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Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Tips & insights on the voice from professional vocalist, vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method

Friday, January 14, 2011

What To Eat Before You Sing

I got a question from a subscriber concerning exactly what to eat before you sing. It can be confusing to know that many people can eat chips, coke, even ice cream right at the mic and seem to suffer none of the vocal complaints that lay many others low.  Yet voice scientists, doctors and vocal coaches frequently give long lists of things that you should never do if you want your voice to be healthy. Some people become afraid - almost superstitions- that eating anything before singing will sabotage their performance, and then they don't have enough energy to power and control their voice. Let me see if I can offer some balance here... for stage or studio.

First of all, it's helpful to understand the following truths:
  • The voice is part of the human body, and as such is affected by what you take into the body. While some 'get away' with bad fuel for a time, good fuel is ALWAYS better for long term physical and vocal health, and bad fuel is ALWAYS detrimental -- even if you don't notice it till years later. 
  • People are different. They have individual metabolisms and health conditions, and some foods and drinks are nutritious for some, while for others the very same food and drink is poison. Some people take much longer than others to digest food, too... and that affects the time it should be eaten before singing. If you can't digest something or you are allergic to it, it doesn't matter how 'good' the food is- it still turns into poison in your system, cluttering up your body and your throat and stealing energy that could be used for... yes... singing!
 That said, here are some almost universally helpful things you can eat and drink (again if you are not allergic to them or have trouble digesting them).
  • Hydrate. 
There's no way to overstate the need to get h2o into your body. You can do this with plain water, watery drinks, or even special hydrating formulations like a product I've been recommending called H2O Overdrive . You need to be getting water in well before you sing, and have some on stage, because moisture is lost from active vocal cords from air moving through the vibrating edges. 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.
  • Eat a light, compact protein. 
 This can be fish (my fav is salmon), avocado, raw nuts (if they don't stick in your throat), even eggs (if they don't cause excess mucous formation). Experiment on days you don't sing and keep a journal as to what seems to coat your throat too much and what just makes you feel energetic.

A great vegetarian protein meal combines grains and legumes, such as rice, cornbread or whole grain bread and 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, best in the morning for those with sluggish digestive systems like mine. 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.
  • Eat  fresh and lightly cooked vegetables. 
That would mean salads, simple sides, crudites (raw veggie sticks) rock. 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.
  • Don't eat or drink heavy, drying or poisonous stuff!
This would include saucy, complicated meals that make your stomach say 'What Is That?". KISS (keep it simple, silly). Don't drink a lot of caffeine (how much is too much? sometimes any at all will hurt you... know yourself and how your voice reacts).
Don't drink black tea (it makes your throat feel dry). And it should go without saying, but I'm saying... don't drink alcohol or take drugs thinking they will help relax or energize you. You will lose some degree of vocal control, and then there's those pesky long term life consequences.
  • Don't eat too much too close to performance.
This can interfere with your breathing and your energy, which will be diverted to digesting your food. You need fuel...with time to process it into energy. How much time before performance? Experiment in rehearsal to know. 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... and the snack doesn't irritate or clutter your throat.

OK, but what if you're in a hurry to get to the gig?

Here's a tip: Make a list of meals based on the above tips that you can easily and quickly make or get at a restaurant before your performance. Keep it handy to reference on performance days (or any other busy days you want to be healthy!)

My pre-performance meal list includes:
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Salmon salad
  • Simple turkey sandwich
  • Fresh, raw 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)
Fyi... for more nutritional suggestions, sign up for my newsletter and get my 5 page report on "Vocal Health". 

Any of you have favorite foods/drinks before singing?

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  • At June 25, 2011 at 4:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    As an Artist, I found your information and Recommendations to be both quite insightful helpful. Thanks for your wonderful contribution to this topic.
    Kind regards,

  • At February 10, 2012 at 10:39 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    An apple clears my throat. I thought that fruit smoothies coated your throat? Like orange juice or any fruit juice? Or is that not right?

  • At February 10, 2012 at 1:19 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Anonymous... actually, it's according to what is in the fruit smoothie. Of course any dairy could present a mucous problem. As to fruit juice, I don't experience any problems with it, but people are so individual as to digestion and what causes excess mucous formation. I'd say note how it affect you and choose accordingly. Thanks for the thought about the apple! Good idea!

  • At February 2, 2013 at 5:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I accidentally discovered freshly juices carrots helped my singing voice immediately! It simply cleared up my voice to the point that I went "whoa!"

    I experimented a number of times to make sure it wasn't coincidental. Worked every time.

  • At February 2, 2013 at 8:15 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hi Anonymous; interestingly, I drink fresh carrot and vegetable juice almost every morning. Besides many other nutritional and enzyme benefits, it balances ph and yes, tends to cut mucous and hydrate the throat tissues. This will definitely help the voice, as well as the rest of the body. Thanks for the thought... I highly recommend it as well.

  • At March 19, 2013 at 12:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    About 90 minutes before performing, scrambled eggs atop a toasted slice of Ezekiel bread. The right blend of slow-burning whole grain carbs and the protein to provide stamina. I don't do fruit the morning of, unless it is a very small amount of lemon mixed with a tablespoon of raw honey and very warm water.

  • At March 19, 2013 at 4:15 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hi... as to the eggs and Ezekiel bread... sounds like an energy breakfast, yes, IF eggs don't make you produce excess mucous or bother your stomach, and IF the combination of protein and carbs don't make you feel sluggish. Everyone is different. I would say to others about all new foods and all dietary approaches: try it on a non-performance day. See how it makes you feel, and how your voice works.

