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I was just listening to a brief interview with Kathryn Jenkins and the subject of "looking after your voice" came up. I couldn't find anything directly about food/drink here so thought I'd ask.

She (and one other) recommended Manuka Honey and a few other things such as pineapple, and also to avoid spicy food and milk.

I realise everyone's body is different (mine certainly is!) but it seems among the professional vocalist community there are some foods and drinks which are recommended or advised against, because they either affect the vocal chords or cause more mucous to be generated, or other reasons. Some I have heard may be bogus, for example I recently heard bananas cause more mucous generation potentially resulting in a croaky throat so should be avoided.

So my question is: Which food or drink have an affect on vocals particularly, and what is the effect ?

I'll ask it that way rather than "what's good" because what's good for one voice mght not be good for another, eg a load of whiskey is traditional for bluesy/rock singers but I gather classical singers tend to avoid alcohol before a performance.

I'm a rock singer myself and I have good nights vocally and weaker ones when I have to play it safe. I'm wondering whether the cause of variation is food-based.

Edit: Note that I'm asking this for a fit, healthy person (usually able to sing, well hydrated, no illness like cold/flu as we all get time to time).

Thanks!

  • 1
    Chalk, of course! – leftaroundabout May 2 '14 at 12:52
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    As someone who is not usually a good singer, I find alcohol improves the sound of my voice. – smcg May 2 '14 at 17:32
  • After leaving this for a while and then returning, there are only 2 answers. Maybe I should have asked this in a dietician's website. I was hoping for more definite answers about particular foodstuffs. – user2808054 May 9 '14 at 13:10
  • Pineapple seems questionable since it is known to degrade tissue (proteins), especially in the throat and mouth. – Matthew Read Jan 24 '15 at 1:40
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One thing I haven't seen anyone disagreeing about is that water is good for the voice. I've heard that fatty foods like chips should be good (I think the reason was lubrication of the vocal chords), but I haven't seen any good results from that. Drinking water is good in my experience though.

  • Agree- Water clears the throat etc but also remaining hydrated is pretty essential (whole body) otherwise your muscles start to cramp up. I'll add that I'm assuming this is for a "well person" (ie fit, usually able to sing, no illness) ta – user2808054 May 2 '14 at 9:51
  • On the other hand I hear that coffee is bad, even before talking in public. – Ivan Kapitonov May 2 '14 at 11:00
  • @IvanKapitonov: Well, coffee is dehydrating, so it goes hand in hand with the theory that hydration is important. On the other hand, it can lead to a more energetic delivery ;). – Meaningful Username May 2 '14 at 11:01
  • Well, stuff like "fatty food" will only be good for using up hydration within a few hours of singing. For any purportive positive effects, you'd need to ingest them at a time where digestion has had a chance to get to the state where net benefits come out. – User8773 May 2 '14 at 15:38
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It's also a matter of timing. As a male alto with a natural bass-baritone voice, good closure is essential for good reach, sound, and dynamic control.

Things that repeatedly surprised me to have surprisingly good consequences here have been eating/drinking/talking/partying too much. Also, a considerable bout of endurance sports (like running/dancing/rowing/cycling for hours).

However, and here is where the "timing" bit comes in, done the day/night before. On performance day itself, all of these have proven detrimental to me. I suppose it's some sort of bounce-back effect where the throat muscles and larynx are back to good shape while the vocal folds are still a bit thicker than usual.

Also, its benefits are most important for the "male alto" stuff, namely the falsetto. The range of chest voice is lowered on both ends, probably more so on the high end. Now I have about an octave of overlap between chest voice and falsetto so that's not much of a worry for me, but for, say, a tenor working with chest and mixed voice this could be quite a drawback.

So the point is: try what various kinds of thing do for you, and also try them one day before. The effect may be opposite.

  • 2
    It's interesting you should mention parting hard the night before (and good news haha). Sometimes I have two gigs in a row eg Friday and Saturday. I sing for about 3 hours each night, and generally rock out so it's quite tiring. I'd have expected that the second night would be a struggle, but almost always I'm a lot more able on the second night, finding the higher notes a lot easier. Makes not much sense to me, but there it is :-) – user2808054 May 2 '14 at 11:22
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Here are some excerpts and links I hope you find useful. If you follow the links to each website you will find more information and details there.

Jessica Hendricks from http://www.livestrong.com/article/278098-list-of-good-bad-foods-for-your-voice/ writes that dairy products (yogurt, cheese, butter etc.) should be avoided because they "....increase phlegm production in your throat. The extra mucous makes it difficult for to produce a consistently clear tone, as you’ll be spending most of your time clearing your throat or worrying that you will have to. While you don’t need to avoid all dairy products, consuming them right before a performance, or on a regular basis, isn’t recommended."

