You Sing What You Eat (and Drink)
I think it would be fair to say that for most of us, lock-down has provided us with an opportunity to re-evaluate how we live our lives and explore the things we love. Additionally, if like me, this period has also involved eating lots of foods that I know I should avoid. Until qualifying as a vocal coach, I'd never given much consideration to how the foods I consume would affect my vocal performance. In fact, I would go as far as saying, I was shocked and surprised to discover how drastically the food and drinks we consume can affect the voice.
There are very few food items that actually improve the health and ability of your vocal function.
Singing uses a wealth of muscle movements and contractions in your diaphragm, larynx and mouth in a controlled way. Think of it as a workout for your voice and although the movements are less demanding than weightlifting, you still have to take care of your voice and body to ensure you're singing effectively.
Professional singers know what they can eat and what they should try to avoid in the hours before a performance. I advise you to avoid the foods below three hours before a performance, audition or rehearsal.
Caffeine is Not King!
Caffeine is, however, the king of drying you out. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning you need to urinate more and it can encourage dehydration. In order for you to sing well, your voice must stay lubricated. Caffeine, in all its forms, will almost certainly dry your vocal mechanism. In addition to this, caffeine causes your muscles to contract, making them tight in your throat. Tightness in the throat, caused by caffeine, puts unnecessary, damaging stress on your vocal cords. In the hours before singing, avoid caffeine at all costs.
Pour a Little Sugar on It Baby… No Definitely Don’t
Now, here’s a tricky situation. If you have a sore throat, you’re encouraged to suck on a sugary throat sweet to relieve yourself of the pain and reduce redness. And, yes those sugary throat sweets will most definitely relieve a sore throat.
Unfortunately, there is a ‘but’. In the most part, the reason your sore throat feels relieved is that that sugary goodness is coating your throat in a thick mucus like substance. The problem with this is it makes the movement of the vocal mechanism incredibly difficult. The extra effort that your voice has to make is tiring and your vocal output will be increasingly hindered because of it. Sugar needs fiber or protein to balance it out and to limit the build of the thick music-like substance that builds in your throat and mouth.
Dairy Is the Devil
Okay, maybe the heading was a little extreme, but you get the idea!
The problem is, dairy is incredibly difficult for the body to break down. Singing requires a great deal of muscular movement and combining that with the acid reflux inducing properties of dairy and you have the recipe for a vocal disaster.
Many singers complain of struggling with acid reflux and I’m afraid to say that diet, in particular dairy, is the likely cause. The acid will burn your vocal folds and over time can potentially cause some serious vocal injuries. I'm not saying you should never eat a cheese sandwich again, but I am saying you should absolutely avoid dairy products in the run up to a performance.
Aside from the dreaded acid reflux, dairy clings to the mucus in your throat, increasing its thickness, reducing the voice’s flexibility, making you want to clear your throat more.
Chocolate Is Not Your Friend
Like most people, I am a lover of all things chocolate. This is why it pains me to tell you that I have some terrible news for you… Chocolate is a triple threat to singers.
Firstly, chocolate contains caffeine, causing your vocal mechanism to dry out. Secondly, because of it’s dairy content, chocolate is a prime suspect for the onset of acid reflux. Finally, chocolate contains huge quantities of processed sugars, clogging up your throat and leaving you with the need to cough. Save the chocolate until after your performance.
Say “No” to Fried Foods
We all know how bad fried foods are for us but in terms of vocal wellness, fried foods can really limit the ability of your vocal output.
Anything that is cooked in or prepared in lots of oil is unfortunately going to clog up your vocal mechanism with fat. Additionally, fried foods are another cause of acid reflux and heartburn. Save that burger as an after show treat!
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!
Take it from my own personal experience, singing with heartburn, acid reflux or indigestion is not an enjoyable experience. That spicy curry is only going to cause you agony and a reduced ability in vocal output. Treat yourself to that spicy food on a day when you're not singing.
Ice Is Not Nice
Who doesn’t enjoy an ice-cream of a refreshing glass of ice cold water on a summer’s day? Well, I’ve some bad news for you… Having that pre-show Solero will not do you any favours. Cold drinks and foods constrict the muscles used for singing, resulting in a loss of vocal flexibility, causing unnecessary stress on your vocal mechanism.
This one won’t surprise you. Carbonated drinks are full of sugar and full of gas! Unless you’re comfortable with belching over a microphone in front of a packed auditorium, I would lay off the fizzy till after the show.
Refuse the Booze
Like you, and the singers of yesteryear, I enjoy a tipple before a big performance. From a psychological perspective, it calms the nerves.
Many singers will have a glass of brandy before a performance to lubricate the vocal cords, it's almost an industry standard. The truth is, alcohol is actually having the opposite effect. Alcohol, like caffeine, is diuretic, meaning it dries out the vocal mechanism.
As previously mentioned, the drying of the vocal cords is one of the most damaging effects of your food and drink consumption. Your voice needs to be lubricated, so that when your cords vibrate, they do so with ease and limited friction. Inflammation from friction, is usually what gives you a sore throat.
I’m not saying don’t have your favourite tipple before a show, but go easy - everything in moderation.