Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans have an allergic disease?
It’s lousy being that one in five as a singer, even worse when it’s an allergy that affects your respiratory tract.
It may be called hay fever, seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis, it all means the same thing to your instrument. Nasal congestion, sneezing, watery, itchy eyes, throat soreness, the need to clear your throat due to post nasal drip, pain and/or pressure in the ears, headaches and fatigue can play havoc on the voice. It will affect your resonance. You may even experience voice breaks, vocal fatigue or laryngitis.
Typical treatment with antihistamines and decongestants can dry out the mucosal surfaces of your mouth, pharynx and larynx, which can lead to problems affecting your vocal quality and your vocal stamina, as well as putting you at risk of vocal injury.
A quick Google search of "singing with allergies" produces a list of quick fixes from daily nasal washes to herbal teas to lining your nose with Vaseline. They may do in a pinch, but wouldn't it be nice if you could just get rid of the allergies.
There has been a marked increase in the allergies and asthma over the last few decades. This leads scientists to believe that it is not a genetic condition, but due to environmental and lifestyle factors. One of the largest factors being diet.
If you REALLY want some allergy relief, start by taking a good look at your plate. The best remedy for seasonal allergies may be increasing your consumption of plant-based foods. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains are rich in a variety of nutrients that work together to keep you healthy even during the height of allergy season.
Follow these tips and eat a balanced diet full of the foods below and hit the high notes instead of sneezing them:
1. Eliminate Processed Food:
Processed foods can contain additives, chemicals and other undesirable ingredients like refined sugar, refined flour and soy that might make your allergies worse. They also increase inflammation in the body, which makes your immune system have to work in overdrive. This entire process makes allergies more prevalent in the body, not to mention makes you feel run down and tired. Try to buy organic, since pesticides can also cause some people to react to a food as well.
2. Rule out Food Allergies:
If you have a known food allergy, then you are probably avoiding it. However, some people have low grade allergies or even unknown food allergies. During allergy season, when your immune system will be overwhelmed you may want to cut out these common allergens: wheat, barley, rye, dairy, soy, gluten, shellfish, nuts, and sesame.
3. Eat vitamin C rich foods:
If you eat a whole foods plant-based diet, you’re probably getting a good amount of vitamin C. This antioxidant is known for its role in keeping us healthy during cold and flu season, and it can also protect us from foreign invaders during allergy season. Some excellent sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, papaya, red bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
4. Carotenoid Rich Foods:
Dark green leafy vegetables, including seaweed are rich in carotenoids. As are orange coloured fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and carrots. A study found that those with the highest level of total carotenoids in their blood stream (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein/zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin and cryptoxanthin) had a significantly lower prevalence of seasonal allergies.
5. Quercitin Rich Foods:
This anti-oxidant has properties of an anti-histamine. It can reduce the inflammatory response throughout the body, including those that are caused by an increase in histamine levels when an allergic response occurs. Foods such as onions, apples, berries, broccoli, cherries, grapes, capers, and tea are all great sources of this important antioxidant. You need to regularly consume quercetin-rich foods to see the benefits, but since they are all healthy plant-foods, with many other amazing benefits, you should be eating them daily anyway!
6. Eat Garlic and Tumeric:
Garlic is a such a powerful, yet humble food. This one food has been linked to cancer prevention, blood sugar regulation, a healthier heart, and reduces inflammation in all parts of the body. Boost your immunity with a small serving every day. If you don’t like garlic, turmeric is also an anti-inflammatory food with incredible benefits, and may also help lower the allergic response you suffer during pollen season. You can easily have tumeric by adding it to curries or try some Golden Milk.
7. Eat Omega-3 Rich Foods:
Flax seeds chia seeds, walnuts are all great sources. Similar to the carotenoid finding, those with higher levels of both long and short chain omega-3 fatty acids in their blood stream were found to have less allergic rhinitis.
Hydration is more important than ever during allergy season! Drink lots of water (preferably with fresh lemon – citrus has been associated with lower allergy and asthma symptoms).
