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HEALTHY EATING
What You Eat Is How You Sound ...
Tips For A Healthy Voice Over Diet


By Elley-Ray Hennessy
Voice Talent & Coach

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 cords. Yes, that's right, so be aware of what you put into your mouth and system. 

EARLY EXPERIENCE ...

Imagine me flying into LA to do a spiritual retreat many years ago and finding out mid-flight that I had to do a big recording at Woodholly Studios in the morning.

I arrived late and hungry at my hotel, had a hamburger, fries and 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. 

CROAK, CROAK ...


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 acid reflux and aggravating my vocal cords on an already dried-out system due to flying and exhaustion. 

Yes, I had to learn the hard way.

MINIMIZE ACID PRODUCTION


To maintain vocal health, you must minimize foods that create 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. 

DON'T DRINK THAT SODA 

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 increases acid in our stomachs because it takes longer to digest - producing more acid and worsening acid reflux symptoms.  

Similar to caffeine, alcohol wrecks havoc with its acidity and restricts flow in 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 & VOICE LOSS

Acid reflux is a common symptom of an overactive 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 portions, which keeps your stomach from getting too full. A full stomach can also cause acid over-production and force the stomach to work harder. 

BLACKLISTED FOR VOICE ACTORS

Below is a list of what to steer clear of before you have a big audition or voice job:
  • Any meat with high fat content, including ground beef, marbled steak (increases acid). 
  • Processed chicken products (increases acid).
  • Fats, oils, sweets, including chocolate, potato/corn chips, high-fat baked goods, creamy/oily salad dressings (increases acid). 
  • Coffee (dries out the vocal folds). 
  • Alcohol (dehydrates the system). 
  • High-acidic fruits and vegetables and acidic juices, such as orange, grapefruit, cranberry, tomato, lemon, and lime juices (irritates and causes acid). 
  • Mashed potatoes, French fries, potato salad. 
  • Raw onion, garlic (irritates and increases acid).
  • Grains like macaroni and cheese. Pasta with marinara or heavy cream sauce.
  • Regular-fat content dairy products like sour cream, milkshakes, ice cream, cottage cheese, high-fat cheeses (causes excessive mucous). 
  • Bananas (causes mucous).
  • Mint (acidic). 
  • Nuts (can cause excessive mucous and allergic reactions). 
  • Spicy foods, fried foods, acidic foods (increase acid). 
  • MSG (increases acid). 
  • Hormones (increases acid). 
  • Allergens and pollutants such as dust and mold. 
  • Fatigue - sleep is good for your cords. 
  • Antihistamines and diuretics (very drying).  
FUEL FOR YOUR VOICE

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 drink tons of H2O. 

AVOID BIG MEALS, TOO


"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 and into the next morning. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD EAT

What to eat, you ask?

Fish, plain chicken, yellow veggies, rice, apples, eggs, almonds, fruits and whole grains are good options. And lots of water. 

Rules: 
  • Do not drink coffee or caffeinated beverages within two to three hours of voicing. 
  • Do drink lots of room temperature water. 
  • Do not drink iced beverages within two to three 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. And 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 late at night before a gig 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.     
-------------------------
ABOUT ELLEY-RAY
Based in Toronto, and with over 30 years experience in voice overs, TV, film and theater, Elley-Ray Hennessy is a leading voice talent and coach, specializing in animation, commercial announcing and multi-voice. She's won multiple awards, having voiced thousands of TV and radio commercials and countless animation series and films. 

Email: elleyray@hotmail.com
Web: www.elleyray.com


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Comments (16)
Jaybonaut
12/21/2016 at 10:19 PM
My understanding is that the whole '8 glasses a day' has been properly debunked - hydrate well but don't go nuts.
Elley-Ray Hennessy
6/20/2016 at 10:30 AM
Paul, I would suggest taking the milk out if your diet at breakfast before auditioning or voicing. Gas can be caused by a variety of means. Take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar every morning- no coffee, NO MILK, no OJ ( it is all acidic). You want to change your system to alkaline (disease cannot grow in alkaline bodies, and apple cider vinegar alkalizes) antacid pill could be a try.

