I get it. Your energy is running low, you’re craving that (artificially) sweet, sweet burst of caffeine to jolt you awake. You want to put on the best show you can and need the energy to do so. You need to get your energy quick if you’re going to get it at all.
Enter the energy drink.
Much has already been said about the dangers of energy drinks, and it’s true that there are many other far healthier and far more efficient ways to bring about a feeling of wakefulness. For the purposes of passing complete information along to my readers, I’ll touch upon alternative options and health risks briefly, but that’s not the main purpose of my article.
This article goes out to the employee who woke up at 7:00 to work eight hours and then drives straight to the theatre for call. The average working/school-going/child-raising/all-of-the-above person who can’t stop for a nap or a quick cardio session, and needs to get some sugar and caffeine into their system right now goddamnit. This article is for you.
Here’s how to drink an energy drink before a show in the most health-conscious way possible.
I am going to go into some detail on the dangers of consuming energy drinks and alternate energy sources one can seek, however, if you’re just looking for the bottom line on how drinking an energy drink without killing yourself during your show, feel free to scroll down to the “The Energy Drink” heading. I won’t begrudge it.
Risks and Danger
In order to understand how to consume an energy drink in a health-conscious way, let’s examine some of the risks involved.
Unreliable Energy Source
The sugar and especially high caffeine dosage in energy drinks will make consumers highly susceptible to a “crash” after the effects of the drink wear off. If you are not already relatively well-rested, an energy drink is only a temporary, and rather poor, substitute for sleep. Whereas the body can repair itself during sleep, an energy drink only places more stress onto the consumer’s body, and does nothing to attack tiredness at the source: that is, the buildup of the chemical adenosine. Adenosine builds up naturally as a result of the body’s efforts of metabolism throughout the day and is cleared away with sleep. Until a person rests to reset their adenosine levels, they will continue to feel tired… even if it takes until the caffeine wears off to hit them.
The pleasant, sugary taste and swift kick of energy can quickly become addictive. Further, as energy drinks and caffeine as a whole can contribute to poor sleep patterns, consumers might find themselves leaning more on these sources of energy the more they consume.
Caffeine is a diuretic. This means performers will be expelling water from their bodies (read: urinating) more often than usual. Coupled with excess sweating due to intense blocking or choreography, performers will quickly be susceptible to dehydration. Any measure of dehydration puts the voice at risk. The mucous membranes that line your vocal folds rely on hydration, as do all of the muscles that support and directly enable vocalization. Further, the sugars in energy drinks can produce a lot of phlegm in the throat, negatively impacting tone, and contribute to an uncomfortable “thick” feeling in the voice that many singers malign. Good hydration alongside the consumption of energy drinks will be necessary.
Pre-Show Anxieties Amplified
If you suffer from stage fright, as many performers do, energy drinks can put a normal level of jitters and unease into bad territory. Caffeine is already associated with increased heart rate, tremors, feelings of anxiety, and increased irritability, which no performer needs directly before stepping on stage.
Potentially dangerous… Especially in Context
Beyond the obvious dietary repercussions associated with the high levels of processed sugars in energy drinks, the high quantity of caffeine in these drinks can be problematic. While the average cup of coffee (intensely variable though it may be) might contain around 95 milligrams of caffeine, an average energy drink will contain between 110-160mg. This is already enough to produce negative side effects such as chest pain, heart palpitations, and tremors, among others. Within the context of performing, however, the dangers are ever more present. In addition to the aforementioned risk of dehydration, the increase in heart rate associated with drinking energy drinks can also lead to significant problems when exercise (like blocking and choreography) is introduced. Though a life-threatening situation is unlikely unless the consumer has a pre-existing heart condition or sensitivity to caffeine, consumption of energy drinks can put a performer off their game at best or seriously injure them at worst. Consuming responsibly is a must.
Now that we’ve explored the risks, I want to quickly mention some alternatives. These are loosely organized from “things you can try right now” to “things that will take long-term behavioral change”, for your convenience.
- Less harmful caffeine or sugar sources: A cup of coffee typically contains less sugar and less caffeine and will generally give you the jolt you need while being marginally more healthy for you. If you only need a small boost, try eating a chocolate bar or some fruit packed with natural sugars before the show! Remember, sugars do have a negative effect on the voice, so favor natural sugars over candy or soft drinks, and be sure to consume lots of water. Simply the act of eating can be of benefit: Even a snack without large quantities of sugar or caffeine might be enough perk you up!
- Exercise: A quick 10-20 minute jog, bike ride, or other cardio-heavy activity will not only boost your energy but also warm up the body and stimulate the brain to put you in great standing to begin a performance. If possible, consider biking to the theater instead of driving! You can also boost your energy by seeking even the mildest exercise readily available to you: take the stairs or park a little further away from the theater than usual.
- Take a nap: Rest is what your body is craving. Just give it what it needs! Though an ideal nap will last around 90 minutes (enough to complete a full “sleep cycle”), you can see benefits from a “power nap” of no longer than 20 minutes. Better yet, take a caffeine nap! Drink your coffee, then settle in for a 20-minute doze. You give your body some of the rest it requires, and throw in the energy boost caffeine provides, which will kick in just as your timer goes off. It’s a pretty sweet deal!
