The solstice has passed so summer is well on its way. The long weekend is just around the corner.
My son, Misha, has just spent the week in Panama where it’s perpetually summer. He was there as part of the Canadian Fencing team for the Pan American Fencing Championships. Yes, I have to stick my proud mom moment in. This is his first major world event at the Senior level. He had the opportunity to compete with some athletes who are headed to the Olympics in Rio next month. The Canadian Men’s Foil Team, which he is a part of, won Bronze. The United States won the Gold and Brazil got Silver. Anyway, to fence in that heat can be quite grueling. The fencing attire is made of four layers, most of a thick heavy material to protect from jabs – a base t-shirt (usually of technical fiber to wick away sweat, sous-plastron, the fencing jacket topped with the silver lame. It can rival the heaviest period opera costumes. Hydration, replenishing elecrolyte levels and maintaining energy is very important for top performance.
For singers. too, top performance is always important. The concert season and teaching year may be over. For many singers this can be a down time. For others it can be filled with summer intensive programs or summer festival gigs and of course, this is high season for wedding singers. With the summer heat really starting to hit, whatever you choose to do there are some important things to consider over the summer months to keep your voice thriving.
1. Increase your water intake.
We all know that staying hydrated is important. In the summer heat you want to take care to keep that hydration level. With the heat and fun in the sun, play it safe and increase your water intake. If you are working out hard and sweating a lot you may also need to replenish you electrolytes. Avoid using sports drinks that are full or dyes and chemical ingredients. You can make your own very simple sports drink by diluting pure fruit juice of your choice 1:1 with water and adding a ¼ teaspoon of sea salt.
2. Visit farmer’s markets.
This is the time! Buy local, buy fresh, choose organic or natural and buy lots of greens. If anything can be labeled a superfood it’s greens! They are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, lots of anti-oxidants and chorophyll (more on this later). By weight they contain more protein than a steak. Berries are also another great summer time staple.
3. Treat yourself occasionally.
Yes, I’m giving you permission. Sometime you just need to be told it’s ok to have a gelato on a warm summer evening or a cool beer at the lake. But don’t overindulge. Ha! I got you there. There are so many occasions to get together and socialize over the summer it’s easy to go overboard with the treats. Set your limit and stick to it. Too many sangrias on the patio will do you no favors.
4. Get out and get active.
This is the perfect time to be active. Walks, games of Frisbee, swimming at the lake, hiking, playing golf, cycling…there are so many choices. Try an outdoor bootcamp. I’m running one this summer and it’s been a lot of fun so far. Try a race – Mud Hero is an obstacle course race suitable for all levels or perhaps a 5 km fun run/walk for a charity. Giving yourself a goal will help you stick with workouts. Though my training has been off somewhat this year, I still plan on doing at least one sprint triathlon this season.
5. Get some sun.
At least 15 minutes a day without sunscreen. Vitamin D production is stimulated by UVB rays, which sunscreens will block. Co-enzyme Q10 is a powerful anti-inflammatory found in spinach and other leafy greens. When coupled with sunlight and the choryphyll in your blood stream from those greens it helps convert to ubiquinol which is a critical component of energy production in our cells. When you do cover up be very careful with sunscreens. They are full of carcinogenic chemicals, which is ironic since we wear sunscreen to protect from skin cancer. Try a natural sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher instead and choose lotion instead of spray - you don't want to be inhaling the mineral particles.
6. Take time off from singing.
Overworking the voice is detrimental. Any physical activity needs a recovery period. In the last year high profile singers have had vocal complications because of their extreme schedules. The list includes Megan Trainor, Adele, Michael Buble and others. Take a week off. Just be sure you don’t take too much time off or your singing fitness will regress just like with any other physical activity. Athletes can take up to two weeks off before they start feeling a regression in their performance. Vocal athletes need to keep this in mind as well.
7. Get out of the city – get back to nature.
Being in nature is good for our brains and our bodies. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku - the natural therapy of forest bathing. Benefits include reduced stress, improved mood, boosted immune system, greater focus, improved creativity, improved sleep, improved energy levels and more. However, ditch the technology while you're out there if you want to get the full benefit.
Whatever you're doing this summer, incorporate these tips and you'll have a terrific summer. I'll be heading to the National Association of Teachers' of Singing (NATS) Conference in Chicago next week where I'll be presenting the Good Morning Kickstart. I'm so excited! And not just for my sessions. There will be many outstanding performers and teachers from the classical world to the contemporary commercial music world. So many sessions to choose from - there are going to be some hard decisions. Renee Fleming will be the guest artist, gracing us with a recital, a masterclass and a Q&A.
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We took some time to discuss his health and fitness journey.
TFS: How did you start your health/fitness journey?
MA: I would have to give credit to my dad to helping me start on my fitness journey. As a child I was not terribly active; I enjoyed reading and academics and games. My dad made a point of giving me physical challenges like push-ups and sit ups, 3-5 mile runs, etc. to boost my mental toughness and physical ability. As a reward, I would play badminton with my sister and my dad. Gradually I started to really enjoy the challenge and sense of accomplishment and now need very little encouragement. I am usually at the gym a little too often!
