MIXDOWN MAGAZINE ARTICLE
This has to be one of the most common asked questions that I receive as a singing teacher. The subject is generally horses for courses and depends greatly on the individual. For example, it’s like asking an athlete to train their body everyday but only eat junk food – the athlete will improve marginally but their body will not recover or repair itself, they won’t feel good or get maximum results and eventually the athlete will became exhausted and their body will begin to break down. Singers need to know and work out for themselves what not to eat and drink and when, just like an athlete. Otherwise, their voice will not function to its full capability and wear out. In this month’s column, I am going to give you my professional opinion on what has worked for me as a teacher and also for my students for the past 20 years.
So, let’s start with the most talked about the subject: WHAT TO DRINK.
The cardinal rule and the only thing a singer should be drinking is room temperature water! For anyone who is not familiar with the human body and how we are composed: “WE ARE MADE UP OF MOSTLY WATER” (approximately 75%). It is all I ever drink while teaching and when singing. The voice thrives on hydration!
Four hours before the show, drink an adequate amount of water and then during the gig, sip only water every 1-3 songs. All of our students know that they have to bring in a room temperature bottle of water to every class. In the cooler months and winter time, I often warm the water up slightly but not boiling or too hot. I find that this keeps my vocal cords warmer for a longer period of time. If you have a sore throat or colds, there are countless remedies that I have heard and tried. Again, work out what suits you and works best for your needs.
Drinking spearmint tea, peppermint tea or ginger tea with some honey or lemon is always a great soother for a sore voice or throat. I recommend drinking herbal teas that do not contain caffeine. Slippery Elm Bark tea and Licorice Root tea are also very good and gives the sensation of lining or coating the vocal chords to give you a smooth feeling.
There is a brand of tea called “Throat Coat” which have these properties in them. Apple Cider Vinegar diluted in warm water and honey is also a great for throat soother when you are suffering from a sore throat. Some performers also like to drink pineapple juice as it strips and clears the mucus from the vocal chords. However, drinks that are high in citric acid can sometimes have an adverse effect on your voice by causing reflux or burning on the vocal chords.
WHAT NOT TO DRINK.
Alcohol, any carbonated drinks that contain lots of sugar and any drinks with caffeine in them such as tea, coffee and coke – these will all dry your voice out. If you are consuming these drinks, I highly recommend drinking water in between them to keep you hydrated. Many singers swear by having a few beers or even a Scotch or two before the show. Personally, I wouldn’t do this as it will dehydrate you and alcohol only lowers your awareness of technique and pitch as well as slows your coordination. I strongly recommend not eating or drinking anything made from dairy products. Try to avoid milk and yoghurt as this will create phlegm which sits on the vocal chords and makes it difficult as a vocalist to sing freely. Avoid any carbonated drinks as these cause excess air or gas. This can make you want to burp and will cause you to feel uncomfortably full while singing.
WHAT TO EAT.
Keep what you eat very simple and plain. You should eat a light healthy salad with some complex carbohydrates like pasta, rice and grains about 4 hours before a gig. The carbohydrates will start to kick in right before the show to give you the energy when you need it the most. Generally backstage before a show, there should be something light like fruit or sandwiches. Fruit and muesli bars are great as they give you energy and are not too heavy. I recommend that you generally graze throughout the day of a show so you never feel too full and then get something substantial to eat after you have finished performing.
WHAT NOT TO EAT.
Please do not have a big, heavy meal right before you’re about to sing. A stomach full of food is going to adversely restrict the way that your diaphragm and breath support works and this will greatly affect control of your singing. I don’t want to feel full or uncomfortable when I’m singing.
Avoid any hot or spicy foods which may come back up and cause reflux and irritation to your larynx, esophagus and voice box. Stay away from lollies, sugar and throat lozenges as the menthol and eucalyptus can dry out your voice when used over an extended period. No dairy products at all as these will create mucus and phlegm and make it harder for you to sing and control your voice. If anything that you eat or drink is disturbing your voice, don’t just consume it!!
It may take a little while to establish what foods and drinks works best for you and your voice and what does not. It is also important to eat at the right time too. Be sure to exercise, have a good balanced diet, stay hydrated, don’t smoke and drink alcohol in moderation. Remember your voice is a muscle, it’s part of your body. As well as food, other external factors can also affect how you sound such as lack of sleep, chemicals, alcohol and stress.
To be a consistently strong vocalist, singers need to take the health of their voice (and body) seriously! Singers must be disciplined when approaching food and liquids during the days and weeks leading up to shows but ESPECIALLY on the day of or even the day prior to a gig of performance.
The bottom line is to remember the better you feel, the better your voice will sound. You are only going to get out of your voice and body what you put into it!!