- Mental Stimulation/Grounding: If there is anything you can do to “gather” yourself for the coming performance, do it! This might involve playing a focus-heavy game on your phone for a few minutes, or going over lines or blocking, or even meditation or mantras. While the effects may vary from person to person, simply focusing your attention can be enough to perk you up and get you on your game.
- Better Diet: A long-term lack of energy can be due to poor dietary habits. Consider seeking nutrition guidance, or even honing in on your diet for a week or so just before the show. If nothing else, try eating better on the day of the show– consume a varied, largely non-processed quantity of carbs, fats, and proteins, in measured amounts throughout the day, in order to fuel yourself efficiently for the work you need to do once the curtain rises.
- Better Sleep Habits: When it comes to maintaining energy levels, there is no substitute for getting enough sleep and managing your daily internal rhythms. The average person needs between 7 and 9 hours of rest a night. Even if you struggle to get that normally, try your best to get it during the performance! Further, the human body loves regular, repeating patterns, and so going to sleep and waking up around similar times each day can be huge for improving energy levels day-to-day. If possible, arrange your sleep schedule so that rehearsals and performances won’t throw your bedtime or daily start out of whack.
The Energy Drink
If you haven’t got the time for the alternatives, or the taste for coffee, and really need a big influx of energy, I see you and you’re valid. Sure, in a perfect world, we’d all have healthy diets and get the sleep we need and wouldn’t have a need for canned synthetic energy sources. And yet, we’re far from a perfect world, and for many of us performing is an unfortunately low man on our totem poles, meaning we need to prioritize survival needs like work and family care above getting 9 hours of sleep and eating multiple healthy square meals a day over making it to the final curtain call of our unpaid theatre gigs unscathed.
So, cultivated from many personal shows’ worth of trial-and-error testing, here are my insights for minimizing the complications of drinking an energy drink before a show.
Healthy Pre-Show Energy Drink Consumption Guidelines:
- Start drinking well before the show, but not so far in advance that you crash before the final curtain.
- Drink slowly.
- Alternate with sips of water, and chase with even more water.
- Make sure you’ve eaten. Even better, have a small snack with the drink.
- Be sure to consider the day’s sugar/caffeine intake so you don’t drink too much.
- Try not to make this a habit.
Let me explain these further.
When I crack open an energy drink before a show, it’s typically the very first caffeinated beverage of my day. More than 250mg of caffeine a day can be harmful. Therefore, if you’ve already had a coffee with breakfast and lunch, that energy drink will very likely put you into a problematic range of consumption. Consider cutting down your caffeine intake throughout the day if you’re planning to consume an energy drink before a show.
I will often start drinking on the way to the theater, while I’m warming up my voice in the car. This is a good time for me to drink because it’s typically around two hours before the show, and drinking while warming up gives me a good chance to combat the voice-challenging side effects of the sugary beverage. Since I drink energy drinks with some regularity, I can say the effects for me typically last between 4 and 8 hours. Therefore, if I drink about two hours prior to curtain, I should still be feeling the energy by the end of the performance. Since I like to take regular sips of water in between sips of energy drink, I’ll usually stretch consumption of the drink to take anywhere between half an hour and an hour. I also like to have a small snack to eat while drinking, such as some almonds or crackers. This will help you to avoid most negative side effects, including jitters and heart palpitations.
I usually go to the restroom right upon finishing the drink because I know I’m going to need to multiple times, and I’d rather have to stop what I’m doing to pee before putting on lots of costume pieces or running into mic check, notes, or company warmups. Once I’m done with the drink, I’ll be drinking plenty more water, so I like to use the restroom multiple times before the show if possible. This goes double if I’m playing a role where I can’t leave the stage very frequently.
By taking the drink slowly, eating food, and drinking plenty of water, I typically feel none of the harsh side effects of the energy drink while enjoying the energy boost.
However, I have had some very negative reactions to energy drinks when I’ve not heeded my own advice.
For instance, I rushed to one performance of Matilda straight from work, having eaten nothing but a microwave mac and cheese for dinner, and chugged my entire energy drink within the span of a few minutes on the ride. That performance was somewhat harrowing– I spent the entirety of act one and parts of act two forcefully full-body shivering. I generally felt off my game and ended up with a bad headache. (Never something you want while surrounded by a large cast of children!) Luckily, the shaking worked as something of a character choice since I was playing Miss Honey, but the heightened nerves did not serve me well.
Prior to a performance in the ensemble of Mamma Mia I drank one energy drink on the way to the theater and, not feeling the effects quickly enough, decided to play it risky and have a second within a two hour span of time. Throughout the performance, I was nauseated and felt paradoxically unfocused, my attention span as quick as my uncomfortably increased heart rate. My lesson was learned quickly. Thankfully this was not a particularly high-stakes production or performance personally speaking, because I was very much unequipped to perform to the level required of me.
Where I ignore my own advice is in the fact that energy drinks are, unfortunately, somewhat of a habit for me personally. I often feel that no matter how I arrange my sleep or work schedules, I crave the influx of caffeine an energy drink provides just before a show. In this regard, I must ask that you do as I say and not as I do– and I will try my hardest to cultivate healthier habits in turn.
My fellow energy drinkers– do not feel ashamed. We must do what we can to be prepared for our performances. However, we must also do what we can to take care of ourselves, because we cannot perform well if we are not functioning at 100%. Drink the energy drink responsibly this time… and next time, consider exploring the alternatives I’ve provided.