Nutrition and the Musician

2001 Health Care Supplement

Volume CI, No. 5May, 2001

Robert Kirshoff, M.S., C.N.S.

This year’s Health Supplement focuses on alternative medicine – specifically, on the value of Chinese medicine, nutrition and biofeedback to musicians. The authors of two articles are 802 members who have developed careers in health care.

Guitarist Robbie Kirshoff, a professional musician since the early ’80s, became a vegetarian as a teenager and has always been focussed on exercise and diet. Eventually his interest in nutrition became compelling and he went back to school for a master’s in nutrition, then took his certification exams. He has been practicing in Northport, Long Island, since the mid-’90s. He continues to play professionally, subbing on a number of shows.

When invited to write this article for Allegro, I was asked to focus on the health concerns of musicians. I thought, are we musicians different from other people? The tongue-in-cheek answer would be yes, but of course we’re not. Biochemically we are all alike, in that we need air, water and food. Of course, that is a simplistic view of our nutritional needs. We also need well-functioning organs and body systems to properly manage the breakdown of food (carbohydrates, protein and fat) to support the function and healthy growth and maintenance of tissue, organs and muscle. Which leads to the topic at hand, and that is energy. Specifically, how can we use nutrition to promote sustained energy levels and prevent mental fatigue throughout the often hectic day of a musician?

If you’re like me, your day starts early and ends rather late. Barring a disease state that may be causing chronic fatigue, the most important thing to do is to stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day. You may wonder, if you are not diabetic, why you need to control blood sugar. Our first line of defense against fatigue is preventing the “highs and lows” that often accompany fluctuations in blood sugar. Stabilizing your blood sugar basically involves controlling insulin, a hormone that is released in response to eating carbohydrates and is responsible for getting glucose to our cells, where we need it. Insulin, by the way, is also a fat storage hormone. So an added bonus of maintaining stable blood sugar is loss of body fat and weight loss.


  • Eat five or six meals a day. Either three medium-sized meals and two or three snacks or six smaller meals spaced within three to five hours of each other should do the trick.
  • Don’t skip breakfast, and try to eat within one hour of waking up. This will level out your blood sugar from the previous night’s fast.
  • Include protein at every meal, especially breakfast. Studies show that protein (lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy and soy products) actually boosts metabolism.
  • Keep your intake of carbohydrate (fruits, vegetables, grains and starches) to 40 to 50 percent of daily intake.
  • Limit your intake of sugar (refined flour, table sugar, sweetened cereals, candy, bagels, etc.) as much as possible. It may give you immediate energy, but in the long run will only slow you down.
  • Don’t get caught unprepared on a hectic day away from home. Plan ahead and throw a few Balance or Zone bars in your gig bag. These bars, unlike Power bars, are designed to keep blood sugar stable.
  • Whether preparing meals at home or eating out, a good rule of thumb is to divide your plate into “thirds.” Cover one third with lean protein, about the size of your palm. Cover the second third with a complex carb such as brown rice. And cover the last third with vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower or a large green salad.
  • Add a little “good” fat such as olive oil, olives, almonds, cashews, natural peanut butter or avocado to meals to help balance the meal and your blood sugar.
  • Avoid energy-zapping stimulants like caffeinated coffee and cola drinks.


The next piece of the energy puzzle is supplementation. Since our diets rarely provide optimal levels of vitamins, minerals and other energizing nutrients, you may want to consider supplementing your diet with the following “natural” nutrients. Try the first two or three of the following and see how you feel. Then add the others as you feel you need them.

  • B-complex, 50 mg./day. These vitamins are essential for energy production in our cells.
  • Antioxidants, particularly 500-1000 mg. of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E daily, are necessary to support the fatigue-fighting adrenal glands.
  • Magnesium is the most important mineral for energy production. Amounts of 500-750 mg. daily are adequate.
  • CoQ10 in amounts of 30-90 mg. daily plays a role in energy production in every cell of the body.
  • Carnitine in amounts of 500-2000 mg. daily helps us use our stored fat for energy and has incredible energy producing ability.

Here is an example of a one-day energy boosting meal plan:

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with low-fat cheese, whole-wheat toast, cantaloupe or other fruit.

Snack: Roasted soy nuts and a piece of fruit.

Lunch: Sliced turkey breast sandwich with lettuce, tomato and lite mayo, dill pickle, piece of fruit.

Snack: Balance or Zone bar.

Dinner: Broiled salmon, brown rice, steamed broccoli with lemon, tossed salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Snack: Cup of soy or low-fat milk.

I hope this has given you some “food for thought” with regards to maximizing your energy levels. Give some of these principles a try for a few weeks and see how you feel. And please feel free to e-mail me at if you have any questions.