The best food to eat on the day of a performance varies from person to person. For one musician, eating a banana might be the best option; for another, performing on an empty stomach might work better. The key is to keep track of what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat, in order to know how it affects your body and energy level during a performance. Through trial and error, you will learn what works best for you.
Below is a list of foods I recommend to try eating before a performance. Think of the list as suggestions rather than the only food options out there! Also keep in mind that the day of a performance is not the day to introduce a new food into your diet. You know how certain foods make your body feel and what your body can digest well. It’s best not to throw off its balance by trying something foreign.
1. Bananas - Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient to eat on the day of a performance, because they are our body’s primary source of energy. Carbohydrates help combat performance anxiety because they cause the brain to produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical. One banana contains about 27g of carbohydrates, as well as about 32mg of magnesium, which helps decrease the body's stress hormone, cortisol. Bananas are easily accessible and portable.
2. Spinach - Another food that is high in magnesium is spinach. A mere cup of spinach contains 157mg of magnesium. Spinach is also an excellent source vitamin K, which boosts memory and brain power. You can make a spinach salad or throw a handful of spinach leaves in soup or a smoothie.
3. Red bell peppers - Vitamin C is another nutrient that helps reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress. There is about 152mg of vitamin C in one red bell pepper. Red bell peppers make a great snack, especially when paired with a dip such as hummus.
4. Oats - Oats are a great way to load up on complex carbs, fiber, and nutrients. They also contain tryptophan, which decreases cortisol. What better way to gain energy and keep you mentally alert through a performance day than with a warm bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.
5. Dried fruit - Dried fruit is a great high-calorie snack to help keep you satisfied. It’s also easy to take with you when you're on the go. Dried apricots are a particularly good choice because they’re high in magnesium. However, it’s important not to eat too many, because large quantities of dried fruit can have a laxative effect.
6. Nuts and seeds - Nuts and seeds are another high calorie snack that is easily portable. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in some nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and cashews. Omega-3s are said to improve brain function and mood. Some nuts and seeds, such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds also contain tryptophan. However, be careful not to have too many, because eating too much fat can make you feel tired and sluggish before a performance. Eat a handful, not a jarful!
7. Cocoa powder - Chocolate lovers rejoice! Cocoa powder contains both tryptophan and magnesium, and can have an effect on your mood before a performance. A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that people who drank a dark chocolate drink, equal to about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate per day, felt calmer than those who didn’t.
8. Tea - There are many types of tea that have been proven to combat stress and boost brain function. Kava tea is known to be sedating without disrupting mental clarity. Many studies have concluded that kava is effective at relieving anxiety. Chamomile tea is another soothing tea that has been proven to decrease depression and anxiety symptoms. Green tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been proven to increase mental focus, as well as have a calming effect.
Keep in mind that these suggestions are just a few of the thousands of healthy options out there. However, there are also some foods that should be avoided on the day of a performance. Foods that can increase performance anxiety and fatigue include alcohol, coffee and caffeinated soft drinks, processed foods that are high in refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, and foods that are high in saturated fat.
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2. Carolyn Dean, The Magnesium Miracle: Discover the Essential Nutrient That Will Lower The Risk of Heart Disease, Prevent Stroke and Obesity, Treat Diabetes, and Improve Mood and Memory, (New York: Ballantine, 2007.)
3. Nancy Presse, "Vitamin K Status and Cognitive Function in Healthy Older Adults,” (Neurobiology of Aging 34.12: 2013).
4. PT Staff, "Vitamin C: Stress Buster,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200304/vitamin-c-stress-buster (Psychology Today: 2003.)
5. Hilâl Cerit, Linda Jans, and Willem Van der Does, "The Effect of Tryptophan on the Cortisol Response to Social Stress is Modulated by the 5-HTTLPR Genotype,” (Psychoneuroendocrinology 38.2: 2013).
6. Alan C. Logan, ”Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Major Depression,” (Lipids in Health and Disease 3.1: 2004).
7. Matthew P. Pase, "Cocoa Polyphenols Enhance Positive Mood States but Not Cognitive Performance: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” (Journal of Psychopharmacology 27.5: 2013).
8. Max H. Pittler and Edzard Ernst, “Efficacy of Kava Extract for Treating Anxiety: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” (Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 20.1: 2000).
9. Jay D. Amsterdam, "Chamomile May Have Antidepressant Activity in Anxious Depressed Humans: An Exploratory Study,” (Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 18.5: 2012).
10. Lekh Raj Juneja, “L-theanine - A Unique Amino Acid of Green Tea and Its Relaxation Effect in Humans,” (Trends in Food Science & Technology 10.6: 1999).