How to Hydrate Your Voice So It Stays Healthier Longer
by Christine Occhino on July 19, 2019 via Soundfly
As a singer, keeping your voice hydrated is arguably the most important thing you can do in order 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 the sometimes bland ol’ H20, but adding chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew will actually hydrate your vocal cords and throat faster than regular water. That is because the molecules of the melon are larger than those of water, and therefore stay in the vocal tract longer, resulting in higher levels of moisturization!
Everything from dry winters, to high altitudes and sweaty summers deplete your body of water and run amuck 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. Purchase a simple hygrometer from Amazon or your local hardware store to monitor your room’s humidity levels and help you keep the air around you at an optimal 40% humidity. (This is most important in your bedroom while you sleep!) You can use a cool-mist humidifier or warm vaporizer, whatever tickles your fancy. Both can correct a too-dry living/working environment. Just make sure to do your part in necessary upkeep as both products have tanks that require regular (read: frequent) cleaning with vinegar or a soap and water mixture, followed by sanitization with hydrogen peroxide to lessen any potential bacterial and mold transmission into the air. Also plan for monthly filter changes to keep everything it 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 also add a source of nutrients for our body too! Raw, uncooked foods like salads, fresh fruits and veggies, will increase your water content and keep you hydrated. Keep things like cucumber, iceberg lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, and grapes in the rotation to help you “eat your water.” If you must cook your vegetables, just be conscious that that often takes out much of the water and nutrient value in the process. And of course any kind of melon, and specifically watermelon, will hydrate you fast - and you can never have too much!
4. Know your caffeine levels
As with many musicians, coffee and caffeine is often a necessity to do what we do, most often nocturnally. I’ve lost count of the number of late-night performances and studio sessions I’ve done over the years, and my saving grace iced coffees that helped me make it through. Of course, we all know caffeine dehydrates, but it is 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! It must also be taken into consideration how fresh a cup of coffee is, since water evaporation causes a higher caffeine concentration the longer the pot of coffee or tea has been left out. (The more you know!)
5. Watch out for citrus
Many people think that drinking juices will help with hydration, but that unfortunately is not quite the case. Fruit juice and fruit drinks are also high in carbohydrates, which can lead to an upset stomach and exacerbate dehydration symptoms. Fruit juice can stop the body from absorbing water - quite the opposite from what we’re looking to do as singers! Besides these hydration concerns, orange juice in particular can make singing harder due to the thick phlegm the body produces in order to digest it. On the other side, adding a little bit of lemon to your water can promote the opposite effect due to it being a natural mucolytic. This means it will help cut through thick mucus secretions and help your body produce more thin mucus, which is highly desirable to aide in clear, healthy singing.
6. Get brothy wit it
Especially during the dry winter season, soups are great for staying warm and hydrated. Broth soups with bases like miso, garlic, or vegetable are great for the voice. (Just stay away from anything tomato or cream-based, as they cause reflux.) This will 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, mental and emotional imbalances that manifest in the brain due to reduced blood supply. So get to enjoying year-round soups to help promote proper hydration for your voice and beyond!
7. Keep a water bottle handy. (But seriously, do it…)
This is the obvious one we’ve all been told a million times, but don’t often commit to regularly enough. 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 9 oz stemless wine glass on my desk, next to my handy 51 oz water pitcher that I try to fill and consume at least twice during my work day for optimal hydration. Find a plan that works for you to make it easy to get enough water in.
8. Swallow often
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. (Tip: 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
Caffeine hides in many places - from the obvious coffees, energy drinks, and sodas, to the less obvious black, white and green teas, medications, and even some bottled water! It’s important to note that if something is naturally caffeinated, caffeine can never be completely removed. Even “decaf” drink versions typically contain some amount of caffeine. But even though there may be less caffeine included in those situations, there are no regulations on how much caffeine needs to be removed for a coffee to be considered decaf - thus surprising caffeine ranges from 5-32 mg still existing with that label. As singers, we should 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 for most, 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. Therefore when that’s less available, it causes your body to lose more fluid than normal through increased urination (aka why you pee so much more than normal when you’re out drinking with friends!).
11. Know your numbers
In general, women should have about 8 full glasses of water per day; closely followed by a recommended 10 glasses per day for men. Though we like to use that as a basic rule of thumb, this also does not take into account the various factors that also contribute to dehydration. Some of those things include everything from temperature and dryness of the air, to the other things you’ve put into your body throughout the day like dehydrating beverages, foods, and medicines.
12. Be conscious of physical activities
People often forget that your body needs you to compensate with fluid intake anytime you increase your physical activity like during a workout, when dancing, or any time you’re sweating a lot. Also, consider what happens when you’re performing or on stage under the hot lights - lots of movement, hot rooms, nervousness, etc all cause perspiration, so it’s important to plan your additional water intake accordingly when engaging in these types of activities.
13. Check your medicine labels
Surprisingly, even medicines can affect your hydration levels. Cold and allergy medicines, including decongestants and antihistamines can have a drying effect on the body. When your mucus membranes dry out, it not only hinders your ability to sound good when you sing, but also makes it more likely that you’ll further irritate the vocal folds. Furthermore, the drying effect makes your mucus sticky, which slows down your body’s natural ability to expel it and fight off a cold quickly and efficiently.
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 reminders to not end up dehydrated, but lucky for us there are plenty of ways to keep that in front of mind! Whether just keeping the water within an arms length on a nearby desk or countertop throughout the day so you’re constantly reminded visually to drink, or taking more of a technological approach like downloading one of the many apps (like Waterlogged, Daily Water, or Idrated) to help with this, there are plenty of ways to get ‘er done! And now for debunking one of the most common misconceptions about water drinking… did you know that it can take up to four hours for 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. That is if you haven’t been drinking water consistently enough throughout the day anyway. 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!
15. Know the science behind it
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 this jello-like substance of mucosa called the lamina propria. It is soft, elastic, and covered with epithelium, which is a thin layer similar to loose skin. Just like how our skin can get red and irritated if it’s too try, this can happen with 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 - to the tune of hundreds of times per second! (Fun fact: pitch determines the tempo of the vibrations! 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! Now drink up!
Christine Elise Occhino (@XtineElise) is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for the music business. In addition to being a vocalist herself, she is the CEO of Elise Music Group, Artistic Director of The Pop Music Academy, and owner of Stamford Recording Studio. She is also the proud Founder & Executive Director of Hope in Harmony, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that uses music to help and heal those in need. Christine is a member of the Grammy Recording Academy, the American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers, and Berklee College of Music Alumni Association. She has experience speaking on many music industry panels, has been a contributing writer for music business publications for over a decade, and also currently hosts the music-based web series & podcast, Soundbytez. For more about Christine, visit XtineElise.com.