutrition for musicians takes a great deal of planning, and something tells me the Winery Dogs have perfected this, considering their level of performance. These musicians may or may not know their individual specific caloric or nutrient requirements, but they obviously know their bodies well enough from years of experience to maintain their high energy level and performance.