Proper nutrition and hydration are obviously needed to keep your body in good working order. But how much—and what— should you consume during your marching season?
Did you know that the average drum corps member drinks two to three gallons of water a day? That’s nearly six times the amount recommended for the average person! If this is true for drum corps, what does that mean for high school and college bands across the country? How are marching organizations working to keep their members properly fed and hydrated to ensure optimal performance, endurance and health?
Marching ensembles are educating their members on the importance of good nutrition and hydration, and each organization has a unique way of doing it. The Drum Corps Medical Project has advanced health and nutrition within drum corps, including making a push for each group to have an athletic trainer or sports medicine professional on staff. Organizations outside of drum corps, such as the Hoover (Ala.) High School Marching Band and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcat Marching Band, also emphasize proper nutrition by providing nutrition courses and seminars designed to educate and encourage students about making healthy choices outside of the organization. This is important since eating habits of high school and college students cannot be monitored as closely as those of drum corps members.
“In college, especially, kids are on their own and making their own decisions in terms of how they eat,” says Casey Goodwin, director of the UNH Wildcat Marching Band. “We have a big meeting in the beginning to go over nutrition because many are making decisions for the first time. We need to encourage them to try to make good decisions during band camp, and hopefully they carry some of that with them outside of band time and make healthier choices.”
Ryan Fitchpatrick, director of the Hoover High School Marching band, echoes this sentiment. “There’s so much going on throughout the students’ academic week,” he says. “We do try to keep things balanced and try to keep looking out for their best interest. We do our part to communicate how decisions they make now are going to impact them in their future.”
Marching members work incredibly hard through long, hot summer days—up to 12 hours a day for drum corps performers and only slightly less for musicians during high school or college band camp. “This is within the realm of an endurance athlete— a runner or a football player,” says Dr. Michael Green, emergency physician for The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps.
Like any athlete, a marching member needs to remain fully hydrated throughout the day. “Good hydration is a conversation that everyone should be aware of and have with their members,” Green says.
The UNH Wildcat Marching Band encourages members to bring their own water bottles to practice and provides jugs of water to refill these bottles.
When it comes to hydration of an athlete, should only water be consumed, or do sports drinks have their benefits?
Cora Ray, performing arts medical supervisor for the Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps, believes there may be relevant times for both. “Sports drinks are better throughout the day—after blocks, during lunch—to refuel electrolytes and sugars burned,” she says. “I don’t recommend sports drinks during block. If [members] drink too much of it, the body stops absorbing the salts, sugars and electrolytes and begins to store them and weigh the kids down. Water is better about total rehydration because it metabolizes all cellular activity which takes in all those electrolytes and sugars.”
Green, however, believes that the best drink choice depends on the food content. “As long as [members] are getting their electrolytes during the meal, water should be fine [throughout the day],” he says. “If there is not enough salt in the food, it doesn’t hurt to have Gatorade as long as there isn’t too much sugar.”
Thoughts on sports drinks vary widely. In the Madison Scouts, members often consume a couple cups of Gatorade during meals. In the Blue Knights, however, sports drinks are not seen as necessary. “Gatorade has a lot of sweeteners and sugar,” says Andrea Chilcote, head physical trainer of the Blue Knights. “Water is more pure and more of what the body needs, especially when they’re eating so much during the day.”
Both Green and Ray compare marching members to endurance athletes, saying that their athletic expectations are very similar to those of cross-country runners.
If it is recommended that the average person consume 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day, what nutritional needs do marching organization members have to sustain their endurance throughout the day? “Drum corps members need 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day,” Ray says.
That’s nearly twice the amount of calories the average person should consume!
High school and college bands do not need quite as many calories, but Ray still recommends they eat more than 2,000 calories on rehearsal days—as long as those calories come from good protein and carbohydrates.
Calories consumed by marching members must be part of a well-balanced diet. “They need a lot of carbohydrates because of the amount of energy they use throughout the day and [need] protein and fat to rebuild their muscles,” Ray says.
She suggests balanced meals that include carbohydrates and good protein such as chicken, turkey or fish. Green agrees with these sentiments, adding that complex carbohydrates—vegetables and fruits—are much better than simple ones—starches and sugar.
