How we treat our bodies significantly impacts our vocal mindset and physical health. As we've detailed in previous posts, dairy, alcohol, caffeine and certain fruits and vegetables can negatively impact your singing abilities. Alternatively, the seven foods listed below can have POSITIVE effects on your vocal chords and actually help you sing better, stronger, longer.
This first ‘food’ is a no-brainer, but how much you drink and the temperature at which you drink it are just as important.
First – the amount. As a singer, you need to make sure your body and hence your vocal cords are properly hydrated. We’ve all heard the 8 glasses a day rule, but the amount you need to drink actually depends on your weight. You need to drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day to stay sufficiently hydrated. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, you need to drink 90 ounces of water per day. If you weigh only 120 pounds, you only need to drink 60 ounces per day.
A surefire way to know if you’re drinking enough – your urine is very pale yellow to clear. Or, as a middle school basketball coach might say, “Drink till your pee don’t stink.”
Second – the temperature. Nothing hits the spot like an ice-cold glass of water, but that ice does more harm than good. Cold restricts your vocal cords, so your water needs to be at room temperature. If that sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry, you can jazz up your water with slices of fresh fruit – see #4 for the best fruits for singers.
Yes, this is different from regular H2O. Why? It’s low in calories, high in potassium, and contains easily digested carbs in the form of electrolytes. It’s been called “Mother Nature’s sports drink,” and because of this trend, it’s readily available in grocery stores and convenience stores.
You can drink coconut water as is straight from the carton, or blend it into a tasty smoothie. (Spoiler alert – recipe below in #7!)
Are you sensing a liquid trend? Hydration is important! Not all teas are created equal, and it’s critical to know the difference. Black tea, oolong tea and green tea are higher in caffeine than their herbal cousins. And yes, green tea is a health food darling but still contains caffeine – which can constrict and dry out your vocal cords.
Tea is also a diuretic, which makes you urinate more often because it dehydrates you. Herbal teas aren’t made from the tea plant (camellia sinensis) at all, but are made from non-caffeinated herbs such as roots, seeds, dried leaves and flowers, or spices.
Peppermint tea is one of your best choices, as it reduces phlegm without drying you out. Licorice root tea is also good for singers – it can slightly numb the back of your throat for those night-after-night performances.
Finally, chamomile tea both calms your nerves and fights inflammation. And, drinking herbal tea is a good way to get to your recommended water intake. As long as the tea is caffeine-free, it counts toward your daily water goal.
Fresh fruits high in water
We all know fruit is good for us – but not all fruits are singer-friendly. In particular, apples, pears and peaches may make you burp. There’s an old wives tale that touts canned peaches as a hiccup cure, so the sugary fruit can also aid in mucous production –which of course is not ideal if you’re going to be singing. As is the case in most circumstances, the less phlegm the better.
These fruits are very high in water content and have a few other health benefits as well.
- Watermelon – watermelon is named so for a reason. This tasty fruit is 92% water, and also contains beta-carotene, lycopene and vitamin C.
- Strawberries – these juicy berries are also 92% water, and they offer an abundance of antioxidants and vitamins. Eating just 8 strawberries provides more vitamin C than an orange.
- Cantaloupe – this melon is 90% water, and is also loaded with potassium, which is essential for the hydration we keep mentioning.
- Pineapple – not only is pineapple delicious in a martini, it’s 87% water and packed with bromelain, which is an anti-inflammatory. This will help keep your vocal cords in tip-top shape.
- Oranges – these tangy fruits are also 87% water, and are a well-known source of vitamin C. They’re also high in potassium.
- Raspberries – the last entry in our fruit list, this delicious little berry is made up of 87% water and packed with fiber. This can help you feel full without filling you up.
Fresh veggies high in water
There are a number of veggies that are singer-friendly, and quite a few that aren’t. It’s best to avoid any cruciferous vegetables – which is a fancy word for gassy.
These are the veggies least-liked by kids: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and similar green leaf veggies. On the other hand, quite a few vegetables are high in water content, full of good vitamins, and also tasty.
- Cucumbers – cucumbers are the winner in water content, at 96%. They’re also mild enough for even the pickiest eaters. They’re very versatile, and can be chopped and added to a salad or a smoothie. One of their most beneficial benefits to singers is their caffeic acid content- which isn’t a derivative of caffeine, but IS one of the most effective anti-inflammatories you can consume.
- Celery – celery is a high water content veggie as well at 95%. And, it’s natural salts help replenish levels of sodium, potassium, calcium and other crucial vitamins. Try the pre-school snack of celery filled with peanut or almond butter for a portable pre-performance meal.
- Spinach – Popeye was on to something. Spinach is one of the healthiest vegetables out there. First of all, it’s a whopping 92% water. It keeps you hydrated but is also rich in magnesium and potassium, which increases energy. Finally, it’s high in vitamin A, which helps keep your mucous membranes nice and healthy.
Protein – chicken or lean fish
Eating plenty of lean protein is a must for singers. Protein fills you up quickly, but gives you energy for a long time, unlike high-carb meals that spike and then drop your blood sugar. Chicken or white fish are the best options because they are low in fat yet high in energy. Low-fat protein is best because the added oils and fats in some proteins (like fatty cuts of beef or salmon) can coat your vocal cords and make you more ‘mucousy.’
Use a light hand with your spices and flavorings – spicy foods are best avoided because of the potential for heartburn or indigestion. Baking or grilling chicken or fish is the best method of preparation because you don’t need to add fat as you do when pan-frying.
This is a bit of a cheat, since it includes ingredients from many of the foods listed above. Making your own smoothie at home is much healthier than the high-calorie, high-sugar smoothies you might get at a juice bar. For maximum super-singer success, try this recipe:
1 cup tightly packed spinach
½ cucumber, chopped
½ cup frozen pineapple
½ cup frozen strawberries
½ cup – 1 cup coconut water
Using frozen fruit in your smoothies helps keep them cold, but also is a great money and time saver because you don’t have to worry about your fruit spoiling.
Blend the main ingredients, then add coconut water to your desired consistency. Add fresh ginger root for zing or some locally-sourced honey for sweetness!