28 November 2014

(Much Needed) Update to Conditioning Best Practices

A few Blog Months ago, I attempted a post on "conditioning best practices for tuba players." I just revisited it and confirmed my nagging suspicion that I've since disproved most of what I then thought to be true. After years of frustration I have only in the last several months made some real progress, progress which I suspect might age quite a bit more gracefully than it did the last time I thought I could say so. Who really knows. Again, I will offer the disclaimer that this reflects only one person's experience, and even then may cease to be relevant in short order.

The first, unfortunate, point is that I still have yet to achieve perfect interchangeability in musical results between a strictly vegan diet and one which involves occasional strategic beef loading. Two days in advance of an important playing obligation seems nearly always to be an effective time to do this. Whether this restores depleted iron and protein supplies in the body or simply provides an extra caloric boost I have no idea at this point. However, it is very real and I am now relying on it, with notable success in recent months.

Man, did I trash napping back when I wrote the other post. For whatever reason, napping has now become my choppers' best friend rather than their worst enemy, indicating that something else was fishy back in the day which for whatever reason a substantial midday nap badly exacerbated. Everyone should read Dr. William Dement's The Promise of Sleep. It has priceless information that everyone can use, like the fact that the "two-thirty feeling" is actually a natural drop in the body's built-in alerting system. (Closed-circuit to white people: this means that the siesta is actually a scientifically justifiable masterstroke of productivity, not an emblem of laziness. I am proving it.) Having claimed the 6am-2pm shift at work almost a year ago, I am finding that for me as someone who has never been able to sleep very long at a time, it is highly effective for me to basically only ever try to sleep when alerting is low, i.e. late night into early morning and early to mid-afternoon. When I have work during the day and gigs at night I sometimes end up sleeping almost an equal amount during both stretches for days at a time. Sounds awful to you, maybe, but for me it's a godsend as I never have to go straight from work to a gig or vice versa without refreshing myself.

By the end of a long day without any breaks, you simply have no energy, and what I'm coming to suspect is that looking at all of this in terms of general energy level is a much more fruitful approach than focusing on specific muscles. This is informing my eating as well. If you have seen me eat, you most likely share my disbelief that my prior struggles with conditioning could possibly have been due to insufficient caloric intake; and yet, I am paying more attention to this and it is working. I am also going out of my way to diversify my diet rather than eating so much of the same things, and while I can't say for sure that this has had any impact, it sure can't hurt. Right now I am halfway through Enette Larson-Meyer's Vegetarian Sports Nutrition and am most struck by the sheer number of nutrients that factor directly into performance athletics. In the past I probably was getting decent amounts/proportions of macronutrients but not nearly the diversity of micronutrients she outlines. I am making the effort now; it helps to be close to the nation's fruit basket, and lots of Trader Joe's locations.

You're laughing at the phrase "performance athletics" on a tuba blog? I was right there with you for a long time and the consequences nearly ruined me physically and emotionally. This leads me to probably my most disturbing recent discovery, soon to be put to the final empirical test over winter break but right now with very strong anecdotal evidence to support it, and this is that ceasing all unnecessary strenuous athletic activity (in my case, my coveted handful of trips to the basketball court each week) has made a dramatic positive difference in my tuba playing. How is this even possible? Strong aerobic conditioning is thought by many to have great benefits to wind players. For whatever it's worth, I for one have never quite been able to prove this to myself anyway; more substantively, though, I strongly suspect that this amount of strenuous exertion has simply been depleting my energy stores and that I have not been getting the right amount/kind of either food or sleep in the recovery period. There were hints of this as soon as I started paying attention, but it was too uncomfortable a conclusion; there's no way tuba playing could burn all the extra calories I've been consuming by itself, and the absence of strenuous physical activity is literally a death wish. Is this where the fat tuba player thing comes from? I hope not, but I certainly am paying close attention to all of this. Stay tuned for the results of future experiments.

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