Natalie Smith from http://www.livestrong.com/article/488773-what-vegetable-or-fruit-is-good-for-the-voice/ suggests eating foods rich in Vitamin E, which supports the function of cells in the lungs - "Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, and fruits such as avocados and mangoes, are good sources of vitamin E. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin E for men and women is 15 mg, which would be difficult to maintain through servings of fruits and vegetables alone. Nuts, seeds and oils are the best sources of vitamin E."

Guy Babusek from http://voice-lessons.com/what-to-eat-and-what-to-drink-before-singing/ advises to eat a meal balanced in protein, complex starchy carbs, and fruits and vegetables about 2 hours before a performance. He continues: "....(citrus fruits however seem to cause mucous or dryness in some singers). Make sure to never stuff yourself, especially before a performance. Some foods and beverages to avoid prior to singing are mucous producing foods such as dairy, stimulants such as caffeine and spicy foods, soft drinks, refined sugars, chocolate, iced drinks and alcohol (including wine and beer). Be aware also of any foods which you may be sensitive to or allergic to prior to singing (for example, some singers have trouble with citrus fruits, wheat, nuts, shellfish or soy)."

Caitlin Vincent (https://www.operapulse.com/refine-your-craft/guide-to-opera-training/the-rules-of-singing-mythbusters-edition/) wrote an interesting article in which she challenges several popular assumptions about food and singing, including the harmfulness of dairy and caffeine. Here's what she has to say about caffeine: "Unfortunately for the anti-Starbucks crowd, caffeinated beverages are not a cause of dehydration. For a person who drinks coffee or tea regularly, 8 ounces of coffee/tea will provide approximately the same amount of hydration as 8 ounces of water. At the same time, caffeine is still a diuretic, which means that a person will lose water more quickly than if they were drinking something else. However, according to a 1999 study on the effect of caffeine on vocal folds, caffeine can have a negative impact on a singer’s vocal quality, but the effects vary greatly from person to person."

Elizabeth Layman on http://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/best-worst-foods-voice/ advises against eating bacon because its high salt content is drying.

I would add that since everyone's body is different you should take note from now on how your voice and throat feel after consuming different foods and beverages. Good luck!

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Jack has some great examples - but remember, each voice is different.

Some people swear that milk causes phlegm....and it does...but only to the people who get phlegmy when they drink milk.....you see my point. Not everyone is affected by some of the 'common singer foods to avoid'. The most important thing for singers - HYDRATION. But the day before and the morning of are the times to hydrate.

Chugging a two litre (half gallon) bottle of water half an hour before you sing will not rehydrate your voice in time for your performance if you're dehydrated and will only likely cause you to have a sloshing belly and a full bladder - neither of which are particularly fun to perform with.

  • Interesting what you say about the timing of hydration. Do you have a notiikn of how long it takes from drinking a blotle of water to feeling some effect in the vocal chords ? – user2808054 Mar 14 '17 at 11:31
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    It's going to be slightly different rates depending on body mass, degree of dehydration, your body's electrolyte balance - but blood plasma hydration will occur pretty quickly after drinking - it takes longer for that water to filter into your body's cells. Add time for thinning your vocal mucus and you're at a few hours. Gulping a lot down and you'll absorb "too much" and you'll "pee it out" with the salts you need to keep a good balance, compounding your problems. The general rule of thumb for singers: hydrate slowly over a number of hours or just don't get dehydrated in the first place! – BryanE Mar 15 '17 at 17:32
  • I think you've answered another long-standing query of mine: I play some looong gigs, and drink a lot of water but end up with cramp sometimes. It seems like the water I drink just goes through me, which matches with what you say about chugging a load of water a bit late in the day. so I'd guess some rehydrant sport type drink would help to keep the salts etc topped up too ? – user2808054 Mar 21 '17 at 9:28
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Liquor for a bass singer is very lucrative and necessary because alcohol thickens and deepens the voice .Unlike dry gin that cracks the voice, it helps create a very impressive tonal quality. Research has it that 90 percent of African male singers take alcohol and dry gin with out knowing its effect to on voice and performance in general. Liquor is great for a male singer only if it is taken consciously,especially when it is taken before a concert. Alcohol should be taken at list five (5) hours before performance or even a day before the concert. I will conclude with saying that gin spoils the voice for a choral Singer but alcohol taken consciously Build's up the man in you, making your baby bass to become an adult bass.

  • 1
    Could you cite that "90%" research? – Richard Aug 12 '17 at 1:28

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