THE SUCCESSFUL VO DIET - How to Feed Your Mind, Body and Spirit for a Happy and Healthy VO Career

O.K. Gang, believe it or not, what you eat or drink can affect your instrument and how you voice, so listen-up! You are what you eat as they say!
Anything ingested can have an effect on the vocal chords! Yes, that’s right, so be aware of what you put into your mouth and system!

Imagine me, flying into LA to do a spiritual retreat many years ago and finding out midflight that I had to do a BIG record at Woodholly Studios in the morning! I arrived late and hungry to my hotel had a hamburger, fries, glass of wine, followed by a lovely piece of cheesecake and espresso. I then, went up to my room where I saw my bed turned down and a delicious chocolate mint left waiting~yummy! I called for a wake up, read a bit and turned out the lights.

The next morning early I received my wake up call and as I answered the phone, guess what? Croak, croak, my cords were swollen and I tried to clear the burning at the back of my throat only to realize I was hoarse!  Without thinking I had dehydrated my cords, and created an acidic system in my stomach allowing for Acid Reflux and the aggravating of my vocal cords on an already dried out system due to flying and exhaustion. Yes, I had to learn the hard way, so take care of what you put into your body so you can maintain a healthy voice!

To maintain vocal health you must minimize foods that create greater acid production in the stomach. The greatest offender for upsetting the acid balance is caffeine. It is a voicer’s worst enemy, increasing acid production and loosening the muscles that separate the stomach from the esophagus. Yikes! Caffeine is a diuretic which induces urination and dehydration. As an irritant to the vocal folds it induces mucous production and stiffness. Carbonated drinks can contain caffeine and cause burping due to the carbonation so beware gulping too much pop before a record! Another huge offender is found in just about all foods we love to gobble-Fat. Food with high fat content increase acid in our stomachs for digestion. Food with high fat content take longer to digest, which is why the acid is produced and then worsens the acid reflux symptoms.
 Alcohol (similar to caffeine) also reeks havoc with the acidity of the body and restricts the blood vessels.
Other irritants to watch out for are certain medications, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, which can increase the risk of hemorrhage on the vocal folds.

Acid Reflux is a common symptom of an over active acid production in the body and can literally burn your vocal cords, causing a voice actor’s worst fear-voice loss. The acid from the stomach, once off balance, seeps up the esophagus and swells the tissue of the vocal cords, which then become inflamed and weaken our ability to express. Sleep with the head of your bed raised or several pillows to help detract from the acid production moving up your esophagus.

Try to eat smaller, controlled potions, which keeps your stomach from getting too full. A full stomach can also be the cause of over production of acid and the stomach then has to work harder.
Below is a list of foods and others to steer clear of before you have a big audition or voice job:

  • Meats (any meat with high fat content), ground beef, marbled steak (increase acid)
  • Processed chicken products (ncrease acid)
  • Fats, oils, sweets: chocolate, potato/corn chips, high fat baked goods, creamy/oily salad dressings (increase acid)
  • Coffee (dry out the vocal folds)
  • Alcohol (dehydrate the system)
  • High Acidic fruits and vegetables and acidic juices: orange, grapefruit, cranberry, tomato, lemon, lime (irritate and cause acid)
  • Mashed potatoes, French fries, potato salad
  • Raw onion, garlic (irritate and increase acid)
  • Grains: macaroni and cheese. Pasta with marinara or heavy cream sauce
  • Regular fat content dairy products: sour cream, milkshakes, ice cream, cottage cheese, high fat cheeses (cause excessive mucous)
  • Banana’s (cause mucous)
  • Mint (acidic)
  • Nuts (can cause excessive mucous and allergic reactions)
  • Spicy foods, fried foods, acidic foods (increase acid)
  • MSG (increase acid)
  • Hormones (increase acid)
  •  Allergens and pollutants (such as dust and mold)
  • Fatigue (sleep is good for your cords)
  • Antihistamines and diuretics (very drying)

