I ran this piece by my friend and tattooer David Bruehl last year; but given how important health and nutrition have become in my life over the last few months, I felt it was time to revisit it.
Tattooing can have a major impact on your body/system and using David’s advice can help make your appointments, long and short, a lot more bearable.
Nibble and Sip- Tattoo Nutrition & My Experiences with Long Distance Cycling
-By David Bruehl
Around summer last year I bought my first geared bike after some encouragement from some friends who were training for something called Hotter ‘N Hell. I learned from them that Hotter ‘N Hell is a century, or 100 mile bicycle ride in Wichita Falls, TX. Since I had never rode even ten miles on a bicycle before, this seemed like a worthy goal.
After a bit of study, I learned how to train for such an event. Essentially you’re doing three training rides a week- a fast interval ride, a slightly faster-than-comfortable pace ride, and a long distance ride. The long distance ride is the bulk of your cycling time for the week. Each week you add about 10% more distance to the last week’s distance, so your long rides may go:
I steadily did these rides and built distance and endurance, learned pacing and technique and nutrition. I’m happy to say that I completed my first century, the Maple Leaf, on October 2010 in Carthage, MO. (I did the Hotter ‘N Hell, but only the 100k, which is about 63 miles)
One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that on long distance rides you have to eat and drink while riding. Your body only stores enough glycogen to power you for about two hours of real endurance so after that, without more nutrition, your body starts to fight you and make you stop. This gets referred to as “bonking” or “hitting the wall” in the endurance world.
So the general rule is- If a ride’s longer than 2 hours, you need to eat. But… you need to start eating from the beginning so once you’re two hours in, you start getting the nutrition from the beginning of the ride. For most people about half an energy bar and a small bottle of gatorade each hour is appropriate.
This got me thinking about how workout nutrition relates to getting tattooed. In essence you’re doing the same thing in working out and in tattooing- you’re intentionally causing trauma to your body. There’s been a lot of work done in regards to the study of nutrition as it relates to exercise. I’ve applied this to getting tattooed and have seen fantastic results both in myself and in my clients. Here’s my advice now:
Eat a good sized balanced meal 1-2 hours before the tattoo. Be sure to have protein, fat, and a good amount of carbohydrates in this meal. The ideal time is going to vary from person to person, but that window is a good guideline. Any sooner than an hour before a tattoo is not going to be digested by the time you get started, and waiting much longer than two hours is not going to result in the full benefit of the food in regards to handling the tattoo. Also, for some people with weaker stomachs, eating a meal sooner than an hour before a tattoo might result in some queasiness. I still recommend eating versus not eating though.
If the tattoo is under two hours, you don’t need to eat during it, unless you’re prone to getting light headed at the beginning of a tattoo, in which case it wouldn’t hurt to have some sugar, like a gatorade or a soda. However, if the tattoo session’s going to be two hours you should bring snacks. I suggest the same rule as with cycling. Plan on half an energy bar (I like ProBars, but Clif Bars are good too and easier to find) and a small gatorade or something similar spread out per hour of tattooing.
Nibble and sip.
I’ve seen for years how most people have a 3-3.5 hour time limit in them, and then after that, everything starts to hurt really bad and they just stop being able to handle it. After experimenting with nutrition, I’m convinced that’s due to not refueling as you go. Managing this really seems to help with pain, endurance and mood.
I’d also like to note that it’s not a good idea to eat more than that, either. Eating just about that amount is sneaking nutrition into your body without taking away energy that would be put towards digestion if you ate much more. Trust me, if you eat a bunch of solid food at once while getting tattooed, it’s going to sit in your stomach like a rock and is going to take away from handling the tattoo.
After the tattoo, it’s time to kick the healing into high gear. That means protein. If you’re already used to drinking protein shakes after working out, feel free to have something like that. However, in any case I suggest you have a good sized meal with a lot of protein pretty soon after the tattoo. Also, for the next couple of days eat extra protein compared to what you’re used to. Your body is healing something, and it will thank you for it. Also try to get extra sleep, that will help as well.
Nutrition and recovery are under subjects not heavily talked about in the tattoo world. People do so much research finding their artist and putting so much time and money into a nice tattoo that it’s important to do everything to make the process and the results better. Hopefully this provides some good guidelines for one more thing you can do. I trust that managing your nutrition around getting tattooed will result in a less painful tattoo and an even better healing process.
David Bruehl can be found at RedLetter1 in Tampa Florida.