9. Reduce/Eliminate Meat:
One study on diet and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (runny nose/itchy eyes) confirmed that meat can increase the risk by 71%. Other studies have also shown the link between diets marked by greater intakes of meats, poultry, and seafood and greater risk of hayfever and asthma.
So start adding more fruits and veggies on your plate to replace the meat and processed foods and see how you do. (Bonus: these foods do so much more for you and your voice than just ease allergies)
What do you do to alleviate your allergies? I'd love to know, Leave a comment below.
Need motivation or help transitioning? Then join us in our Facebook community, Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
My voice teacher used to always say to me, “A tree only grows tall if it has deep roots, and your voice will only flourish if you connect deep in your body.” For me that connection to the body always felt tenuous. I had to really think about it.
That is until I started working out in an efficient way that developed my deep core muscles to the point that it wasn’t such a conscious effort any more. When that core connection is there my breathing becomes more efficient and my sound floats freely and effortlessly. I could sing all day!
First of all lets review some of the major core muscles involved in breathing.
If you’ve been going to the gym knocking out crunches and planks and still don’t feel the magical quality of that connection, it’s because these aren’t the most efficient exercises to activate the desired muscles.
Crunches really only work the rectus abdominus, a very superficial muscle. It’s the one that can give you a great six-pack, but can actually hinder your breathing if too tight. The movement of crunches and sit-ups may also put undue strain on neck and shoulders.
Planks can be great, but are really an advanced move. They can be difficult to do without proper guidance to achieve the proper muscle activation, plus they have other limitations and may not be for everyone. I’ve addressed it before here.
The following five exercises in the video will hit all the muscles that you need to get great stabilization and activation of the core muscles that will have you singing freely throughout your range in no time.
So try them out an let me know how you do with them.
Looking for more exercises designed specifically for singers? Then join our Facebook group Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
You go to lessons and coaching. You practice and practice and practice. You do yoga because you’ve heard it’s great for singers. You hydrate until your pee can’t be any paler. You become a hermit at the first sneeze you hear. But are you really doing everything it takes to keep your instrument in shape for peak performance?
Though some of the above are good practices, other’s like over-hydrating, may not do your body good. And perhaps they have you focusing on the immediate rather than the long-term health of your voice.
The following is a list of components I feel, after singing a lifetime and teaching for over 20 year, every singer should consider in the health of their instrument. Some you may already be doing. Some you may find you haven’t even thought about.
1. Good Alignment
You’ve been taught what good alignment should be – ears over shoulders, over hips, blah, blah, blah. What you really need to be concerned with are muscular imbalances.
Daily activities such as sitting, texting, even sports and running can cause tightness in some muscles and weakness in others. To maintain good muscle balance requires a strong core and stretch and strength exercise to correct for any underlying imbalances. You also need to be thinking more about the fascia that runs through your body and connects everything,. This all needs to be worked on a daily basis to counteract our daily activities.
Your alignment should be a natural default position that can be held without tension, unconsciously.
2. Good Breath Mangement
The use of breath is of utmost importance for singing. It’s the motor that gets the voice in motion. This requires learning to strengthen and control the muscles of respiration. It requires good alignment for freedom of movement of these muscles. Learning how to breath for singing is one of the cornerstones of voice lessons.
One thing that isn’t always addressed in lessons is the need for cardiovascular capacity. This means the functioning of the lungs in such a way that you are able to oxygenate your blood and body sufficiently to allow your muscles to work to full capacity without tiring too soon. It will allow you to sing longer phrases. If you’re body is screaming for oxygen it’s going to lead to a premature breath. So yes, that cardio is important.
3. Freedom from Unwanted Tension
For a freely functioning voice we need freedom from unwanted tension. You need to understand the root cause of tension. Is it due to muscular imbalance? Stress? Over-stretched muscles? Contracted muscles? Bad habits? You can read more about finding the root cause here.
Work at restoring balance through a stretch and strength program and stress management.
There are two types of stamina we need to sing. One is vocal stamina. This is achieved by correct technique and slowly building your endurance over time. The other is physical stamina.