 The sound of your voice is made by small internal muscle movements. Muscles need the energy furnished by well metabolized food in order to function. They also need to be hydrated to achieve peak energy, flexibility and elasticity. Drinking room temperature water as your principal beverage is best for hydration. If a beverage is too cold or too hot, it will affect the muscles of your larynx and focal folds (which are behind and adjacent to the esophagus (where you swallow).
Vocal cords are fragile. Vocal hygiene involves drinking lots of water daily. The recommended eight glasses a day are not adequate for a vocalist. Water is swallowed into the stomach, not the larynx. Water must be carried through the bloodstream to the vocal cords so drinks tons of H2O!
“Supporting a tone” or “placement” can work against the esophageal sphincter, causing the stomach contents to be pushed upwards towards the diaphragm, which in turn, can affect your breath support. So remember NOT to eat a big meal before a gig. Do not eat late at night either as this leads to Acid Reflux overnight into the next morning.
What to eat you ask? Well fish, plain chicken, yellow veggies, rice, apples, eggs, almonds, fruits and whole grains are a good option and lots of water!

Do not drink coffee or caffeinated beverages within 2-3 hours of voicing
Do drink lots of room temperature water
Do not drink iced beverages within 2-3 hours prior to voicing
Do not drink hot beverages prior to or during records
Do eat high water content fruits for hydration and energy
Do eat high water content vegetables for hydration and minerals
 Do stay fed but don’t overeat or stuff yourself

Maintain a fabulous working environment for your voice! Be aware of what and how much of anything that you put into your system. Everything affects this amazing apparatus we use to voice and if you want to damage it then eat high fat, high caffeine, high alcohol, sugar or dairy foods foods late at night before a record and get no rest and drink no water. A pure recipe for disaster. It can be a hard pill to swallow but you are what you eat, so if you are a professional voicer~ Get on the VO DIET and Live the DREAM!


The Voice Oracle

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Comment by Denise Chamberlain on December 3, 2012 at 12:47pm

Thanks Elley-Ray, for sharing your wisdom about what is (essentially) an Alkaline diet! I agree wholeheartedly, and have been an advocate for health through food for many years. Folks may want to visit Tess Masters Blender Girl website and Facebook posts as well. We need to get the word out that we CAN do something proactive to enhance our health and careers. It's so simple and all it takes is a commitment to BE WELL. 

I start my day with an Avocado shake. So easy, and keeps me going strong for the day. Here's the basic recipe: 

1     Avocado, remove pit and skin
1/2  Cucumber, pared
1     Tomato, small, whole
2     Handfuls Spinach, washed
1     Lemon, juice only
4-5  Ice Cubes
Salt to taste (use a good salt, NOT table salt) ie: REAL salt, sea salt, "mineral salts"

Put all ingredients into a blender; blend until smooth and thick. Additional/replacement ingredients to add variety: field greens, garlic, jalapeno, bell peppers, onion, cilantro, wheat grass, carrots, kale, cabbage, celery.  The important base ingredients are: Avocado, lemon juice, ice cubes and REAL salt, (not to be confused with table salt).

Surprisingly, lemons, limes, and grapefruit produce little to no residual acidic ash in the body. They are the only fruits that are allowed in a strict Alkaline diet. But Elley Ray is correct: be moderate, if at all, in your use of them if your diet contains meat, dairy, and carbs (pasta, bread, etc). The combination will cause acidity.

Please feel free to contact me if you'd like more recipes. I love food, and the Alkaline recipes I've developed are "tweaks" of some of the foods I love most: Lasagna, tortilla casseroles, parfaits. By simply substituting, for example, homemade almond cheese for ricotta cheese in Lasagna, creates the same flavor, without the dairy.

You Rock, Elley-Ray!! You are a delight to all, and again, thanks for helping to raise the conscientiousness about the miracle that we are, and how to take good care of ourselves!

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