Nutrition & Exercise for Performers: Interview with Linden Furnell – by Grace Ng Ee Wern

Musical Theatre performers are high level athletes in a field that stretches the body and mind to their limits. They are singers- master controllers of the fine coordination of the respiratory and the phonatory system. They are dancers adept at fine muscular control and beauty of the physical line. They are actors- capable of memorizing whole scripts and bringing them to life on stage in a personal way. They have to sing, act and dance sometime all at the same time in a show that lasts 2-3 hours, 8 shows a week.

 

I had the great fortune to interview Singapore-based Sydneysider Linden Furnell in 2013. A graduate of Singapore’s Lasalle College of the Arts Musical Theatre BA program, Linden is not only a very busy musical theatre performer but also performs regularly on his guitar in various pubs around the Singapore and in Australia. On top of this, he also writes and composes his own music.

 

In addition to performing in musical theatre where he sings, acts and dances, Linden, 25, is also a passionate advocate of the Crossfit method of exercise and of the Paleo diet.

  1. Exercise

Grace : Tell me about Crossfit. What is this form of exercise and how long have you been involved in it?

Linden: Crossfit is described as ‘constantly varied functional movement at high intensity’. Basically means every exercise is based on movements we do in day to day life, there is no bicep pumping, leg curling etc. Exercises strengthening these movements are varied in a changing mix known as a workout-of-the-day (WOD). It is a holistic approach to fitness.

Grace: Do you have any exercises that you like and why?

Linden: I’m partial to the more acrobatic exercises like muscle ups and pull ups, they’re fun and also have a great aesthetic effect on the body. I also very much enjoy the olympic weightlifting work (snatches, cleans etc) because it requires such specific technique – brute strength will get you nowhere without technique.

Grace: How does Crossfit benefit you as a performer?

Linden: I have a lot more respiratory endurance. I’m starting to do WODs with an air restricting gas mask – kind of like high altitude training. Obviously this improves your oxygen efficiency. I also have noticed my balance is substantially stronger, all the small complementary muscles in the shoulders, ankles, core etc are not ignored in Crossfit workouts as they can be in other regimes.

  1. Diet and Nutrition

Grace: What is the Paleo Diet?

Linden: The Paleo Diet was founded by Dr Loren Cordain. It advocates eating the way hunter-gatherer cavemen did- lots of fresh fruit and meat, less refined sugars, processed foods, dairy products and legumes.

Grace: Why the Paleo Diet?

Linden: When I’m training hard, low starch, no sugar or grains provides me with a source of clean, sustainable energy. Rice and other carbohydrates tends to attract blood to the stomach and bog me down during high intensity workouts. Bowel movements are also smooth and easy with the Paleo diet.

I must admit though that I do not follow the paleo diet strictly. First reason is that it’s very difficult and expensive where the staple food is rice. Secondly, food is such an enjoyable part of life in Singapore so I enjoy trying a bit of everything. Having said that though, 80% of the time I avoid all grain based foods and high starch or sugar. I base a large part of my diet on 1/3 lean meat, 1/3 vegetables and the rest a blend of fruit/nuts. I get all my carbs, protein and fats from non-processed foods. Sweet potato is a kind of gold in my diet – great quality carbs and low in starch.

Grace: How is the Paleo diet different from diets that help you lose weight or gain muscle?

Linden: Admittedly without things like pasta, rice and supplements it is more difficult for me to put weight on. In fact I’ve leaned out a lot more, but have not lost muscle tone. If I were interested in body building it would be very difficult as I’m not storing the fat that I might on a gaining diet. Thankfully I’m going for the lean athletic look and function.

Grace: Is there any diet that you maintain before, during and after showtimes?

Linden: Not particularly. I just try to eat cleanly – avoid greasy foods especially. I feel very sluggish after most hawker food, despite how good it tastes. Breakfast is usually bacon and eggs, maybe avocado and tomato on the side. No salt.

Grace: What specific elements of diet and nutrition do you think performers need to be aware of?

Linden: It’s going to be very specific to different people – but the core of it is balance. For me what works is eating clean carbs and lean meat, in small portions at more regular intervals. balance it out with a few nuts every day for fat. Perhaps breaking lunch up and having the other half a couple hours later. Drinking a lot of water is crucial – something I’m not so good at to be honest.

  1. Performances

Grace: What was your most physically challenging show to date and why?

Linden: ‘La Cage Aux Follies’ (2013, W!ld Rice) was very physically demanding. The choreography was high intensity, we wore heels and did multiple split leaps every show which were very tough on the hips and hamstrings.

Grace How did you prepare for it?

Linden: A lot of cardio warmup was crucial to prevent injury. Getting all your joints circulated before you stretch is so important, otherwise your muscles and tendons tend to tighten up incrementally and make it more difficult every day. Specifically I worked on my leg flexibility a lot during rehearsals. As far as dancing some of the numbers while singing, there’s nothing you can really do to improve other than doing it over and over. Eventually your muscle memory takes quite a load off and you find the most efficient way to do it.

Grace: Do you do any physical or vocal cooldowns after a show? What are they and why?

Linden: Naturally a cooldown and stretch is just as important as the warmup. Vocally, I like chromatic descending hums and swells. Working over the register crossovers is important for me as well as loosening the muscles around the neck and jaw where I tend to find tension. Physically, I’ll stretch the muscles that I’ve worked intensely during the show e.g .hamstrings, calves etc.

Grace: Thank you.