Physical stamina is necessary to deal with the demands on the stage so that you can move and sing without being winded. It will help you with your vocal stamina as well, since if you are exhausted you are more likely to start pushing your voice and set yourself up for vocal fatigue or, even worse, vocal injury.
It also helps with the demands of life. You need to get through that whole day first. Grocery shopping, cleaning the house, yard work, children and even lugging equipment for a gig are all tasks that are going to drain your energy if you don’t have the strength and cardiovascular conditioning to pull you through. And then you are expected to hit the stage with a dazzling performance.
Work on all aspects of your stamina.
5. Strong Immune System
The dread of every singer is that they get sick before a performance. Common infections like colds, flus and strep throat can really mess up your plans and even your income. Allergies, too, are a condition of the immune system and all that gunk in your sinuses and back of the throat can make it difficult to sing.
Building a strong immune system is a must. You can read more about it here.
6. Freedom of Disease
At first glance you may be thinking, well isn’t that like having a strong immune system? Yes and no. What I’m referring to here is chronic disease: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, premature aging and cognitive decline. These are often referred to as diseases of affluence that are greatly attributed to lifestyle.
It can affect your voice and ultimately your longevity. The medical and scientific communities now understand that 80 – 90% of these diseases are preventable and many even reversible through lifestyle changes. These will include eliminating processed foods and eating a healthier plant-strong diet, physical exercise, and eliminating risk factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity.
7. Balanced Hormones
Hormones greatly affect our voices and not just the reproductive hormones that have been well documented. Other hormones that can relate to singing include thyroid hormones, insulin, mood hormones, digestive hormones and stress hormones. Many have a direct impact on your vocal folds, others will affect your peak functioning that can put you at risk of vocal injury. Balanced hormones can also help in the battle against chronic diseases. You can read more about hormones and the voice here.
8. Alert Focused Mind
An alert focus mind is an absolute must for a singer.
We need to deal with learning our repertoire, having it memorized, sometimes singing in a foreign language. We need to be able to be aware of all the technique we need to produce a great sound, plus communication of the text. On stage we need to be aware of everything around us and be present and focused in the moment to do all the above PLUS watch the conductor, be aware and interact with the other singers and musicians you are working with, move while singing, handle props, and deal with any mishap or missed cue that might occur. There is no place for brain fog to do all that.
When you are able to get all these 8 things in check then you are in for a lifetime of healthy vibrant singing. How did you do? How many are in your control? If you need help to get all eight elements on track for peak performance, then join our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
My friend Kate, a professional singer for a decade, had a rude awakening about 3 years ago. In the middle of singing a song her voice snapped. She had a vocal hemorrhage. On closer inspection it turned out she also had pre-nodules and significant stiffness in her right fold.
She chronicles her journey back to vocal health in her book “Just One Voice”, but one of the underlying causes of her injury was reflux.
This is the stuff singer’s nightmares are made of. The thing is many singers are not even aware of their reflux. When you feel heartburn or have a distinct backflow of acid to the back of your throat, you can be sure you are suffering from Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), but many singers don’t feel this, yet they may still experience Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR).
LPR occurs when stomach contents come up the throat in a gaseous form or as a mist. This allows for easy access to the larynx as the mist can be inhaled. And you won’t even know it.
Though it was previously thought that the acid was doing the damage, more current research suggests that it is actually not the acid, but inflammation due to the action of pepsin.
Pepsin is a digestive enzyme, specifically for the breakdown of protein. Guess what the pharyngeal and laryngeal tissue is made of? That’s right. Protein. So the pepsin is digesting your tissue! Gross!!! Right? The stomach has a special lining that prevents this from happening, but outside of the stomach all tissue is fair game for the pepsin.
To make matters worse, Even if pepsin stops digesting and lays dormant, it can be reactivated by acid. So that coke or orange juice you drink can be reactivating it starting the cycle all over again.
What does this mean to your voice?
If you have LPR you may be experiencing inflammation in the vocal folds and even a thinning of the epithelial layer of the vocal folds. This puts you at greater risk of nodules, polyps, and hemorrhages when you sing. It also increases the risk of laryngeal cancer (though this is still a very rare form of cancer at 1% incidence).
If you have a very active singing life, this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Look out for the symptoms:
Chronic cough and throat clearing
Feeling of a lump in the throat
See an ENT if you have any of the above issues that are not associated with a common cold and persist for more than 2 weeks.
What can you do?
I’ve already laid out some basics in Acid Reflux and the Singer: What Every Singer Needs to Know. Paying attention to what you eat does matter. There is now evidence that a plant-based diet together with alkaline water is as effective as proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy.
Why is the alkaline water important? Remember earlier I mentioned that the pepsin is active in acid (that's a pH of 2 – 6.9) and can be reactivated by coming into contact with more acid? Well, it turns out that pepsin is permanently deactivated in an alkaline environment.
An alkaline pH of 8 – 10 is most effective to deactivate pepsin.
You can buy alkaline water, or you can buy expensive machines that can mineralize your water to make it alkaline. It’s also possible to make your own by adding baking soda to water, however, this has a high sodium content, which is not recommended for your health. Buying bottled alkaline water may be the best way to go if can’t spring for a machine. If you are on a tight budget, then instead of drinking the baking soda water, try gargling after a meal.
These are the dietary steps Kate took to help with her reflux: An anti-inflammatory plant-based approach, avoiding triggers like soda, caffeine, chocolate, citrus, tomatoes and strong spices and alkaline water. Her folds are now pristine.
If you suspect you have reflux, get checked by and ENT, and if you want to get back on track vocally, you may be interested in The Fit Singer’s 14 Day Vocal Reset, which includes a reflux friendly meal plan.
Doucet, Kate J, Just One Voice A Book on Vocal Sustainability and Injury Prevention, 2018, Outskirts Press, Inc.
Colds, flu, sore throats. Winter is the time for getting sick. Of course that just won’t do for a singer. Every singer's nightmare is to get that tickle in the throat and sniffles coming on just before a performance.
Usually I try to promote prevention through a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, good nutrition, stress management, and sleep. However, there are times but even the best laid plans go awry.
So what’s a singer to do when that illness comes along?
Let's start with what you shouldn't do.
Do not sing with a severely sore throat.
Though you may be able to get by singing with a bit of a head cold if you feel it in your throat chances are your vocal folds are also inflamed and you put yourself at risk of vocal injury.
Don’t sing if you feel really lousy.
Aside from the possibility of inflammation in the vocal folds, if you are not feeling well and have to increase your effort to sing, you will put your voice at risk of vocal injury.
Do not use over the counter cough and cold medications if you are going to sing.
Many of them contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. These drugs will numb the pain and then you won't be able to feel if there is a vocal problem. You could end up with a vocal hemorrhage. Same goes for any herbal remedies that numb the pain, even good old Throat Coat tea is not safe to use if you are actively singing.
Do not drink alcohol.
Alcohol can affect your gut microbiome which is essential to your immune system. It's also a diuretic that will dry you out. When you're sick you need to hydrate more than ever.
Do not take antibiotics unless you know you have a bacterial infection.
Over-prescription of antibiotics is a problem these days. Taking antibiotics kills off good and bad gut bacteria throwing your immune system off balance.
Do not eat sugar.
If you feel a cold coming coming on, cut out the sugar and simple carbs. Sugar is inflammatory and lowers your immune system.
Do not use Facebook recommendations for wacky remedies.
Many can be ineffective and at worst can put you at risk of vocal injury. Ever hear of putting onions on your feet? Or using colloidal silver? Please, just don't.
Now let's talk about what you should do and some natural remedies that you can use.
Do increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Even if you haven't been eating them regularly before your cold they will still help boost your immune system and shorten the length and severity of your symptoms.
