Healthy nutrition means having a 360-degree approach to what you put in your body, from food to hydration to supplementation.
Massage therapist Brooke Riley used to love to drink sodas and sweet iced tea “like crazy,” but all those sweetened beverages had bite: “I would have swelling in my hands and feet by the end of a day of massage,” she said.
She knew she had to make a change, so she gave up the soda and iced tea and switched to water. “I found the more I stayed hydrated with water the less swelling (if any) I would have in the morning or after work,” she said. “I now very rarely drink anything other than water daily. When I do have that glass of iced tea, I can feel it the next day.”
Nutrition—of which water is an important part—is incredibly important for massage therapists, who, like athletes, use their whole bodies to do massage, said Riley, who is an operations specialist for Massage Heights, a nationwide family-owned therapeutic massage and facial services franchise company based in San Antonio, Texas.
“Massage therapy is like a workout each session. If you feed your body good, healthy food and keep hydrated you can work out long and harder, and the same goes for doing massage six to eight hours out of the day,” she said.
To keep herself in top condition for a long day of massage sessions, Riley avoids eating big meals with “heavy” foods. Instead, she drinks about a gallon of water throughout the day, and eats six small meals or snacks. “This helps me to feel balanced,” she said. “I don’t get hungry because I’m eating between clients, and I don’t get tired from heavy foods.”
Here are some nutrition tips for athletes that massage therapists can use to keep feeling good and help maintain stamina:
According to UPMC Sports Medicine, a division of UPMC health system in Pennsylvania that partners with sports teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins as well as more than 60 high school, college, and regional teams, an adult female should drink 91 ounces of fluids a day and an adult male should drink 125 ounces. That’s a little less than ¾ of a gallon for females and just under a gallon for males.
UPMC Sports Medicine also recommends keeping a close out for signs of dehydration, such as
- Muscle cramping
- Muscle fatigue
- Decrease in energy
- Declines in coordination and/or performance
To avoid getting dehydrated, schedule hydration breaks. UPMC Sports Medicine recommends drinking four to eight ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. If you have a hard time remembering, set an alarm on your smartphone or use a water reminder app like WaterMinder. And keep in mind that hydration can come from foods—not just fluids. UPMC Sports Medicine suggests fruits such as grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries and cantelope.
Carbohydrates are a good source of fuel to energize working muscles. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s basic nutrition fact sheet for athletes, getting your carbs from fruits and grains is the way to keep your body healthy.
Some meal and snack recommendations they make are
- a bagel and a medium orange
- pasta topped with steamed veggies
- a pita pocket and low-fat vegetable soup
- a cup of nonfat or regular yogurt with a cup of blueberries or raspberries
- Whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Vegetable or bean soups
- Tortilla wraps with vegetables and lean meats
- Pita pockets with hummus
- Pasta with grilled chicken
Whenever possible, select whole grain options rather than foods that are highly-processed. And when eating proteins such as meats, choose lean meats such as chicken or turkey. Fish is not only a good source of protein; it does double-duty as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation.
The issue of whether or not to take supplements can be a touchy one, but, in many cases, you can get the benefits of supplements in foods. Take for example vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, B12 and D, and calcium and iron. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, these nutrients are easily sourced in foods:
- Vitamin B12, which can enhance stamina, is found in fortified foods such as cereals, but also in seafood, eggs and milk and cheese.
- Iron, which helps oxygen travel throughout the body in blood, can be found in clams, turkey breast, beans, spinach, oysters, bison, duck eggs and breast meat, lentils, prune juice, artichokes, soybeans and oats.
- Vitamin A, an antioxidant, is found in sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, collard greens and spinach.
- Calcium is found in milk and cheese, but also in almonds (and almond milk), collard greens, kale, tofu, sardines, salmon, bok choy, yogurt, kefir and soy-based products such as soy milk or soy yogurt.
- Vitamin D is found in many types of fish including freshwater rainbow trout, salmon, tuna and tilapia. It’s also in raw mushrooms and almond and rice milks.
Massage work means a lot of wear and tear on the body, so using nutrients to repair injured or tired tissues is a good way to support overall body function and health.
Vitamin C mends damaged connective tissue and boosts the immune system. Besides citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, vitamin C is found in green and red peppers, broccoli, strawberries, tomato juice, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.
Foods that are rich in antioxidants, carotenoids and bioflavonoids help reduce inflammation and protect and support connective tissues. They include apricots, limes, yams, sweet potato, green tea, buckwheat, cherries, red grapes, kale, spinach, winter squash, and all types of berries but especially dark berries such as blackberries.
It may be easier to reach for a Snickers bar between clients, or rush out to McDonald’s to grab a Big Mac and fries through the drive-thru, but you aren’t doing yourself or your clients any favors by going that route, said Riley.
“Nutrition is key to how you feel every day,” she said. “If you keep your body healthy you are more likely to be able to sustain a longer, physically demanding job. As therapists, we have to keep our energy levels up or it shows in our work.”
About the Author:
Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine.