Hydration is one of the most well-known tenets of vocal hygiene. You know you need to keep those folds hydrated well to keep the surface lubricated so that the friction that occurs from the folds constantly beating together won't end up in injury.
You may also know that hydration also has to hit the deeper layers including the vocalis muscle. We want hydration at the cellular level of all parts of the vocal folds to keep them flexible for optimal performance. Did you know that studies have shown that a 1-2% drop in body water can impede performance?
A dip in hydration at this level can also affect your cognitive functioning and you need a clear mind for singing. No time for brain fog when you have to remember all your words, rhythms, choreography, listen to your accompaniment, and the list goes on - all while maintaining good vocal technique.
And let’s face it, the Vocalis Muscle is not a high priority area for the body, so you may feel the effects of dehydration even earlier at your vocal folds. On top of that, your body doesn't register the fact that it's thirsty until you reach the 2% dehydration mark. So staying on top of the hydration game is really important.
You've probably heard the adage "pee pale", however, that might not be telling you everything you need to know about your hydration. You can have clear urine and still be getting dehydrated!!!
Here are 15 things that may be making you dehydrated:
Many medications can cause dehydration. Some of the most common medications that lead to dehydration are:
One of the symptoms of diabetes is the frequent need to urinate. When blood sugar levels get too high the body tries to bring it back down by flushing out the excess sugar through peeing. If you are frequently thirsty or take too many trips to the washroom see your doctor.
3. Insufficient Fibre
About 97% of the North American population is fibre deficient. They don’t get anywhere near the recommended daily requirement, which is about 30 g of fibre per day. That in itself is far lower than what our bodies are actually designed to handle. Aside from the many other health benefits of fibre, eating fibre and water rich-foods like fruits and vegetables can help hydration. It also will allow it to be absorbed into the body more slowly for deeper hydration.
4. Processed Foods
Ultra processed foods have a number of things going against them. First they are devoid of fibre.(See point 3) They can make your blood sugar levels rise making you feel thirsty.(See point 2). They are often very dry foods since water has mostly been removed from them. And they are high in sodium. If you do eat processed foods drink more water to make up for lack. Better yet stick to water-rich whole foods..
5. Your period
Estrogen and progesterone influence your body's hydration levels, and when the two are roller-coastering, like when you're in the throes of PMS, you may need to increase your fluid intake to stay hydrated.
Women who experience heavy flows will need to hydrate extra, too, since you are losing fluid. And remember the dehydrating effects of medications - Midol a commonly used medication for menstrual cramps may be making matters worse.
We all like to have the occasional post show drink with our castmates, but you have to keep in mind that alcohol has well-known diuretic properties. If you do have a drink or two make sure to drink a glass of water for every serving of alcohol..
7. Herbs and Supplements
Many herbs and supplements have been shown to increase urine output, which could potentially lead to dehydration. Among them are parsley, celery seed, dandelion, and watercress. Small amounts as a seasoning in food should not be a problem as part of a whole food diet, but if you are taking therapeutic amounts of herbal or other supplements, check with your naturopath. Natural does not always mean safer.
8. Low Carb Diet
Carbohydrates are stored as energy in your body in the form of glycogen in your muscles and liver. Each glycogen molecule is linked to 9 water molecules. That's why when you start a low carb diet you drop a couple pounds of water weight. The number on your scale might look good, but it's not great for your hydration levels. Fruits, which are often shunned because of their perceived sugar levels are richly hydrating (not to mention all the other nutrients they provide). Plus, since whole carbs such as oatmeal, whole grain pasta, and brown rice all soak up water during the cooking process, eating them can actually increase your hydration levels. If you cut them out of your diet you could be reducing your fluid intake, too.
9. Indoor Environment
In the heat of summer or the cold of winter we often head indoors, but air conditioning and heating can both have a drying effect. Probably moreson than the outdoor weather. Who has ever experienced the chapped lips and dry skin of winter,yet you barely spend any time outdoors except for running from your door to your car and back. It’s the heating that’s drying you out!
If you exercise you will perspire, but the length and intensity of your workout will dictate how much body water you are losing through sweat. It’s important to adjust your water intake to match the intensity of your workout. Endurance athletes especially are prone to dehydration. A good way to make sure you are getting enough is to weigh yourself naked before and after your workout. If you are hydrating enough you should weigh the same. If not, top up with the deficit amount in your post workout drink.
I mentioned our indoor environment, but of course our outdoor environment matters, too. Extremes of heat, cold, low humidity and high altitudes all can impact your hydration levels. If you’re in a desert-like climate with extremely low humidity and high heat you can feel the water being sucked right out of you (that’s how it felt to me in Las Vegas with temperatures of 110F. The dry cold of a Winnipeg winter, where I live, can be dehydrating as well. High Altitude is also somewhere where you may need to adjust your water intake.
12. Irritable Bowl Syndrome and Irritable Bowl Disease
Digestive issues like irritable bowl syndrome, irritable bowl disease, diverticulitis and other problems of the gut can be debilitating enough on their own (believe me I know I have colitis, which still flares up if I eat wheat or broccoli, my two trigger foods), but their symptoms which can include nausea and chronic diarrhea can cause dehydration, In the search of relief, many people who suffer from these conditions try elimination diets to discover or avoid trigger foods, If you are eliminating whole food groups of fluid-rich foods, you could end up further contributing to dehydration.
High altitude, dry recycled air - air travel can definitely contribute to dehydration if not managed well. If you are flying to a concert gig, you will likely not have sufficient time on the other end to re-hydrate properly, so it’s imperative to stay on top of it before, during and after the flight. Avoid the in-flight alcoholic drinks, which will further complicate matters, drink extra water, and eat plenty of water-rich foods. This is also a great time to use a Humidiflyer or other surface hydration method such as a personal steamer or nebulizer.
14. Drinking Too Much Water at One Time
Your body can only absorb so much water at a time. It is better to drink in smaller quantities throughout the day than to guzzle a litre at a time only to have it go straight through you. The danger with this is that it could also be flushing out vital electrolytes that can lead to a potentially life- threatening condition called hyponatremia.
15. Misinterpreting Your Thirst Cue
Often when people feel hungry, it’s actually thirst they are feeling. This can lead to overeating and not getting enough water. If you feel hungry and it’s not close to meal time try this: drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes. If that satisfies you, then it was thirst you were feeling. If you’re still hungry then go ahead and have a snack.
To find your optimal level of water to drink start with taking your body weight in pounds and dividing by two. This will give you the amount in ounces of water to drink daily. From there make any adjustments as needed for the above mentioned causes of dehydration. If you keep your hydration levels up you will feel more energized, alert and your vocal folds will be very happy.
Remember that if you think you are drinking enough and still feel thirsty, you need to seek medical advice.
For more tips of keeping your voice in top shape join the Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Community.