TFS: What does your normal fitness routine consist of?
MA: I have 4-5 weight workouts scheduled throughout the week with 3 quick ab workouts as well. I plan for cardio 2-3 times a week and, as time permits, attend a Chen Tai Chi class on Sundays for about an hour and a half.
TFS: Do you have a favorite exercise or activity?
MA: I can’t say that I have a favorite exercise; I like each part of my workout plan for different reasons. That being said, I do enjoy lifting weights and tai chi perhaps the most. I generally dread going for a run because cardiovascular activity has never been my favorite activity. That being said, it is good for me and builds character. And it is rewarding to finish a run and feel great afterwards.
TFS: What do you typically eat? Do you have a specific diet or nutrition plan?
MA: I tend to eat protein rich meals with a moderate amount of carbohydrates and fats. Generally, my meals are larger at breakfast and lunch, and taper down in size as the day wears on. I eat 5 times per day. For supplements, I use a whey protein powder, a greens powder as I find it a challenge at times to eat enough greens, a CLA supplement and Korean Red Ginseng.
TFS: What advice do you have for other singers?
MA: Keep studying and reflecting to understand your voice. Incorporate activity into your life to help keep stress at bay and keep the body healthy and fit.
TFS: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years from now?
MA: An interesting question. Currently I am starting to perform again and also work in the hospitality industry. I enjoy both for different reasons. I would be happy to still be doing both within 5 to 10 years with a great amount of performing as a part of my days. Perhaps also teaching voice?
TFS: What have you found to be your most physically demanding performance?
MA: My most demanding performance was during a staging rehearsal at the University of Manitoba’s Contemporary Opera Lab; I was singing Zizi’s Lament and had to do it while doing a series of cartwheels. How or why I was asked to do this escapes me at the moment but the memory of trying to support the voice while my body was supporting itself and spinning upside down to right side up and back again was a ridiculous challenge!
TFS: Thanks so much Michael! It's been a pleasure to talk to you and, of course, work with you again.
Last week marked the launch of my new healthy eating group - The Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice 5- Day Cleanse. This went far beyond the clean eating groups I've hosted before. We had a much more comprehensive meal plan and recipes all contained in an ebook, which I poured hours into creating. Everyone was sent a daily video with tips on eating health and how these choices can affect your voice.
All the guess work was taken out with a grocery list of all the ingredients you would need and daily prep guides so that you could time your preparations and make many things ahead of time. Time management is one of the key elements that keep people from maintaining a healthy diet. This made it all super simple and the recipes were very easy and quick to prepare.
I had people from around the world joining us, as far abroad as Sweden and Australia. This was truly an exciting experience. Many people are just getting their feet wet with eating better, so didn't necessarily use all the recipes in the book during the cleanse and just tried to cut back on processed foods and making healthier choices. But the feedback was great!
One of the participants did it with her husband, who is addicted to spice packets. You know, the ones with tons of salt and flavour enhancers like mono-sodium glutamate, which are not good for your health. His comment was: I didn't know food could taste so good without those packets! High praise indeed. Healthy eating does not mean sacrificing flavour. In fact, it can open up a whole new world of flavours.
Along the way I posted pics of many of the recipes on social media. One of the recipes that elicited the most interested was the Sweet Potato Crust Pizza. Of course it did! We all love our comfort food and if we can make it healthier and guilt free so much the better!!!
The crust will never be the same as a true bread-type crust, but it holds together well and is tasty. So, by popular demand here is the recipe for the Sweet Potato Crust Pizza.
Sweet Potato Crust Pizza:
Sweet Potato Pizza Crust:
5½ cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes (about 2 large organic sweet potatoes)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
3 tablespoons water
1¼ cup gluten-free oat flour
¼ cup coconut flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1¼ teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
pinch of chili flakes
Organic pizza or tomato sauce
Veggies of choice (I used spinach and cremini mushrooms)
Steam the sweet potato cubes until fork-tender.
Add the chia seeds and water to a small bowl, whisk with a fork, and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes to create a chia egg.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Add the steamed sweet potatoes to a large mixing bowl and mash them.
Add in the chia egg, oat flour, coconut flour, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, basil, oregano, garlic powder, sea salt, and chili flakes. Stir together until combined.
Line a round pizza pan with parchment paper. Scoop the sweet potato mixture onto the parchment paper and use a spatula to spread it into a large circle on the pizza pan. You should have a ½-inch thick pizza crust.
Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the crust is set and the edges are golden brown.
Remove the crust from the oven and let cool.
Add desired toppings, return the pan to the oven and broil for 5 minutes.
Slice, serve, and refrigerate leftovers.
*Note: I had some leftover homemade cheez sauce, which I used. You can use other nut-based cheez as a topping as well. I would avoid Daiya or other processed vegan cheez.
If you would like to get your free ebook, the next Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice 5 Day Cleanse will take place July 18 - 22, 2016 after I return from presenting at the 53rd National Conference of the National Association of Teachers of Singing in Chicago, July 7-12th. My session is Good Morning Kick Start where I will be sharing PiYo and Zumba workouts and connecting with over 1,000 of my singing colleagues.
If you would like to join the next cleanse click here.