A percussionist's essential guide to body conditioning

A combination of food choices and physical training supports percussionists to achieve the speed, strength, dexterity and stamina they require. Whether performing on timpani, marimba, snare drum, bass drum or another percussion instrument, you are highly active.


Your performance requires large body motion from multiple muscle groups and repetitive fine movements. Body conditioning through nutrition and exercise helps to reduce the risk of performance-related injuries. Your dietary choices have a key role in maximising the benefits of exercise and in optimising your instrumental performance.

Body conditioning

Percussion performance often depends on repetitive and extreme stress on the shoulder, forearm, wrist and fingers. Performance sessions may be prolonged. Carrying a heavy instrument is physically strenuous. While these are unavoidable, some habits which increase stress can be avoided, in particular poor ergonomics and insufficient body conditioning. 

Specialist techniques have been refined intricately to create the sounds of percussion. Effective ergonomics to reduce physical stress does not alter the sound created by specialist techniques. 

Nutrition and physiological development have roles in rehabilitation for the range of common musculoskeletal conditions affecting percussionists, notably repetitive strain injury, tendonitis and bursitis. These rehabilitation strategies may also be used to help prevent common injuries, through body conditioning with nutrition and exercise. 

One vital note of caution is that, tempting as it might be, the point of pain is a clear message to your body to stop. Playing through pain is likely to exacerbate a condition and delay treatment. If you are experiencing pain, you need to consult a healthcare practitioner. Body conditioning may, however, form part of a treatment plan, in conjunction with medical advice.

Resistance bands

Resistance bands are a practical, low cost and effective option to strengthen your musculoskeletal system. Including a resistant exercise training programme as part of your practice routines supports body conditioning.

When the muscles in one area of the body are not as well adapted to perform a task, other muscle groups are likely to overcompensate, such as the muscles in the forearm compensating for wrist muscles. Such muscular imbalance contributes to injuries among percussionists, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and bursitis. Resistance bands help to overcome muscle imbalances.

Correct posture promoted by enhanced bone mass leads to an increased range of motion. Resistance bands help to enhance bone mass and increase the range of motion necessary for percussionists. 


Balancing macronutrients in meals is the basis of nutritional support for body conditioning, complemented by hydration. Macronutrients have key roles.

Protein helps to support the growth of muscles and prevent the breakdown of muscles. Protein is also essential for repairing minor injuries to body tissue during exercise.

Glucose, the best supply of energy for your body, is broken down from carbohydrates (carbs). Some carbohydrates are broken down quickly for fast energy and some are broken down more slowly for sustained energy. Carbohydrates also help your muscles to recover after intense activity and reduce muscle soreness.

Fats are needed for all cell membranes in the body. Healthy fats have benefits specific to the type of fat. Omega-3 (an essential fatty acid) helps muscle strength and recovery.


Water is vital not only for basic survival but for optimal performance and recovery. The best way to stay hydrated is to drink small amounts of water regularly throughout the day for a total of about two litres (eight glasses). Some drinks (such as coffee or alcohol) are dehydrating. Water lost by your body during percussion performance needs to be replaced and you need more than the standard amount of water recommended. Drink before, during (if possible) and after performance.

Food for optimal music performance

A nutritionally balanced plate includes a portion of protein (meat, beans, pulses, fish, dairy) on 1/4 of your plate, vegetables (of different colours) on 1/2 of your plate and whole grains or starchy vegetables on 1/4 of your plate. 

Energy intake (from food, especially carbohydrates) needs to match the energy requirement for the activity. Percussion performance is a high-energy activity. A meal is essential before a long rehearsal or concert performance, whereas a snack may be enough for a short exercise session.

Not only what you eat but when you eat maximises the benefits of your food choices. Your body needs time to digest your food. Eating about two hours before a performance allows time for digestion so that digestion is not abandoned midway. 

Not all nutrients are stored in your body. Eating the right nutrients at the right time provides optimal support for your body to function.

Before a performance, key nutrients are carbohydrates, to boost your physical energy and mental clarity, and protein, to preserve muscle. The ratio needs to be in favour of carbohydrates by 3:1. 

After a performance, key nutrients needed within an hour are carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates top up energy reserves and reduce muscle soreness. Protein supports recovery by repairing and building muscle tissue. A similar ratio of 3:1 carbohydrate to protein is helpful for your post-performance meal.

Lifestyle factors for musicians often get in the way of a perfect plan for nutrition. A realistic approach is to follow your plan as closely as you are able, prioritising optimal food choices whenever possible.

Snack suggestions

Snacks are a good option to top up your meals, both before and after percussion performance, such as:

  • live yoghurt with berries and nuts
  • hummus and vegetable sticks
  • crushed avocado with hard-boiled egg 
  • cottage cheese and apple
  • banana and nut butter

Personalised programmes for percussionists

A holistic approach takes into account all the systems which interact to influence your health. A personalised holistic approach identifies the priorities to support your performance goals.

  • Digestive health. The benefits of nutrients in food depend on effective digestion, absorption, elimination of waste and detoxification.
  • Cardiovascular health. Good blood flow supports musculoskeletal health.
  • Weight management. A healthy weight reduces the risk of musculoskeletal conditions developing.
  • Rehabilitation. Nutrients from food and supplements contribute to effective rehabilitation from injury.

Working with me starts with a free online well-being review. Why not book your discovery call to find out how a programme could help you?


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  • Merlito, A. J. (2014) The Percussionist Bodybuilder: Optimising Performance Through Exercise and Nutrition. University Libraries. Available at: https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3197&context=thesesdissertations (Accessed 4.4.2024)
  • Smith, G., Atherton P., Reeds, D. et al (2011) Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperaminoacidemia-hyperinsulinemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clinical Science (London). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3499967/ (Accessed 10.4.2024)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Ruardean, Gloucestershire, GL17
Written by Jane Hickey, DipNT mBANT rCNHC
Ruardean, Gloucestershire, GL17

Jane, a registered Nutritional Therapist, specialises in the health and wellbeing of musicians with one to one programmes to support conditions associated with music performance.

Jane is also available for talks to groups and has a special interest in supporting music students learn the importance of self care.

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