Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Vocal Health: The Most Important Nutrient For Your Voice

As singers, we can buy throat sprays, suck on lozenges, drink special teas that are supposed to coat the throat. We can drink peppermint to calm jittery stomachs, or have a beer because we think it will relax our throats. We take vitamin and mineral suppliments and avoid dairy to keep from coating our throats. But do you know the most important (and most neglected) nutrient we need for our voices? WATER! I know, you've heard this before. However, we all need a reminder to not just KNOW something, but to DO it. So here's your water pep talk: Water is what over 2/3rds of our body consists of. I could be thought of a sack of water with some extra stuff in it! Water affects some things not readily apparent, like headaches and tendencies to overeat. Sometimes we think we are hungry when we are actually thirsty, but the body gets the signals mixed up. Paradoxically, water is a natural diuretic; if you don't drink enough you will retain excess fluid and become edemic. Water, like most everything, has a dark side. You have to take in enough so you don't retain too much. An article at FreeDrinkingWater.com says...
"The human brain is made up of 95% water, blood is 82% and lungs 90%. A mere 2% drop in our body's water supply can trigger signs of dehydration: fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on smaller print, such as a computer screen. (Are you having trouble reading this? Drink up!) Mild dehydration is also one of the most common causes of daytime fatigue. An estimated seventy-five percent of Americans have mild, chronic dehydration."
The human voice is very dependent upon water. Dehydrated vocal cords (folds) are not as flexible and able to thin as hydrated ones. These folds are so small and their operation so exact (or not), a little dehydration can result in a large dent in your vocal ability in any given performance. And the very use of the vocal cords causes them to lose moisture to the air. As an extreme example of the vocal cord-water connection, I had a very bad case of laryngitis and a very important gig. I literally could not talk but had to lead a background vocal group in two days of sessions. I discovered that if I drank huge glasses of water with a little pineapple juice added, I could sing, even in my head voice. I ended up drinking about 18 mega glasses of water a day, and really didn't pee more than usual. The moisture was being used and evaporated from my vocal cords into the air. 

So how much is enough? 

I recommend following advice I was given by medical professionals: Take your body weight and half it. That's the number of ounces you should drink a day. So if a person weighs 120 lb, they would drink 60 oz of water, which comes out to 7.5 8-oz glasses a day. If you are particularly active or out in the heat, use common sense and drink a little more. 

Do other drinks count? 

My nutritionist advised me that if you drink 75% water and no more than 25% unsweetened natural juice, it counts as water. If it makes you drink more water, I say add that orange, pineapple, apple, tomato or other 100% juice. Herbal teas count. Coffee and caffeine in general are less healthy, but there is a lot of controversy about their addition to necessary water intake. The dehydration effect seems to be a diuretic effect. Possibly you pee out more than you take in? Caffeine has other detrimental effects, though, from jittery nerves (affecting pitch and vocal control), stomach problems (affecting breath support and control), and sometimes affecting other health problems present. It's best to at least limit caffeine. Be wise and notice how caffeine affects you before drinking it when you need to sing. Freshly juiced vegetable juice counts. It also ensures mineral additions to your water, and balances overly-acid ph levels in our bodies. I try to juice every morning. Sugary drinks, artificially sweetened or flavored chemical-laden drinks and alcoholic drinks most definitely do NOT count. These are poisons to be diluted by... you guessed it... drinking more water. 

Especially great additions to water: 

Pineapple juice is my go-go throat soother. Ceyenne pepper and lemon juice are great additions. Lemon and honey, and throat coat tea are valuable as well.

Bottled, tap or what? 

I highly recommend getting a good water filter for your tap. Here's a primer on water filtration vs purification. I use and love Aquasana filters...and filling your own glass or stainless steel jugs. Plastic leaches into our bodies easily, and of course pollutes the environment. Only drink from plastic if there is no alternative available, such as in the airport where you are not allowed to carry your own. 

What temperature should water be? 

