Sometimes it’s liberating to break some rules and be impulsive, but right before a performance or long singing rehearsal is probably not a good time to be wild. Experience has taught me that to sing freely, easily and perform at the top of my game, I have to maintain a certain diet and avoid some foods, especially right before a performance.
Unlike instrumentalists, we singers have the curse and the blessing of our body being our instrument. And so, what we eat and drink has a more direct influence on our musical sound.
The Four Watchwords
The sounds of your voice are made by internal muscles some of which are coated with mucous membranes. Muscles and mucous membranes have certain nutritional needs and are hampered by certain foods. You can assess the benefits or adverse effects of any food by evaluating it against the four singer dietary maxims: dehydration, mucous forming, muscle constriction and energy loss.
1. Dehydration – To work well, the voice needs adequate hydration. This is achieved from eating and drinking things like water, juicy fruit and lots of vegetables which also supply the body with important minerals and other nutrition which promotes health. Caffeine, (coffee, black tea, chocolate, cola soft drinks), alcohol, smoking and certain medications dehydrate the body and thus your voice. If you like coffee, keep it to a cup a day and don’t drink it closer than several hours prior to singing. You can have an occasional celebratory alcoholic beverage but wait until after your performance or recording session.
2. Phlegm Production – Ever have to stop singing to clear your throat? Excessive phlegm caused by irritation of the mucous membrane can make even the easiest note difficult or impossible to sing. Foods known to induce phlegm include: dairy (cheese, milk, ice cream…) spicy foods, citrus and bananas.
3. Muscle Constriction – Stimulants such as caffeine can cause muscles to tighten as well as lose hydration. Iced drinks also have a similar constricting effect. Think about it: would an athlete put ice packs on his muscles just before a routine or competition? Heat causes muscles to relax and swell. Neither extreme is desirable. Your vocal muscles need to be limber, not tense or swollen. Room temperature or cool (not iced) water remains our best beverage.
4. Energy Loss – Eating sweets gives an energy surge followed by a slump. Trying to boost your physical energy with sugar laden foods may lead to chronic fatigue. Instead, eat unprocessed fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins; you’ll build an energy reserve and stay well hydrated at the same time. Add in some exercise and you’ll have the stamina you’ll need for demanding singing engagements.
Everyone is different. Use these four watchwords to see for yourself how your body reacts to different types of food and beverage. Then modify your diet to achieve maximum hydration, minimum mucous, limber muscles and a consistent energy level.