What should I eat and drink? – Its a common topic for singing teachers and their students. For some vocalists they swear that the foods they eat and what they drink make a drastic difference to their voice and vocal ability. For others they believe that it has no affect on them. For me personally I do sometimes find certain foods or drinks may aggravate my voice whilst others do not. I do think its a very individual thing, One thing I do know is that nothing touches your vocal folds directly, we have a little flap of cartilage which closes when we eat and drink to protect the airway, which sits above the vocal folds. So unless ‘things go down the wrong way’ what we eat or drink should not be able to touch the vocal folds.
I do believe some food and drinks can affect your voice; some can aggravate the mouth and throat, and some can hinder your vocal performance through creating excess mucous which can coat the folds. As always everyone reacts differently, and you will need to find what affects you personally. Some recommend that the following be avoided when you will be singing, remember its not a life changing every day rule and cutting out the following may or may not help you. But it may be worth cutting these out on days when important performances, or when your voice is feeling poorly. As always though I recommend doing a little research on how the following affects you!
Dairy & Chocolate
We’ve all heard that dairy and chocolate are to be avoided before singing – its believed that dairy creates excess mucous in the throat, clogging and increasing the need to ‘clear’ the throat – something that causes the folds to slam together which can lead to an unhappy or stressed voice. The build up in the throat and on the folds can limit range, closure and all in all is an unpleasant experience when trying to sing! Other foods such as potatoes and baked beans or creamy foods have also been known to have the same effect.
Spicey Foods / Mints / Chewing Gum
Spicey Foods and mint can also cause irritation to the pharynx and vocal folds which can result in (yes again) coughing which can aggravate and potentially harm your throat, again we all have different tolerances to spice and mints so this may or may not affect you.
When you are ill and have a cough or sore throat you are likely to have some form of soother, it is recommended that you reduce your vocal load during this period and refrain from unnecessary voice use, but if this is not possible and if you intend on singing it is important that you check the ingredients of the cough sweet. You must ensure that the medicine you are taking does not include an Anesthetic, this is an active ingredient that numbs your throat and so dulls your perception of pressure and the amount of strain and pain you are inflicting on yourself. It is best to stick to a general cough/sore throat sweet that contains an Antiseptic which helps to destroy the bacteria in your throat and mouth. Ive been asked time and time again about certain branded vocal recovery pastilles which are designed for singers – im sure you know which ones im talking about – I never use these personally as anything that numbs or changes the feeling in the throat is only going to have detrimental effects in the long run. Menthol and eucalyptus can also cause drying so its best to keep away from these ingredients,
Remember – (Anesthetic – BAD), (Antiseptic – Good)
Alcohol increases the blood flow to the vocal folds. This may case them to become slightly swollen. This in its self can make it more susceptible to damage, let alone the fact alcohol numbs the bodies senses, leaving the singer unable to notice how much pressure they are subjecting their voice to, or unfortunately they may not be able to tell if they are in pain or not. Bundle that with the likelihood of how much you are likely to sing when tipsy and how you obviously wont be too concerned about technique – it’s a good bet your likely to wake up the next morning with a husky voice!
Fruit juices can also be very acidic to the voice. If you are planning to sing or have a sore throat its may be beneficial to avoid fruits juices and cordials as they can irritate the throat. I know some teachers recommend pineapple juice to sooth sore throats but again its something to see for yourself. A quick search online brings quite a few articles on how pineapple juice can benefit you especially with a cough, its said pineapples contain bromelain which is an enzyme with apparent anti-inflammatory properties. It is believed to help fight infections and kill bacteria and may help to suppress coughs. However I do sometimes find it quite acidic and it sometimes can make the back of my throat uncomfortable before singing, if it aggravates you its probably wise to avoid it before singing.
Tea, coffee or any caffeinated products are diuretics; A diuretic ultimately causes you to flush water from your system which may in turn dehydrate you. This means it could dry your throat and mouth and may make it uncomfortable or tickly to sing. When your vocal folds aren’t hydrated they are more susceptible to damage – remember to keep drinking 2-3 litres of water a day and steam regularly. For more information on the importance of hydration click here
Icey drinks may cause your vocal folds to contract. Making them less flexible and perhaps more suceptible to trauma. It is thought to be best to drink water at room temperature in order to avoid shocking your vocal folds. I remember a news story about Mariah Carey throwing a diva strop about iced water being given in her dressing room instead of room temperature water – people thought she was being ridiculous at the time but from a vocal performance point of view – maybe she was just being professional? Albeit in a ‘Diva’ way!
Honey and Lemon
Honey and lemon is a tricky one – for some teachers they recommend it without question, for others they see the lemon as an acid and a cause for concern. For sore throats honey and hot water can be soothing but after all lemon is an acid, if your vocal folds or the back of the mouth / pharynx are already fragile you may want to avoid this. I personally always always stick to the honey and hot water if I feel I need it, although to this day I still cannot be sure I feel it makes a difference to me! Remember: nothing coats your vocal folds!
Steaming is best
Steaming really is a fantastic thing, it is the only true way to help re-hydrate your folds directly and immediately. If you have a sore throat or ongoing vocal problems it is recommended to steam two or three times a day with either a handheld steamer or electric steam inhaler. You may find it beneficial to steam regularly even when your voice is healthy.
Some singing teachers recommend complete vocal rest if your voice becomes strained and this means from both singing and talking, however those who are experienced in vocal injuries and rehab and recovery avoid complete vocal rest unless you have done yourself serious damage and haemorrhaged your vocal folds!
A vocal surgeon once told me that gentle singing and humming to ensure your vocal cords stay flexible is very important when you are feeling poorly, sometimes when your voice is croaky or husky it needs a good gentle stretch to help it recover.
Make sure you eat well at all meal times and drink plenty of water, try to eat a few hours before a performance and nothing to heavy – you don’t want to feel bloated when you are trying sing! It is important that your body has the fuel it needs in order to perform. If you do not have the energy your your body needs how can you expect your voice to do what you want it to!
Do a little experimentation – As I have already said, everyone is different. What affects one singer may make no difference to another, its finding what does and doesnt work for you. I do believe though, if your voice is suffering – whats the harm in cutting out some of the above to see if it helps you?