You want to learn how to sing better right? Well, nutrition is one of the most underrated factors in a successful vocal performance. Use it to your advantage.
Eating is a very personal thing. We all have different tastes and enjoy food in different amounts. However, there are some general concepts that apply to all singers, regardless of personal tastes.
Why eat before singing?
Aside from sleep, the next most important ‘non-vocal’ factor for a successful performance is your energy levels. Of course sleep massively contributes to that, but if you haven’t eaten well and you slept like a baby you will still struggle with stamina. Food fuels your singing, so we need to make sure we eat properly before we perform.
Another reason is the feeling of fullness in your stomach. When you eat well [without over-eating], you feel full. The digestion process kicks in and can ‘wake-up’ the whole support area: the lower back, intercostal, diaphragm, and lower stomach muscles. This feeling is especially pronounced when you first wake up in the morning or if you haven’t eaten for several hours.
What types of food should you eat before you sing?
You need to eat foods that are going to release energy slowly, so you don’t experience energy spikes and the corresponding drops.
Complex Carbs – e.g. Bread, Pasta, Rice, Potatoes
Protein – e.g. Fish, Meat, Eggs, Soy/Tofu products
A solid combination of the above will fuel you and give you a feeling of fullness.
Energy + Muscular engagement = Better Singing!
What about drinks?
Drinking has 2 purposes, hydration and also as a treatment for a sore throat/inflammation.
Water is the best way to hydrate your voice. You need to drink water consistently throughout the day, getting the recommended 8 cups/2 liters. Of course if you’re in a warmer climate you’ll need to increase this. The same goes with performing in a badly ventilated concert hall/theater – if you are going to sweat more, increase your water intake. Also, don’t drink too much that you feel the need to urinate constantly. This weakens how much you can engage your support muscles because you can end up putting pressure on your bladder. Since that’s painful, you end up supporting less, which is the opposite of good technique!
As a treatment for a sore throat or cough, a chamomile tea with squeezed lemon and honey does wonders. The honey lines the throat which can remove the irritation and ‘tickle’ of the cough. Chamomile is a natural anti-inflammatory. Don’t drink the tea too hot though.
What not to eat
We all experience different reactions to foods, but let’s talk about a few of the foods that effect most people.
Dairy – creates phlegm. Need I say more. But I will! Phlegm or mucous is a singer’s worst nightmare, causing breaks in sound and a maddening compulsion to clear your throat. Natural phlegm is bad enough. Don’t create more by eating cheese, yogurt, milk, etc.
Oily Foods – Oil has a similar effect to dairy in regards to Phlegm. Greasy or oily foods make it harder to have clean, uninterrupted sound.
Heavy or Rich foods – Give the Cream Cake or Steak a rest. Some people won’t be as effected by this, but in general, we want to avoid any foods that take a big amount of energy to digest. You know the type of foods that make you sleepy, so avoid those. We want to increase our energy before we sing, not decrease it!
Alcohol – Alcohol can dry you out vocally. But it can also help to relax some nerves, which can free you up to perform at your best. It’s a hard call. Don’t get hammered though!
Coffee – Coffee is diuretic which means it drains your fluids [and your solids]. If you must have a coffee, by all means go for it, but try to make sure it is at least 4 hours before you perform. You don’t want to crack whilst singing or feel dry in the throat as you perform.
Spicy Foods – Can make the blood rush to your face and make you feel hot. They also can dry or irritate the throat. Not a great idea for singing.
Fruits and Vegetables – Some people have trouble with acidic fruits like apples, oranges, tomatoes. Unless you are eating something plain like lettuce/green pepper/cucumber, or a banana, I would avoid most fruits and veg before you sing. The same applies for fruit juices – acidic juices like orange or apple juice can cause the same issues as the fruit.
How to not over eat
This relates to our earlier point above eating heavy foods. Eating too much is kind of the same thing. When you eat a lot (of even the right type of foods), you use a lot of energy to digest your food for an hour or two. This drains you and defeats the purpose of eating – fuel for singing.
Also, eating too much can make you feel stuffed or bloated. This makes it hard and possibly painful to engage the support musculature in the lower back, intercostal muscles, lower abdominal area and diaphragm.
How much should I eat then?
You should eat enough food to the point where you feel nearly full. Don’t worry, once the food starts digesting you will feel full anyway. And you won’t be overly tired due to digestion sapping your energy.
When to eat before a performance
Aim to finish eating around 1.5-2 hours before you perform. This will allow you to gain as much benefit as possible from your food. You’ll be close enough in time to eating to reap the energy benefits and you also would have mostly digested all of your food. Also, any oils or pieces of food that might cause trouble later on, would have been coughed up or removed from your throat.
Wow, that’s a lot of I information just about food! Don’t let it overwhelm you. The most important thing to take away are the principles of nutrition for singing:
- Food should be fuel for singing
- Food shouldn’t interfere with your ability to sing
- Drinks hydrate your body and heal your throat
Remember, over time you will be the best judge of how food can be used to make you sing better. You’ll figure out what foods give you consistent energy over time. You’ll learn what you must avoid. You will also come to discover which types of remedy work best when you feel inflammation or a cold.
What do you eat and drink before a performance? Any special remedies you swear by? Did you ever eat a food that really messed up your singing? Leave a comment below!Follow Me!
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