What To Eat Before You Sing

By Judy Rodman

 What you eat before you sing can make all the difference to your performance. 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 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)
My favorite artist eats potato chips before singing.. can I do that?
Some people swear that eating chips coated with salt and oil make their throats feel good. Some people can drink a beer during performance without any obvious problem. I used to eat ice cream between sets when I was a young singer in a Memphis cover band. A girl I used to do a lot of background singing with could just look at me eating popcorn or nuts between takes and have her throat seize up! And then there are singers who smoke, and singers for whom secondhand smoke send their voices into spasms like chain smokers! To repeat what I said at the beginning, people are different. Our tolerances and physical health status is different. I would offer three thoughts about weird things people eat or drink before and while singing:
  1. Find out for yourself in rehearsal how something affects you. Don’t trust eating or drinking the unknown at a performance.
  2. Just because you get by with something not good for you for a while doesn’t mean you can continue.
  3. Be considerate of others.  If what you are doing seems to cause indirect vocal problems in someone else, refrain from doing it at that gig.

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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About The Author samuelbiks

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