You may also have gut parasites (quite common). Take two citrogen (naturopathic pills from Genesta). Also support your natural stomach flora with Probiotic Pills (keep in the fridge) and naturopathic (or HMF Powder- also from Genesta).

Are you relaxed when voicing? Do not gulp air while voicing. Are your nerves bad at this time?! If you ate while stressing about the burping, try taking another natural remedy with breakfast called St John's Wort Plus, also from Genesta, which will gently calm everything down.

Try these few tricks and hopefully they will help - I take all of these at different times. Live the dream!
Paul Seidel
6/19/2016 at 10:20 PM
I have had a lot of issues lately with burping - it manifests itself while I'm sitting (maybe I should stand ?) during my sessions, which are thankfully self directed 99% of the time.

I usually voice in the morning after breakfast (wheat biscuits and milk) and have a glass of water with me in the studio. Lately I've noticed the burping is getting worse and it exhausts me to expel them too.

What should I be changing ?
David Joe
3/12/2015 at 12:57 AM
Thanks Elley! This will be very useful to my singing life. I now know the foods to eat and those not to. One moment of my life, i sing good but after eating, everything changes, even to extence that i find it difficult humming.All because i'm unknowingly taking in the wrong food.

But now that i have gotten this information. Everything will surely change.

God bless you Elley, you are a real life saver!!
Pat England
6/19/2014 at 5:51 PM
Wonderful information for a newbie voice talent. Thanks for sharing Ms. Hennessy! GO TORONTO!
bhaskar
11/30/2012 at 10:02 PM
A very useful and informative article and I believe I stand to gain by these tips for my voiceovers!!
Therisa Bennett
11/29/2012 at 7:17 PM
Thanks for putting up a list of what we CAN eat! I was starting to wonder... lol!
Dr. Ann S. Utterback
11/29/2012 at 3:31 PM
Great article, Elly-Ray! You really go into a level of detail not often given. I know readers will find this helpful!
Christian Rosselli
11/26/2012 at 11:24 PM
This article was very helpful Elley-Ray! Thanks for your insights - I guess I shouldn't have had that yogurt protein shake and cup of coffee before last week's session : )

Looking forward to reading more of your articles.

Glad Klassen
11/19/2012 at 1:37 PM
Thanks much Elley-Ray!
Helpful tips and lists...and a great reminder for all of us who use our voice for a living!
Dave Menashe
11/19/2012 at 12:35 PM
Excellent advice - Thanks.
I learned the hard way that red peppers play havoc with me. It was early in my career and I had my meal 3 hours before the session. But the rumbles from my stomach were picked up on mic and everyone in the control room was laughing at it :-) Fortunately it was a short session and they were able to edit out the noise in post.
Rick Lance
11/19/2012 at 12:16 PM
Thanks for the warning, Elley Ray... just before the biggest American EATING holiday of the year!

Ok, fine! But Thanksgiving Day ... EAT plenty of turkey with all the trimmings and everything and anything you want! Then fast and don't talk for 3 days! Then begin recording again on a sensible VO diet. Simple as that!
Lynn Benson
11/18/2012 at 6:14 PM
I'm glad to see this information. From time to tome we need reminders of the things you said here. The listed foods are helpful. Thank you. I'm not happy with some of the things you have to say, but thank you. Not happy. Thanks.

Lynn
Paul J. Warwick
11/18/2012 at 10:42 AM
Elley-Ray,
Great article!! I'm am going to change my diet!! No coffee, no beer! I may have to reevaluate my career choice!
Paul J. Warwick
www.pauljwarwick.com
"Well read gor the 21st Century"
Dan Deslaurier
11/18/2012 at 9:10 AM
Thanks Elley-Ray for a most helpful, informative column!
J. Christopher Dunn
11/17/2012 at 2:02 PM
Excellent advice, Elley-Ray! I'm constantly looking for better methods to care for my money-maker and your article is full of useful bits. Nice!

I recently had an issue with bananas, which I see is an item on your list of don'ts. Not only did bananas cause mucus, cold-like symptoms, but inflamed my vocal cords and reduced my range significantly. It lasted for three days and I haven't had the yellow-jacket fruit since. Scary, really, that so much damage can be caused by something that looks so innocent.

J.
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