Healthy Diet for a Vocalist

Close-up of a young woman singing into a microphone.
Image Credit: XiXinXing/XiXinXing/Getty Images

Vocalists, professional singers, and others who rely on their voices can enhance their performance with a healthy diet and by avoiding foods that can be harmful to their vocal health. Vocal cords are fragile and vibrate at a very fast rate when singing. Keeping them moist will go a long way toward preventing dryness, which can irritate them.

Vocal Hygiene

One of the most important things you can do is drink a lot of water. The recommended eight glasses a day are not adequate for a vocalist, as this is one way to keep your vocal cords hydrated. Remember that when you drink, water goes down the esophagus to the stomach, not down the opening that goes to the vocal cords. Water must be carried through the bloodstream to the vocal cords. In addition to water, it is important to warm up your voice daily. Avoid yelling and straining your voice, as this causes wear and tear. Proper sleep and rest will help your voice quality.

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Foods to Eat

The best diet for a vocalist is one that promotes overall good health and limits or avoids fatty and fried foods. In addition to lots of water, almonds are rich in good protein and make a healthy snack. Fish and chicken are the best meat options. Eggs, apples, rice, and moderate portions of yellow vegetables are healthy choices. Your diet should include plenty of fruit, whole grains, and vegetables. These foods are rich in vitamins A, C and E, and they help to keep the mucus membranes healthy.

Foods to Avoid

Alcohol diminishes vocal control by causing constriction of the blood vessels in vocal tissue. Cold drinks contract and stiffen the throat and voice. Although some people like lemon water, you should avoid it before singing, as it will dry your throat. Other foods that are drying include salty foods, heavily peppered and spicy foods, and caffeine. Coffee, tea, sodas, and chocolate are common sources of caffeine, and should be limited.

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Dairy products should be avoided before a performance. Cheese, milk, yogurt, ice cream, and even some fruits such as bananas can cause excess mucus production. Fast food and high fat foods contribute to weight gain, which strains the body. Many of these foods are also high in salt and dry out the throat. Nuts and snack foods should be avoided before a performance because small bits can be left behind and irritate the throat (Reference 2).

Other Vocal Hygiene Tips

Avoid using mouthwash that contains alcohol. If you need to gargle, use salt water. Don't cradle the phone between your head and shoulder, as this causes muscle tension in the neck. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cancer of the vocal folds. Keeping your hands washed will help to prevent exposure to colds and viruses.

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Related Reading

Singers must take special care of their voices to ensure long and successful careers. Some vocal coaches suggest breathing in humid air and getting adequate quantities of sleep, avoiding cigarette smoke, air conditioning and anesthesia to keep the voice healthy. Particular foods are bad for a singer's voice, so review your meal plan carefully if you have an upcoming performance.

Salty Foods

A singer needs a well-lubricated instrument before a performance -- in this case, the instrument consists of the mouth, throat and vocal cords. Avoid eating salty foods prior to singing, as salt draws moisture out of the body. This can lead to a dry mouth, making it more difficult to sing. Decrease your consumption of foods such as pretzels, salted nuts and foods containing soy sauce to keep your salt intake low and your voice in top shape.

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Foods Containing Caffeine

Some professionals frown upon drinking or eating anything with caffeine the day of a singing performance. Kristina Seleshanko, a voice coach in Oregon, notes that caffeine may slowly dry out your throat, which can be a problem when singing. While coffee, tea and soft drinks may contain caffeine, you should also decrease your consumption of chocolate and products containing chocolate, such as chocolate ice cream.

Heartburn Triggers

Avoid eating anything you know triggers heartburn, as this condition sends a shower of stomach acid into your esophagus. This may cause inflammation of the vocal cords, which can damage your voice and singing ability. Chocolate, ketchup and other tomato products, fried foods, mustard, citrus, onions, peppermint and vinegar are all common heartburn triggers, so monitor your intake of these foods, especially before a performance.

Dairy Products

Eat dairy products selectively when you are a singer. Too much dairy in your diet, particularly before a performance, can trigger excess mucus production. This may interfere with your ability to sing, as phlegm and mucus can affect the voice. Reduce your consumption of foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and cottage cheese when you must sing. If you are a professional singer who avoids dairy regularly, you may need to take a calcium supplement to make up for the nutrients you miss in these foods.

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