My name is Maeve Mackinnon and I’m a contemporary Gaelic singer from Glasgow. I’ve always had a love of fitness, and over the last 12 years of gigging I’ve made fitness a part of my daily routine, regardless of where I am in the world. As well as teaching, I’ve been lucky to tour nationally and internationally with my own solo project for the past 12 years and released three solo albums along the way. In early 2015 I started touring with the amazing dance show, The Stepcrew, and these days I find myself on the road in the USA and Canada with those guys about 5 times a year. I decided somewhere along the way that no matter which timezone I was in, lack of facilities, adverse weather conditions or time of day, it’s possible to get a bit of exercise into your daily routine.
When I was starting out in this game I knew nothing about self-care and I made a number of mistakes, including having a poor diet and existing purely on alternating adrenaline and anxiety. These sorts of habits would invariably lead to the body being deprived of proper nutrition, depleted adrenaline and healthy brain chemistry, resulting in “downer” spells. Although I always kept my “oar in” with exercise, I got back into it in a big way when my father was diagnosed with cancer for the first time, and I credit exercise with getting me through the tougher times in my life. Hopefully my sharing what works for me might resonate and help other musicians or touring artists to maintain a sense of balance and head space in their working schedules.
When you’re touring you need to create a routine that works for you, really in order to maintain some form of consistency in often hectic travel or gig days. If you don’t create routine there’s a danger of developing addictions or other mental health problems. I’ve not always had the best relationship with exercise or food myself, but it’s a work in progress.
It’s very difficult to control what you eat when you’re on the road and prior to a tour I tend to get a bit anxious about this. I have IBS and I have to be very careful about what I consume as certain foods can trigger a bad reaction. The biggest traps I’d say are service stations when on the road (see Mohsen Amini’s “health” blog for reference), and I used to be bad for ordering fried food and wine from restaurants after a gig and then wonder why my dresses didn’t fit me a couple of weeks into a tour, even with exercise. Due to all the additives found in food (more on this later), I’d massively recommend eating and drinking freshly–made food all the way. Your system will thank you for it, especially if you’re jet-lagged and tired.
Let’s be frank about this. Sometimes the idea of a work out is the last thing you want to do. I’m thinking of my own experiences, for example of arriving in San Francisco after a sleep-deprived 10 hour flight having sat behind a screaming child the whole way. But here’s what I do know. You never ever regret having done a work-out. I have gotten through some tough and not-so tough times in my life by relying on the endorphines released by exercise.
Here are 6 tips that regularly get me through touring:
1. Check the facilities
Before going on tour, check your “tour book” or schedule to find out what hotels you’ll be staying in, and google them. In the USA most hotels have pools and some have a gym, so I always make sure to pack my runners, gym gear and a swimsuit. If the hotel doesn’t have any exercise facilities for example if you’re gigging in mainland Europe, make sure to take your trainers anyway, and a fleece, depending on the weather, so you can at the very least have a half hour walk or jog.
2. Plan your day
Find a way to fit exercise into your day. There have been times on tour I’ve gone for a swim at 11pm, or gotten up that wee bit earlier to fit in a half hour work out on a travel day. I tour with professional dancers who practice Yoga in their down time and there’s also an app you can download called the 15 Minute Workout. No matter how jet-lagged you are, you won’t regret having done this. And if it’s after a show, you can always join everybody in the bar afterwards and feel like you’ve earned your glass of wine!
3. Medical kit
I’ve been caught out a few times without basic medicines when I’ve been on the road. I was once bitten by a large spider during an outdoor gig at Winnipeg Folk Festival. My ankle swelled up like a balloon, I had no antihistamines on me and the boys in my band kindly referred to my“cankle”. After that I learned to pack a wee emergency kit of medicine. This includes paracetamol, Voltarol gel, a wee throat spray and various vitamins and supplements. I’m very aware that vitamins and supplements can be a controversial area and fall into the alternative medicine bracket for some people. My Dad was a GP with a degree in sports medicine and nutrition. He was vehemently against taking alternative medicine as well as vitamins and supplements as he believed there was no scientific basis to their effectiveness. However I’m a wee bit superstitious about some things so I continue to take things like Omega oils and Vitamin C just in case!
4. Hotel breakfasts
I’m not a breakfast person, but I force myself to eat it when I’m on tour. If we’re leaving the hotel at a reasonable hour to do a travel day, I normally pack the night before, check what time breakfast is on until, do a work-out or a swim earlier in the morning and grab some toast and a coffee on my way out the door. It’s a good wee money-saving trick and means you’re not ravenous with hunger twenty minutes into a 6 hour journey. For the horribly early starts I usually buy and stash a multipack of cereal bars. There’s nothing worse than leaving the hotel at 5am and there’s no breakfast available.
5. Avoid corn syrup
I am allergic to corn and the single worst ingredient I have discovered touring in the States is corn syrup. It is terrible for you and appears in absolutely everything processed in America; all snacks, most yoghurts, breakfast cereals and most carbonated drinks including Diet Coke. The use of corn syrup in foods came about from a surplus of American corn starch production, and it’s got sort of an all-purpose useage as a sweetner and savoury additive too. Unfortunately in the US most venue riders contain mainly corn-syrup products, so check the label and avoid it if at all possible. Check out this article for more information: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/20-foods-with-high-fructose-corn-syrup#section5
6. Adjusting time-zones
A few years ago I listened to a podcast by the musician Janek Gwizdala featuring the celebrated musician- turned nutrition and fitness expert Jeff Rothschild. It has absolutely changed the way I think about nutrition and particularly the importance of adhering to your circadian rhythm.
What I know works for me when adjusting timezones is to stay up as late as you can on the day you arrive, try and get some exercise, eat only when you feel hungry and don’t go to bed until after dinner. Otherwise your body has no idea what time-zone its in, you’ll be waking up at weird times of the night and feel generally spaced out and useless.
For more information on Maeve and The Stepcrew please visit: