CHARLESTON -- Starting about four weeks ago, when Robert Cuevas woke up for practice at 7 a.m. Tuesday, he knew a granola bar and a small bowl of cereal was likely going to have to be his breakfast.
Cuevas along with the rest of the color guard members would run the length of a football field 20 times that day.
”Days like that I do not have a big breakfast,” he said.
Breakfast was not dissimilar for the 150 other members a part of the DCI Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps, a nationally recognized drum and bugle corps based out of Rosemont. For the corps, food had to be on the brain almost as much as nailing notes and memorizing steps during their 12 to 14 hours practices as they gear up for the upcoming season.
Cuevas said they know what they are doing on any particular day and they have to judge their food intake accordingly.
That was no less true this week as temperatures sat in the low-90s for much of the week. The Cavaliers have been gearing up for competition season at O'Brien Stadium at Eastern Illinois University for about two weeks now, and Jordan Rivera, the DCI Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps head chef, said these are the kinds of weeks where fruits and other watery foods are the keys.
“We will do a lot of food with high-water content like salad or fruit, things like that, so they can replenish the water they lost during the day,” he said.
Especially on the hot and humid days the band, Rivera said the band munches on anything they can get their hands on. Rivera learned quick on the job that however much is put out will be devoured.
He and the volunteer staff are feeding the band and the support staff, totaling up to 255 people, and Rivera said the cooking team is, on average, serving up 10,000 to 15,000 calories a day during the four meals a day from the semi-truck kitchen parked in front of the stadium.
Rivera said the band is getting a lot of carbohydrates and protein during the day.
“They are going to be burning more calories and fat, so we need to replenish them as much as possible,” Rivera said.
Specifically, on these hot and humid days, Rivera said they avoid heavy desserts and other heavy foods that slog down the band members.
“They love pudding but the pudding is very heavy and high in dairy,” “I don't want to put it out there when it is very hot just so, you know, it doesn't upset them. As a replacement, we will do a lot of canned fruit with syrup.”
The cooking staff will put a bunch of fruit in a giant can that they then throw in the freezer for an hour making the fruits really cold.
No matter what the temperature, one food has for a long time been a staple for the band: “exploding chicken” also known as chicken kiev, which is breaded chicken with herb butter on the inside.
“When we put them into the oven and they cook, the chicken expands but the butter melts on the inside, so when they cut it, the butter shoots out,” Rivera said. “That is the Cavaliers ultimate hype meal.”
Rivera said the dish is pulled out for specialty events and the shows “that really count.”
Despite all this food, the day melts it all away.
Robin Hunt, a volunteer cook, and mother of one on the corps, said the corps is doing extensive work out on the field and the food they eat just flies off afterward.
“They are out there on their feet marching, running, dancing for 12 hours a day,” Hunt said. “They are turning around, pretty much burning off what they eat and more.”
“This is my son’s third year and he comes, no matter how fabulously he eats, he comes home weighing less,” she noted.
Members of the corps lose about 5,000 calories a day during their practices that go well into the night.
Despite the work that goes into the four weeks or learning their show for the upcoming season, Christian Miller said it simply came down to performing and sharing that performance with the others on the band.
“I love performing and when you get to go all across the country and perform for crowds of literally thousands all across the United States, it's really actually inspiring,” Christian Miller, a longtime baritone core member said. “Along with the performance aspect, the time you spend with guys around are some of the greatest times you will have in your life. It is really hard work, but it makes it all worth it.”
Luke Stoner, a drum corps member, said the ends justify the means.
“The end really crowns all of the work you put in the season,” Stoner said. “When performing for that huge crowd and everyone brings the energy, that just makes all of that worth it.”
Joe Roach, the DCI Cavaliers director of programs, said this is the corps eighth year at Eastern in the four-week “pre-tour” or preparation stage of their season. Eastern is the drum and bugle corps’ home for last two weeks of their rehearsal for their 13-minute show, this year, called “Men Are From Mars.”
The corps will be at Eastern rehearsing until Tuesday, however, as with past years, the band is scheduled to do a dress rehearsal of their performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at O’Brien Stadium. It will be open and free to the public.
Their first show will be on June 22 in Indianapolis, Roach said.