Most experts I've talked to say it's best at room temperature. They also concur that in the end, if it's hot or iced, the most important thing is that you get it down the guzzle! Sometimes iced water causes throats to tighten a bit in some people, but again, notice how it affects YOU. 

How can you make yourself drink enough? 

I like to decide how much I'm going to drink and measure it out into a large glass or hard plastic bottle. That helps me when I get sidetracked to actually get enough in. Some people set a timer to periodically go off and remind them. This post will hopefully give you the will to go to the trouble to find out what will work for you. So go fill up a glass and actually drink it. That "action" step is the all-important one:)


  • At September 12, 2009 at 10:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi, Judy. This is Wally.
    First, notice that I remembered to respond on the actual blog, and not on FaceBook? LoL

    One reason this blog entry of yours is interesting to me is how it mentioned that we will falsely interpret insufficient water supply as hunger.

    Oddly enough, I started a diet last week... lost 8 pounds in that week, by the way.
    One tip that I had latched onto, from a dietary standpoint alone, was how someone can drink a bunch of water before a meal, and end up eating less.

    Well, I found that part to be true.
    Then, incidentally, I noticed by the 2nd night of increased water intake that my voice was much smoother. More flexible, if that makes sense?

    My kids each ask me, seperately, to sing various things at night as they fall asleep.
    You mentioned how your concotion of water and the pineapple juice even allowed for "head voice" singing. Bingo!

    (I didn't use pineapple, but the water did allow for more access to my head tones)

    The head voice is what I rely on most, when trying to relax my kiddos. My wife says it reminds her a lot of Vince Gill's singing.

    Blah blah blah...
    my point is, your post about water is very, very true. I can attest to it from experience.

    Great post, Judy.


  • At September 14, 2009 at 9:34 AM , Anonymous PJ Steelman said...


    I am always making jokes whenever I see someone with a bottle of water. I tell them that I tried that about 20 years ago...and I didn't like it. All joking aside, though, this is the one thing that is absolutely necessary for our good health, vocal and otherwise. Thanks for the great topic. I think I will go get a glassful, right now.


  • At September 14, 2009 at 9:40 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Thanks, Wally love your feedback about weight being affected by water consumption. And yes... head voice requires the thinning and lengthening of the cords only possible with adequate hydration. I also forgot to mention that it thins mucous which can coat and weigh down and irritate the cords, getting in the way of good adduction (closure of the cords).

    And PJ... I love your comment because I wrote this post for the very reason that I hoped it would make somebody get up and go drink a glass after reading it!

  • At September 15, 2009 at 7:41 PM , Anonymous Kim Rushing said...

    fresh fruits and veg contain water too

  • At September 15, 2009 at 7:41 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    You are absolutely right, Kim. I added fresh veg juice especially.

  • At September 22, 2009 at 12:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    What do you think about Bikram yoga? It is the hot yoga. I used to love it, but then noticed difficulty singing so I quit. I decided it was dehydration, even though I was drinking a TON of water after class. I just couldn't redydrate enough to sing well. I do miss it, though. Do you think it is possible to practice Bikram Yoga and have healthy cords?

  • At September 22, 2009 at 2:25 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    About "hot yoga"... I have never done it but have students who do. I think you just need to notice how and for how long it causes dehydration. It may also be affecting your breath... you may be too fatigued physically to power your voice from the low big muscles and be letting your chest close in on your diaphragm.

    You need to ingest enough water for your vocal cords a day or two before singing. It makes sense to me that you wouldn't be able to make up for it right after heavy exercise, but you might try drinking more the days before and between your yoga routines. I would also think it best if you don't do hot yoga every day!

    Try other solutions such as not doing the yoga routine as long as you have been.

  • At October 2, 2009 at 3:44 PM , Blogger Bluesy said...

    Not to be funny or anything, but maybe that's my problem. I always handed in a math test blank. I don't get math. If someone had asked me why, I WOULD have told them, but instead they just stopped giving it to me. :(


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]