Need Energy to Sing? Stop Counting Calories

By Susan Brownfield

For decades, common nutrition advice has told us that “a calorie is simply a calorie.” We have been told that in order for us to maintain a healthy weight, we must simply be active enough to burn off all of the calories that we take in. Therefore, it should follow that if we want to lose weight, we should simply expend more energy than we take in. It might seem like common sense, when viewed that simply… but is it true?

What is a Calorie?

A simple definition for a calorie is a measurement of energy. In fact, a calorie equals 4.2 joules of energy, because a joule is defined as a unit of heat, work or energy. (I promise that’s the end of the science talk right there!)

We’ve heard “a calorie is a calorie” for so long that most people believe it to be true. In fact, many food companies cater to this philosophy and provide food products that have fewer calories to satisfy cravings, but help those who want to stay within a particular calorie range. However, recently this truism has been debated and many experts are investigating whether a calorie is truly “just” a calorie.

Real Food versus Calorie Counting

Doing math at mealtime, by counting calories, is not something that most people enjoy doing… but over the years it has become a common practice. This practice of calorie counting can also instill an element of fear surrounding the food we eat. That does no-one any favors, because in the end food is supposed to be there to nourish us and provide us with eating pleasure. Food need not become something we fear! Focusing on cutting down calories often does not allow a singer to maintain the energy needed for the often multi-faceted efforts required to maintain a music career these days. In fact, it can make practicing and performing feel almost impossible when the tank is empty!

Many players in the food industry would have their customers believe that any shiny package labeled across the front in big letters “ONLY 100 CALORIES!” contains something healthy for their bodies, but that is simply not true. These packages will usually contain numerous chemicals, artificial food colors, sugar, and yes, even trans-fats. Manufacturers can sneak this latter unsafe ingredient in (and even label the package as ‘trans-fat free’) as long as it’s kept under 0.5 grams per serving! Trans-fats were actually removed from the FDA’s “Generally Regarded As Safe” food list, but it persists in processed food through these kinds of labeling loopholes.

It has been repeatedly shown that processed foods, even those containing fewer calories, can cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the feeding ground for many chronic diseases and also contributes to obesity and weight loss difficulties.

Instead of focusing on the number of calories posted on a food package, we would be better served by putting those packages aside altogether, and opting for real foods that our bodies recognize and can use for real nourishment and energy. In fact, doing so can lead to leaner bodies and better health overall… and by extension, improve our abilities as musicians, as well.

Real Food Snacks That Satisfy

Eating nourishing food does not have to mean sacrificing taste. When our bodies are weaned off of processed food, our palates are able to adapt and change. Here are some snack options that are high on taste and contain no artificial ingredients. They all are real food options that our bodies can recognize and process healthfully.

1. 1 whole grain rice cake with nut butter
2. 2 cups of buttered popcorn (not microwave version)
3. 1 handful of almonds
4. 14 carrot sticks and hummus

I have found through personal experience that choosing real foods, instead of the ones in a box, is always a safer option. Creating a different relationship with food takes time, but it is definitely worth the effort — especially for those whose bodies are their instruments!



Susan is a classically trained singer currently living in Switzerland with her family. She has performed and taught for many years. In addition to music, Susan is passionate about all things related to health and wellness. An avid home cook, Susan loves to experiment with dishes from all over the world. She’s a homesteader in the making who finds herself in the city at the moment, but dreams of having a plot of land someday where she can put her hands in the soil and plant to her heart’s content. Learn more at


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