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:
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.
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.
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.
Your Daily Resource For Voice-Over Success
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!
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 ?
But now that i have gotten this information. Everything will surely change.
God bless you Elley, you are a real life saver!!
Looking forward to reading more of your articles.
Helpful tips and lists...and a great reminder for all of us who use our voice for a living!
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.
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!
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
"Well read gor the 21st Century"
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.