When you think of your vocal health, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Having a solid vocal technique is paramount, of course, but I’m talking about all the other stuff we do as singers to keep our voices in tip top shape. If you take a peek into a singer’s vocal health “cupboard” you’ll probably find a year’s supply of supplements, allergy pills, cold and flu medications, Mucinex, lozenges, 12 varieties of tea, a Neti pot, a nebulizer, essential oils, and other lotions and potions “just in case”! We are all too aware how fragile our vocal folds can be, and when we start to feel a little “off” it’s all hands on deck to protect our precious instruments!!
But what about nutrition? How often do we think of food in terms of vocal health? Some singers might tell you they avoid dairy because it causes phlegm, or they don’t drink coffee because it dries them out. Of course, some people can tolerate certain foods more than others and these preferences can vary from person to person.
However, there are some nutrition basics that all singers can benefit from, and it all comes down to GUT health! I bet you didn’t learn this in music school, but there’s a strong connection between your digestive health and the health of your voice, and the way we fuel our bodies is an important part of the equation.
HOW? Let’s explore:
Your GUT has a starring role when it comes to your overall immune health. In fact, up to 80% of your immune cells reside in the gut. In order to do its job efficiently and protect you from foreign pathogens like bacteria and viruses, a few things need to be in working order. Your gut microbiome (the many bacteria that reside in the gut) needs to be in balance. We have “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria, and it’s important to keep the bad guys in check! Our gut lining also needs to be strong and intact because it protects us from harmful pathogens by acting like a barrier and keeping them out of the bloodstream. When the gut lining is weakened or compromised, it can lead to a condition called “Leaky Gut”. This can cause widespread inflammation throughout the body and lead to a host of problems which could indirectly affect the voice. Autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances, asthma and allergies are just a few examples.
What can you do?
The best thing you can do nutritionally to support your immune health is to EAT REAL FOOD. Today’s modern convenience foods are loaded with sugar, refined carbohydrates, gluten, soy, inflammatory vegetable and seed oils, and too many artificial preservatives and chemicals to list. All these “foods” wreak havoc on our gut health and weaken our natural defences. Look for foods with as few ingredients as possible, or better yet stick to the produce sections and get cooking!
This connection to the gut might be a little more obvious! When we consume a meal, the food travels down the esophagus and passes through the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, into the stomach. This LES is like a valve that opens up to let anything we swallow into our stomach, and in normal, healthy digestion, that’s the only time it should open up, other than belching. It’s supposed to be a one-way street! Reflux occurs when the LES malfunctions and allows digestive juices (stomach acid, bile, and digestive enzymes) to travel back up into esophagus causing heartburn, and/or other symptoms such as sore throat, excess phlegm, hoarseness, and coughing. You can see why reflux is a particular concern for singers!
Healthy digestion is critical in managing reflux! Not only is WHAT you eat important, but WHEN and HOW you consume a meal can also make a big difference. Most reflux sufferers know it’s important not to eat too close to bedtime, but don’t forget that your mindset and stress levels at mealtime can also negatively impact your digestion.
What can you do?
Taking a moment to get into a calm, relaxed state before meals is a must! Take a few deep breaths before you dig in, chew slowly and thoroughly, and enjoy your meal! As for food, eating a whole foods diet can go a long way, but reflux sufferers may need to avoid certain foods for a period of time. It’s often advised to avoid anything acidic or spicy, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, coffee etc. These foods can irritate damaged tissues and should be avoided if they worsen your symptoms. However, many people find more lasting relief when they remove certain types of carbohydrates from their diet, especially gluten containing grains, legumes, dairy products, and of course, sugar!! These foods can be the most difficult to digest and cause gas and bloating, which contributes to reflux. For some reflux-friendly meal inspiration,
Anxiety and stress
I think most singers would agree that their mental and emotional state can have an impact on their singing. It’s not uncommon for performers to experience occasional anxiety and stress, but when it becomes a chronic issue it’s worth taking a look at your nutritional status. Mental health is NOT separate from physical health, and the foods we eat affect our brain chemistry, and impact our mood, emotions, and brain-signaling pathways. In fact, up to 90% of our serotonin - the neurotransmitter that keeps us happy, positive, and easy going - is created in our gut! Overall gut health is an extremely important aspect to neurotransmitter production, and ultimately one's mental health. It’s important to address any digestive issues and imbalances in the gut that could disrupt serotonin production.
What can you do?
Make protein a priority to ensure plenty of amino acids, the building blocks that act as precursors to neurotransmitters, particularly from animal sources that are higher in tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin) - like chicken, fish, eggs, beef, pork etc. It should also include foods rich in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and healthy fats. Avoid inflammatory foods that will disrupt gut function, particularly sugar, industrialized seed oils (canola, soybean, safflower etc.), gluten, and alcohol (sorry!). For additional support, consider working with a holistic practitioner for a personalized approach.
Can you see why showing your gut some love can benefit your vocal health? Your gut plays a leading role in nearly ALL aspects of your health, and as singers your instrument depends on you being a healthy, vibrant human being! Consider diet and lifestyle habits part of your instrument maintenance, and your voice will thank you.
If you feel you could use some 1:1 nutritional guidance and support, I invite you to book a discovery call! This is a free 15-20 minute chat to learn more about my coaching services and see whether it;s a right fit for you! Book online HERE
To learn more, or work with Jennifer Taverner visit: