[The following post is a condensed version of an article by vocal coach Judy Rodman. It was originally published in this month’s Indie Connect magazine, and it appears here with the author’s permission. The full article can be found here]
I got a question from a subscriber recently about exactly what one should eat before singing.
Because people are different, this kind of question can have many different answers. We all have individual metabolisms and health conditions, and certain foods and drinks are nutritious for some and poisonous for others. Voice scientists, doctors and vocal coaches all have long lists of things that you should never do if you want your voice to be healthy, but some people can seemingly eat chips, coke, even ice cream right at the mic without suffering any ill effects.
That said, there are some almost universally helpful things worth remembering:
Don’t eat too much too close to performance
This interferes with your breathing and your energy level. Your body needs time to turn food into fuel, and that process requires energy. How much time? Typically it’s a good idea to eat a full meal an hour before singing, but in practical situations you can have a small snack just before if you haven’t eaten. Experiment in rehearsals.
Don’t drink black tea
Even though it’s water-based, tea will make your throat feel dry. More generally, don’t drink anything with lot of caffeine, and don’t drink alcohol (or take drugs) thinking they will help relax or energize you. You will lose some degree of vocal control.
There’s no way to overstate the need to get H2O into your body. You need to be getting water in well before you sing, and you should have some on stage, because moisture is lost as air moves through the vibrating edges of active vocal cords.
You can do this with plain water, watery drinks, or even special hydrating formulations like H2O Overdrive. During performance, I find that a little pineapple juice diluted with lots of water helps with vocal dryness better than the sprays, lozenges and gargles some people recommend.
Do eat light, compact proteins
Things like fish, avocado, raw nuts (if they don’t stick in your throat), even eggs (if they don’t cause excess mucous formation) qualify. On days you don’t sing, take note of foods that seem to coat your throat too much.
A great vegetarian protein meal combines grains (such as rice, cornbread or whole grain bread) and legumes (beans or peas). Hummus contains beans and grains, and is an excellent, quick choice when teamed up with some veggie sticks.
Another very good way to get protein in is a fruit smoothie. I don’t digest fruit well later in the day, so I start my day with a blender full of frozen fruit plus a protein supplement like “Rice Protein” (I like the vanilla flavor) or a whey- or soy-based product. I add a little juice and water for liquid consistency, and also add liquid vitamin/mineral supplement called Vibe.
Eat fresh and lightly cooked vegetables
Salads, simple sides, or crudité (raw veggie sticks) qualify. I love to eat a pre-performance meal of sweet potatoes, salad and a side non-starchy green like asparagus, broccoli, green peas or green beans, often adding one of the proteins I mentioned above.
If you’re in a hurry to get to the gig:
Make a list of meals based on the above tips that you can make easily and quickly before your performance. Keep it handy on performance days, or any other busy days you want to be healthy.
My pre-performance meal list includes: Fruit smoothie; salmon salad; a simple turkey sandwich; fresh slices of avocado, orange, pineapple and fresh nuts; oatmeal with banana, pomegranate seeds, grapes and fresh nuts (I make my oatmeal with vanilla soy milk).
What’s on yours?