  • At June 25, 2013 at 11:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Is bread a bad choice? I'm just wondering if dry foods would be a mistake. I was thinking of having a banana smoothie or/and chicken sandwich before my performance. It's my first and I have no idea what works and doesn't...

  • At June 26, 2013 at 7:09 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Dear anonymous... it depends on your personal digestive system. Different people's digestion systems are more or less efficient than others. The banana smoothie can be good if you put protein powder in it and no extra sugar. You need protein for your performance, so the chicken sandwich isn't bad either. BEST: Try them both out on different days and notice which one makes you feel perkier and full of energy.. not weighed down, which heavier and more complicated meals can do to you. Also notice if either causes more mucous formation. Different people's digestion systems are more or less efficient than others. If you have a chicken sandwich, you might not want to put cheese on it because dairy can cause mucous. But again, some people are not very affected. Experiment on days you don't need to perform... keep a journal for a while noting how different meals make you feel and the condition of your vocal cords if you try to sing after eating.

    As to dry or liquid foods... it doesn't matter as long as you drink a lot of water before and during your performance. Get that hydration in even the day before.

  • At December 14, 2013 at 4:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Judy
    I have a singing performance tomorrow morning.
    Is there anything that I should or shouldn't eat or drink????
    Thanks :)

  • At December 14, 2013 at 5:20 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hydrate well and follow the suggestions in this post. Good luck with your performance.

  • At January 22, 2014 at 8:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I have a singing auition tomarrow ad im really nervous what do I do?

  • At January 22, 2014 at 10:29 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hopefully you're sleeping well. If you know your material well, just relax and do the best you can - that is all you can do. Focus on the person you're supposed to be singing to. Good luck.

  • At March 14, 2014 at 3:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    What about green tea, I heard green tea has anti inflammatory properties? I've been having that instead of coffee.

  • At March 14, 2014 at 4:25 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Anonymous... yes, green tea does ... and is less dehydrating than black tea or coffee. Notice how it makes your voice feel... that is the best test of all.

  • At July 13, 2014 at 5:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hurray, at last I've found someone else finds black tea dries their throat; I've always found this, and also tap water, which seems odd. Other people have never really believed this.

  • At January 3, 2015 at 7:32 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi, before a recent performance I ate an omelet with fresh vegetables. Is that bad?

  • At January 3, 2015 at 7:49 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    I don't know; how did your performance go? That's the defining answer. Some people find eggs mucous-forming, some don't. But an omelet with fresh veggies can be a great idea... protein plus the fresh or lightly saute'd vegetables can give you good energy. As long as it doesn't uncomfortably raise your gunk factor.

  • At January 29, 2015 at 4:49 AM , Blogger Gary Brady said...

    Thanks, Judy. We are hosting Blackwood Legacy Quartet tonight at Newberry UMC (Newberry, FL). I wanted to provide some lite pre-service food choices for these great guys and your site was very helpful. Now, they'll select from fruit, veggie sticks, nuts, and simple turkey sandwiches. I've bookmarked your BLOG. Keep up the good work!

  • At January 29, 2015 at 5:28 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Gary, your comment just makes my day! So happy to have helped you help them; bet they will be most appreciative of your thoughtfulness! Thanks for letting me know... and enjoy their concert!

  • At July 2, 2015 at 2:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi. So i've been noticing that almost every time after i eat dinner, my voice ends up being very difficult to sing with. My voice feels stiff and scratchy in some areas and it's just overall a lot harder to maneuver my voice and get it to do what i want. Is this just a normal mucous coating the throat reaction to food? Or could this be signs of a more serious problem? Also, is there anything i can do to be able to eventually sing after dinner? Thank you for the help!

  • At July 2, 2015 at 4:27 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Try using food enzymes with dinner. Definitely don't eat til you're stuffed so your diaphragm isn't crowded by your stomach. If you still have trouble, get with a naturopathic alternative health provider or dietitian to find out what is hard for you to digest... and avoid it, especially when you will need to sing soon after dinner.

  • At November 26, 2015 at 12:08 AM , Anonymous baju batik said...

    Really enjoy visiting your blog
    Great posts

  • At November 26, 2015 at 11:55 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thanks, Baju!

  • At December 4, 2015 at 1:15 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    as of me, im new to this music thing and within a yeah i have written up to 50 songs but my voice is not that great and im trying to improve on that but i dont know what to do. it is like i have mucous in my throat everyday and i cant sing with high pitch, i stopped drinking milk and start taking honey and warm water but i havent improve. i need help please.

  • At December 4, 2015 at 1:16 PM , Blogger Oluwasegun Olowokere said...

    as of me, im new to this music thing and within a yeah i have written up to 50 songs but my voice is not that great and im trying to improve on that but i dont know what to do. it is like i have mucous in my throat everyday and i cant sing with high pitch, i stopped drinking milk and start taking honey and warm water but i havent improve. i need help please.

  • At December 4, 2015 at 2:10 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Oluwasegun, thanks for writing. Glad you're interested in improving as a singer. It's probably good that you are limiting dairy and adding honey to your diet. Sounds like you need better vocal technique; you can either get it free by reading blogs like this, or buy a course in vocal training like the ones on my site. Good luck with your songs!


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