Drinking lots of water will improve your body's ability to function and fight off the infection. In addition to water, soups and herbal teas are great are great to have for hydration and may have other soothing and healing benefits. Some good herbal teas to include in your cold and flu fighting arsenal are ginger tea with lemon, marshmallow tea which is good at suppressing coughs and soothing sore throats, peppermint tea. You can also have water with a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar. Raw apple cider vinegar is known to kill germs and bacteria. Drink it a few times a day when you have a cold or flu.
Do make sure you are taking vitamin D.
Especially in Northern climates where we don't get much sunlight Vitamin D deficiency can be a problem and it is known to be important to your immune system. Read more on vitamin D here.
Steaming will help open up your sinuses and hydrate your vocal folds providing you with some relief. Adding some essential oils such as peppermint, rosemary or oregano can help clear up and soothe even more.
Do gargle with salt water.
Salt water can help kill germs lurking in the back of your throat.
Do some light vocalizing.
Using semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (SOVT), especially straw phonation, can help with healing of inflamed vocal folds.
Do see an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist (ENT) if you are concerned or if symptoms last for more than two weeks.
You want to make sure you're voice stays healthy for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Here are a few other natural remedies you can try.
For congestion make a rub of coconut oil with a few drops of peppermint oil or eucalyptus oil. Other essential oils that are antibacterial and antiviral are thyme and rosemary which can be incorporated in rubs, steaming or diffusers.
Licorice root is known to soothe coughs however use in moderation and for no longer than two weeks at a time as there may be side effects from overuse.
Eat lots of garlic. Garlic is known to have natural antibacterial and antiviral properties. Try mashing two cloves of garlic with little bit of honey and lemon juice and chewing on this every 3 to 4 hours at the first signs of a cold.
Apply coconut oil to your nostrils and ears and mouth. Coconut oil has antibacterial properties make sure you were using unrefined coconut oil that will still have the enzymes in it. This will prevent entry of germs into your system it's a great preventative when you are traveling on planes where the air is very dry.
Try some of these strategies the next time you get sick. Let me know what works for you.
If you need help revitalizing your voice after a cold or flu then the 14 Day Vocal Reset is for you. Check it out here.
As the days get shorter and the clocks have recently fallen back, many of us in northern climes are lucky if we get to see the sun through the day. This can be a bad thing, especially when we talk about Vitamin D. This is especially so for singers who need to maintain their energy and immunity during this busy season.
When we think of "vitamins," we know they're super-important for health.
But vitamin D is special. First of all, it's not even really a vitamin, but actually a hormone.
And, unless you live in a warm sun-drenched climate, it's difficult to get enough vitamin D; vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency.
So, let's talk about how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need, and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing food, and through supplements.
Why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?
Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and as a hormone it helps us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function (this is especially important for us singers when cold and flu season hits hard), cellular growth, and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.
Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to low energy and getting sick more easily, but it can also lead to more serious problems such as to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. The "official" minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. However, many experts think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health. The Endocrine Society recommends 1500 - 2000 IU for the average person (more if you have severe deficiency or are obese).
To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis.
How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?
Your skin makes vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun; that's why it's referred to as the "sunshine vitamin." How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing, all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun. One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week. Of course, we should always avoid sunburns and of course in some locations (and seasons of the year) it's not easy to get sun exposure. So, how can we get enough vitamin D in other ways?
How can I get enough vitamin D from food?
Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. Some mushrooms make vitamin D when they're exposed to the sun.
Some foods are "fortified" (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving. As always, I lean to the whole food plant-based choices.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course).Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day; this is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.
How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?
It's easy enough to just "pop a pill" or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A, which is a potentially toxic vitamin if consumed daily in this form and should be avoided if you are pregnant). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.
There is also some evidence to suggest that taking vitamin D3 may be more beneficial for longevity than vitamin D2 (the kind made by mushrooms), though either form will improve your blood levels
But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won't interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.
Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.
The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.
The best thing, if you're concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which; many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D. There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.
I've given you some ideas how you can get your daily dose of vitamin D.
If you're concerned, it's best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what's right for you. Always take supplements as directed.