For high school and college groups, monitoring what the members eat can be tricky. The UNH Wildcat Marching Band is given access to the dining hall during its on-campus band camp. “When they go in there, they have all kinds of choices for food, and we hope to really stress the importance of making the right decisions,” Goodwin says.
The Hoover High School Marching Band meets at school for band camp from 8:00 a.m. to noon and again from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., so the students eat at home on their own.
Drum corps are able to monitor their members’ nutritional intakes much more carefully. Different groups, however, take different approaches to feeding their members.
In the Madison Scouts, meals are planned out on 12-day rotations. Dann Petersen, director of the Madison Scouts, believes that meals must be a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat and calories. “Because of the physical demands of the activity, the average member will eat between 3,000 and 4,000 calories each day at a 2-1-1 ratio,” Petersen says. “This means that 50% of their calories come from carbs, 25% from protein and 25% from fats.”
The Blue Knights also believe in balanced nutrition. The members eat a lot of pasta since it is easy to make and can be prepared in large quantities. “It’s hard to feed 150 kids plus volunteers,” Chilcote says. “We eat a lot of pasta and a lot of what can be donated.”
Members of marching organizations exerting that much energy not only need proper nutrition but they also need to eat frequently. On the high school and college level, many directors encourage their members to eat three meals a day.
At UNH, access to the dining hall for breakfast is not provided to members during camp. In the past, Goodwin has found that students will generally elect to sleep in rather than go to the dining hall, which is on the opposite side of campus from the practice field. “I try to stress breakfast being really important,” Goodwin says. “Many have breakfast in their rooms. Sometimes, Kappa Kappa Psi will provide bagel breakfasts.”
Ray suggests that high school and college organizations also provide their members with a snack if the time between meals becomes too long. “If the period between meals is too long, then it can affect the way the body metabolizes food and [hurt] the performance,” Ray says.
During spring training, most drum corps feed their members up to four times a day. A nighttime snack, or “fourth meal,” is regarded as very important in drum corps. The Madison Scouts either serve leftovers from previous meals or something slightly different. “We serve mostly salty snacks for fourth meal to help replenish salts and encourage hydration,” Petersen says. “We strive to avoid empty calories, high fructose corn syrup and sweet snacks; they don’t lend themselves to athletic performance.”
Food is such an important factor in the marching community that it has even lent itself to traditions within different organizations. Some traditions are fun and goofy; some come from a need for relaxation; and some are even healthy.
The UNH has a few fun traditions involving food. “Before games, the band goes to the dining hall,” Goodwin says. “They like to play this game where they toss an apple around and catch it on a fork.”
Another UNH food tradition is not quite as healthy as apples. “It started a few years ago during a bus trip when a student brought mini chocolate-covered donuts and squeeze cheese,” Goodwin says. “They combine the two and call it ‘breakfast of champions.’ It’s truly optional, and anyone can participate or decline. Some of them absolutely love it.”
While goofy but unhealthy traditions do exist in the marching arts, some organizations do have food rituals that are very nutritious. The Hoover High School band feeds students and their families watermelon at the conclusion of band camp. This tradition is about more than just giving the students a healthy snack; it’s about giving them some much-needed rest and bonding time with their families.
“This tradition has been going on for about 20 years,” Fitchpatrick says. “We bring in parents and allow them to see the progress that has been made throughout band camp. We have watermelons that are donated by one of our local groceries. It’s great to have something fun and refreshing that everyone can enjoy together.”
In the drum corps realm, the Blue Knights have a couple traditions involving food. During spring training, a peanut butter and jelly station is always open for the members as a healthy snack. Chilcote also says that the group’s chef is a tradition in and of himself. “Every morning he says, ‘Good morning, Blue Knights!’ He thinks that if he doesn’t, then their whole day will be thrown off,” she says. “He’s really great. Everyone who volunteers on the food truck is incredible.”
Within such a demanding activity, proper nourishment is essential to the participants’ health, well-being and overall performance. “It’s a good thing that all instructors are aware of hydration and nutritional needs,” Green says. “It’s a conversation that needs to be had from instructors to kids to let them know what to look for and to be aware of these things.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liz Wright is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is a senior at the University of Cincinnati (UC) studying creative writing, communications and journalism. She marched trumpet for five years in the Kenston High School Marching Band in Bainbridge, Ohio, and for three years in the UC Bearcat Marching Band. After graduation, Liz hopes to pursue a career in copyediting.