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As a singer, keeping your voice hydrated is arguably the most important thing you can do to ensure proper vocal health. But vocal hydration doesn’t just mean drinking a lot of water — it’s about what you eat, the habits you keep, and knowing how your body processes what you’re putting into it throughout the day.
The following tips cover everything from the obvious, to some lesser-known facts, and hopefully some additional earth-shattering vocal hydration knowledge to help ensure you keep those pipes healthier longer!
1. Drink melon water.
Everyone knows that drinking water is the easiest way to stay hydrated. But did you know that drinking melon water is even better? Not only does it add some welcome flavor to your bland ol’ H2O, but adding chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew will actually hydrate your vocal cords and throat faster than plain water. The molecules of the melon are larger than those of water, and therefore stay in the vocal tract longer, resulting in higher levels of hydration!
Everything from high altitudes to sweaty summers can deplete your body of water and run amok on your vocal folds. Incorporating a quality humidifier into your life will do wonders to help support your body’s natural efforts to maintain proper hydration. Monitor your room’s humidity levels to help you keep the air around you at an optimal 40% humidity. Make sure to plan for monthly filter changes to keep everything in proper working order.
3. Eat foods with high water content.
We often forget that we can get much of our hydration from food as well, specifically plants that add a source of nutrients to our body too! Raw, uncooked foods like salads, fresh fruits, and veggies will increase your water content and keep you hydrated. Keep things like cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, and grapes in the rotation so you can “eat your water.”
If you must cook your vegetables, just be aware that that often removes much of the water and nutrient value. And of course any kind of melon, and specifically watermelon, will hydrate you fast.
4. Know your caffeine levels.
As with many musicians, coffee is a necessity to do what we do, most often nocturnally. I’ve lost count of both the number of late-night performances and studio sessions I’ve done over the years and iced coffees (my saving grace) that have helped me make it through long nights.
We all know caffeine dehydrates, but it’s also a stimulant and should be consumed by singers with great care. Besides causing more bathroom runs than normal, it can also cause irritability and nervousness. Though many of us can build up quite a tolerance to it, it can still wreak havoc on our bodies. It’s important to keep track of exactly what we are consuming and how much caffeine is really involved.
Coffee has a diuretic effect and causes our bodies to actually lose water when having more than 500 mg at a time, but also note that not all caffeinated beverages are the same. Depending on the brand, sourcing, and cup size, a regular cup of coffee can range anywhere from having 58-281 mg of caffeine! You should also take into consideration how fresh a cup of coffee is, since water evaporation causes a higher caffeine concentration: The longer a pot of coffee or tea has been left out, the stronger it gets. (The more you know!)
5. Beware of citrus.
Many people think that drinking juices will help with hydration, but unfortunately that is not quite true. Fruit juice and fruit drinks are also high in carbohydrates, which can lead to an upset stomach and exacerbate dehydration symptoms. Fruit juice can actually stop the body from absorbing water. Orange juice in particular can make singing harder due to the thick phlegm the body produces in order to digest it.
However, adding a little bit of lemon to your water can promote clear, healthy singing, because it’s a natural mucolytic, which helps your body produce thin mucus.
6. Get brothy wit it.
Especially during the dry winter season, soups are great for staying warm and hydrated. Broth soups with bases of miso, garlic, or vegetable are wonderful for the voice. They’ll help you avoid vocal fatigue, decreased range, inflammation, vocal loss, and a plethora of health issues that are caused by dehydration such as problems with digestion, acid reflux, allergies, and mental and emotional imbalances that manifest in the brain due to reduced blood supply. Just stay away from anything tomato- or cream-based, as they cause reflux.
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7. Always keep a water bottle handy. (No seriously, do it…)
Get a reusable water bottle you like, and figure out the number of times you need to fill and drink it each day to meet your goals. I personally love keeping my snazzy nine-ounce stemless wine glass on my desk, next to my handy 51-ounce water pitcher that I try to fill and consume at least twice during my work day for optimal hydration.