This is a question that comes up often.
A big reason many teachers site as for discouraging students from trying to achieve those six-pack abs is the fact that there is too much tension which interferes with freedom of breath, but it's not really true. (If you don't want explanations and just examples involving shirtless men, then just scroll down now.)
Ok, this can be true in an untrained singer who already has developed a bad habit of clenching their abs tightly. Dancers and body-builders are usually the worst offenders. A lot of work needs to be done to re-educate their breathing, but not really much more than the average new student who tends to breath in a shallow manner.
What about experienced singers? Really all it takes is to inform them that they should continue to practice their singing breath when they workout.
Honestly that’s all it takes if they already have good breathing patterns. In fact, most athletes do practice good breathing technique. My triathlon coach used to tell us that as we rode our bikes. “Breath into your belly!” he’d yell, “Those Tour de France guys look like they’re pregnant when they breathe!!!”
And it’s not just on bikes. Running, swimming; they all require that deep breathing that we use for singing. And these athletes hit the gym for strength training as well, so it’s not just about the weights. It about how you breathe when you lift the weights.
Let’s take a look at a few examples. I know this is going to be difficult for you ladies, but let’s make the effort to look at the breathing patterns of Chris Helmsworth (as Thor) and Michael Phelps. Try not to get too distracted.
Notice how Thor lifts his shoulders with every breath. He is concerned with maintaining his glamour muscles. The tension may be dramatic, but it’s going to affect his fighting capabilities with poor oxygen exchange. Good thing he has a magic hammer.
Now take a look at Michael Phelps. This is the way you breathe to win! Look at those ribs and abs move. You can have those abs and breath with complete freedom too.
But I’m not going to leave it there. We also want to see whether a SINGER can have a six-pack and still breathe for singing. So here is your proof with William Burden and Nathan Gunn in the Pearl Fischers duet. You can especially see the working abs at 2 minutes.
So yes, singers, you can have awesome abs and breathe freely. We don’t necessarily build tension from creating those abs, we just have to learn how to keep them flexible.
After all our abdominal muscles are important to maintaining our posture – good alignment is always encouraged for singing and those abdominal muscles are part of the recipe for achieving that. They will protect your back and allow you to move athletically while on the stage (or off).
Just remember that as you sing you cannot maintain the lean magazine-cover look. Your belly will expand as you inhale deeply.
It’s also good to note that to be really ripped also requires a low body fat percentage that just is not sustainable and may not be compatible with singing. Bodybuilders and fitness models often get dehydrated to make the muscles pop, so it’s not a look I’d recommend singers go after.
If you want to find out more about how you can get your abs and still sing with freedom, join the FREE Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook group where I share exercises every week.
Its causes are absolutely everywhere. Would you agree?
While I’m here at Resonanz Opera this summer, it’s certainly something that many singers are telling me about. How they feel stressed. How they feel anxious. How it affects their performance.
Our natural “fight or flight” stress response can sometimes go a little overboard. It’s supposed to help us escape injury or death in an emergency and then return to normal after we’ve fought or flew. But, that doesn’t happen too much in our society - it becomes a long-term reaction. It becomes chronic. If you’re a singer you definitely know what I’m talking about - work, rehearsals, practice, school, gigs, family. We try to do it all and it can take a toll on us.
You’ve probably heard of the main stress hormone, called “cortisol.” It’s released from your adrenal glands in response to stress. It’s also naturally high in the morning to get you going, and slowly fades during the day so you can sleep.
Did you know that too-high levels of cortisol are associated with belly fat, poor sleep, brain fog, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and even lowers your immunity? If you’ve ever experienced a pre or post show cold, it was probably brought on by stress.
Do you experience any of these? Well, then read on because I have a list of foods, nutrients and lifestyle recommendations to help you lower this stress hormone naturally!
Foods and nutrients to lower cortisol
Let’s start with one of the biggies that increase your cortisol… sugar. Reducing the sugar we eat and drink can be a great step toward better health for our minds (and bodies).
