Survive the Festival Season Without Sacrifice

By Tori Jarzabkowski, M.S., R.D., L.D. – October 1, 2015
Photo by Thomas Hawk

Break out the flower crowns and crop tops, because fall in Austin means it’s officially music festival season. Whether you plan on camping out in Zilker Park for Austin City Limits Festival, or heading over to Auditorium Shores for Fun Fun Fun Fest, the city will be abuzz with music and after parties in the weeks to come. 

The only downside? For a health nut like myself, long days of intense heat, late nights, and one too many Lone Star beers can really take a toll on the body. After being completely unprepared for my first ACL experience (note to self: those really cute boots you thought would be comfortable? They’re not.), I’ve picked up a few tricks from veteran festivalgoers and other nutrition pros. These 5 tips will keep you rocking out from the obscure opening band to the final big name headliner.


Hot temperatures and alcohol consumption can spell major fluid depletion for festival fanatics, so staying hydrated is a must. But how much water do you really need? According to the Institute of Medicine, the adequate intake for adult men is 13 cups or 120 ounces of water, while women require 11 cups or about 90 ounces of water per day. If that sounds high, it’s because it is—the average American only consumes 3.9 cups of water per day, according to USDA statistics. Take advantage of the hydration stations at many festivals by bringing a reusable, non-glass water bottle and refilling frequently. While this may result in more trips to the restroom, standing in line beats missing out on the fun because you’re dehydrated. If you grow tired of plain ol’ H2O, coconut water is full of electrolytes—just beware of brands high in added sugar.  


If you manage to make it through an entire day of concerts and dancing without wanting to pass out face first into your bed at night, I want to know your secret! For the rest of us, sleep is essential to enjoying the music festival experience. Getting in at least 7 hours of shut-eye will give you all the energy needed to sing, dance, mosh, or twerk your way from show to show. In addition, sleep deprivation has been linked to a slew of adverse health effects, such as increased appetite, decreased cognition, and poor decision making. In fact, a 2009 National Institutes of Health study found that lack of sleep affected the brain and impaired decision making similar to consumption of 1-2 servings of alcohol! In other words, more sleep = more fun and less regret. 


For anyone who has never been to a music festival, allow me to describe the food situation to you in one word: FRIED. Yes, kimchi fries and funnel cakes are delicious, but alas, these foods provide little in the way of nutrition. Although there has been a trend in recent years to provide healthier offerings, finding healthy food can seem more difficult than elbowing your way to the front of the stage for your favorite band or finding a girl without a flash tattoo. To make things even more challenging, most festivals prohibit outside food or drink from being brought onto the festival grounds. Yet there are more nutritious options available if you look around, like any of these menu items listed below: 


Fillings: stick to veggies, beans, and/or lean proteins such as chicken or fish

Condiments: pick avocado, salsa, or hot sauce over sour cream or cheese 


Meats: choose turkey or chicken over fattier meats like brisket or ribs 


Burger: choose turkey, chicken, or veggie burgers, which can be enjoyed open faced (i.e. without the top bun) or bun-less if desired 

Condiments: Skip cheese and mayo and choose ketchup or mustard instead


Fresh squeezed juices and smoothies—while these may be higher in sugar, they provide some hydration, vitamins, and minerals

Fruit cups, nuts, trail mix, and popcorn have been offered at festivals in the past, and provide more nutrients than snacks like potato chips or cookies


So your options are limited to some sort of deep-fried meat on a stick and a side of fries—what’s a health-conscious fest lover to do? If you can’t get nutritious food on the festival grounds, take a trip to the grocery store and stock up on healthy food to enjoy before and after the shows. For breakfast, try whipping up a veggie omelet with avocado and a side of turkey sausage, or make a hearty bowl of oatmeal with fruit and nuts to keep you full for hours. Easy yet healthy post-show snacks include raw veggies and hummus, air-popped popcorn, and fresh fruit. 


Taking care of your body is important for your health and for getting the maximum enjoyment out of attending a music festival. However, not giving yourself permission to indulge a little can backfire and cause anxiety or even a binge if you buckle under the stress of too many food or drink restrictions. As long as you can treat yourself responsibly and safely, go ahead and enjoy what you’re craving. And if you do overindulge? Don’t let the guilt or disappointment stop you from appreciating the line-up of amazing musical acts. A healthy lifestyle isn’t just about workouts and salads—it’s also about balance, music, and fun.



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