8. Swallow often.
Here’s a little-known fact: The water we swallow never actually touches our vocal cords! Everything we swallow actually lands at the base of our tongue and travels around the larynx (or voice box) and down through the esophagus where all the food all goes. However the motion of human swallowing is what helps raise and tip the larynx, thus dislodging mucus and leaving us feeling fresh and clear down there in the back of our throats.
You can actually feel the larynx rise in full effect if you put your index finger on your Adam’s Apple and swallow. The front-most portion will literally shift and tilt as the food or liquid goes down!
9. Go herbal.
It’s important to note that if something is naturally caffeinated, the caffeine can never be completely removed. Even “decaf” drink versions typically contain between 5-32 mg of caffeine. Stick with herbal-based coffees and teas, which are naturally caffeine-free. Next time you’re at the store, make sure to stock up on some mint, hibiscus, and chamomile!
10. Lay off the alcohol.
This should come as no surprise, but if you’re trying to stay hydrated, you’ve got to lay off the booze. Excess alcohol consumption decreases the body’s anti-diuretic hormone production, which is what helps the body reabsorb water. In other words, it causes your body to lose more fluid than normal through increased urination.
11. Know your numbers.
In general, women should have about eight full glasses of water per day, and men should drink about ten. Though we like to use that as a basic rule of thumb, this doesn’t take into account the other factors that contribute to dehydration. Some of those things include temperature, air dryness, and the other things you’ve put into your body throughout the day like dehydrating beverages, foods, and medicines. Speaking of medicines…
12. Check your medicine labels.
Surprisingly, even medicines can affect your hydration levels. Cold and allergy medication, including decongestants and antihistamines, can have a drying effect on the body. When your mucus membranes dry out, your ability to sound good when you sing is hindered and your vocal folds are also more likely to be further irritated.
13. Be conscious of physical activities.
People often forget that their bodies need them to compensate with fluid intake anytime you increase your physical activity (e.g. during a workout, when dancing, or just any time you sweat a lot). Also, consider what happens when you’re performing on stage under the hot lights: lots of movement, hot rooms, nervousness, which all cause perspiration, so it’s important to plan additional water intake when engaging in these types of activities.
14. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty.
It’s important to get into good habits about drinking water consistently throughout the day. Some people just enjoy water, and hydrate themselves enough on their own. Others need to be reminded to not end up dehydrated. You could keep a water bottle within arm’s length on your desk so you’re reminded. You can also download one of many available apps like Waterlogged, Daily Water, and Idrated to help with this.
And now to debunk one of the most common misconceptions about drinking water. Did you know that it can take up to four hours for the water you’ve consumed to actually reach your vocal folds?!
That’s right people! So that water bottle you chugged right before you ran out on stage did a whole lotta… well, nothing, if you haven’t been drinking water consistently throughout the day. So don’t wait until you’re already thirsty to have water; by then it’s too late. Make a point to meet your hydration goals periodically throughout the day so you can avoid paying for it later when you really need it!
Why does this matter?
The vocal folds are a small, yet complex structure of muscles that require a lot of hydration to work properly. The thyroarytenoid muscle (aka vocalis muscle) is the innermost part, which is covered in several layers of a Jello-like substance of mucosa called the lamina propria. It is soft, elastic, and covered with epithelium, which is a thin layer akin to loose skin. Just as our skin can get red and irritated if it’s too dry, this can happen to the vocal folds too, leading to the same issues, plus swelling.
We are only able to produce sound due to our vocal folds coming together and making very fast vibrations — hundreds of times per second! And the tempo of these vibrations are determined by the pitch we’re singing. For lower pitches, slower vibrations occur, and for higher pitches, faster vibrations take place.
So that’s why when the “Jello dries up,” so to speak, it makes it very difficult to make fast vibrations, thus resulting in the inability to hit higher notes, cracking, or the inability to produce any sound at all. Moral of the story: Hydrated vocal folds are happy vocal folds!
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