The Four Hour Bassist: Health & Wellbeing For The Working Musician

This post is concerned with an aspect of being a musician that is often neglected – health.

Before I get started let’s get the common sense health & safety stuff out of the way:

Disclaimer #1: The opinions expressed in this post are a result of personal experience and are simply an account of a particular diet/exercise/practice regime that works for me. This may not apply to all readers of this post.

Disclaimer #2: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. Always consult an appropriately qualified health practitioner before making any significant lifestyle changes.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about my own health & wellbeing. I began to feel unwell after a gig and then spent the following 3 days in bed with some sort of miscellaneous food poisoning/manflu affliction. Then this morning I read this excellent post on NoTreble which serves as a good primer on nutrition for the gigging bassist (it is, of course, more relevant to US readers – I’m yet to find a service station on the M1 that offers a turkey hoagie or a Philly cheese steak…).

Here’s the thing: working as a musician often involves being active for long periods of time, often at extremely antisocial hours and in locations where it’s difficult (if not impossible) to get hold of anything apart from junk food. In order to sustain energy levels, it’s vital that we give our bodies the correct fuel to run on. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing concentration on the gig, dropping a few notes, forgetting the form, botching an arranged ending to a tune, getting cranky with bandmates during load-out and nearly falling asleep at the wheel on the drive home… Sound familiar?

About a year ago I was introduced to Tim Ferriss’ book ‘The 4-Hour Body’ by a friend who said he thought it would be “my sort of thing…”. Turns out he was right. Here’s the tome in question:

Firstly, I’m aware that this is a very silly book. Much of the content is aimed squarely at the testosterone-driven teenage boy that lurks within every grown man. However, if you skip past the sensationalist marketing tripe and pick out the advice that can realistically be adopted by most ‘regular’ folk then there’s actually some incredible, life-altering stuff in there.

The main thing I got from ‘The 4-Hour Body’ is my current diet, which gives me everything I need to cope with the often hectic and unpredictable lifestyle that I lead. Food, along with music, is one of my chief obsessions, and taking on Ferriss’ nutritional advice has helped me to get a much better insight into how what I put into my body affects me.

So, what do I eat? It’s actually more constructive to list the foods that I DON’T eat:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes (no crisps, no chips!)
  • Cereals
  • Rice
  • Tortillas/wraps
  • Fruit/fruit juice (except tomatoes and avocados)
  • Soft drinks
  • Beer

For a more detailed overview and explanation of the so-called ‘Slow-Carb Diet’ (as well as the infamous ‘cheat day’) there’s a book extract here

“But what does all this have to do with music?!” Good question.

I found that once I’d given up ‘white’ carbs (particularly anything bread-related) that my energy levels become much more consistent throughout the day – I stopped getting post-meal energy slumps and my blood sugar levels became far more consistent. This means that I can get through long days that involve practice, rehearsals, traveling to/from gigs, lugging gear around and writing voluminous blog posts much better than before.

I’m not suggesting that you all should rush out and buy a copy of the 4-Hour Body, renounce bread and embrace lentils. What I’m advocating is taking the time to reflect on what you’re putting into your body and how that might be affecting your energy levels (not to mention your concentration, productivity, relationships, sleep and physical appearance…). A lot of guys (and girls) that I regularly work with don’t seem to give any thought to nutrition and consequently often wonder why they don’t feel great when all they’ve consumed is a packet of crisps and a can of red bull…

On a practical level this means avoiding stuff like this when you’ve pulled into a service station at 1am on the way back from a gig:

I’d rather spend an eternity listening to Kenny G than ingest this. No, really.

Queries/comments/suggestions are encouraged – doubt and scepticism are healthy.