High doses of caffeine also increase your cortisol levels. If coffee makes you feel anxious and jittery, then cut back on the amount of caffeine you ingest.
Also, being dehydrated increases cortisol. Make sure you’re drinking enough water every day, especially if you feel thirsty. I’m constantly surprised by how many singers still aren’t getting enough hydration.
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods; this doesn't just help reduce stress hormone, it helps all aspects of your health.
Lower your cortisol levels with tea and dark chocolate (not the sugary milky kind!). Have a bit to unwind.
Don’t forget your probiotics and prebiotics! There is so much new research about the gut-mind connection, and how taking care of your friendly gut microbes is key! Make sure you’re eating probiotic rich fermented foods and getting a healthy dose of prebiotic fiber.
Lifestyle techniques to lower cortisol
It’s not just food, but there are things you can do with your time that can lower cortisol.
Reduce your stress with mindfulness. Many studies show that reducing stressful thoughts and worry reduces cortisol. Every singer should develop mindfulness strategies that don’t only reduce stress, but can improve your performances.
Get enough exercise (but don’t overdo it). While intense exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily, it can reduce overall cortisol levels. Even on those busy days dry to squeeze in a few 5 - 10 minute walks or even better - a 20 minute HIIT workout.
Get enough sleep!
Getting adequate sleep is way too underrated. Sleep reduces cortisol levels and also helps improve your overall health in so many ways.
Relax and have fun. Things like deep breathing, massages, and listening to relaxing music all reduce cortisol. They also happen to be things that will aid your singing in other ways.
Be social and bust loneliness. Would you believe me if I told you that science has shown health risks from social isolation and loneliness? It’s true! Maintaining good relationships and spending time with people you like and who support you is key. Luckily, most singing involves getting together with others to make music. What could be better!
Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can have several negative impacts on your health and voice. There are many proven ways to reduce levels of cortisol naturally.
In terms of foods and nutrients, have less sugar and caffeine. And have more water, fruit, tea, dark chocolate, probiotics, and prebiotics.
Lifestyle factors are huge when it comes to cortisol. To lower yours, exercise (but not too much), get more sleep, relax, and have more fun.
In the comments below, let me know your favourite ways to bust the stress hormone cortisol!
Recipe (High fiber prebiotic): De-Stressing Chocolate Pudding
3 ripe avocados
¼ cup cacao powder (unsweetened)
½ cup Medjool dates (pitted and soaked for 20 - 30 minutes)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 dash salt
Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try adding a pinch of cinnamon for a deeper flavour.
Though I usually recommend that singers try to stick to eating whole unprocessed foods, the truth is that packaged foods are part of the landscape of our dietary lives. And many unprocessed foods are found in packages as well.
Now if we are eating packaged foods, the priority is to read the ingredients list to make sure you are not getting a food full of artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives and other chemical additives.
After that we can move on to the Nutrition Facts.
The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredient listing.
The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right?
Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!
Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.
Step 1: Serving Size
The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it's tricky.
All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.
In Canada, in the next few years (between 2017-2022), serving sizes will be more consistent between similar foods. This will make it easier to compare foods. The new labels will also have more realistic serving sizes to reflect the amount that people eat in one sitting, and not be artificially small.
Let’s use an example - plain, unsalted walnuts from Costco.
As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.
FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts).
Step 2: % Daily Value
The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.
NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.
The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule.
You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.
NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it's missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn't an agreed "official" %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that.
Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)
Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts has 200 calories.
Fat is bolded for a reason. That 19 g of fat (29% DV) is total fat. That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 19 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (19 g - 1.5 g = 17.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).
Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It's easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).
Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 30 g of walnuts contain 3 g of carbohydrates; that 3 g are all fiber. There is no sugar or starch. And as you can see, 3 g of fiber is 12% of your daily value for fiber.
Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts contains 5 g of protein.
Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)
The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.
Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you'll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.
I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay. And it will change slightly over the next few years.
Do you have questions about it? Have you seen the new labels with a %DV for sugar? If so, leave me a comment below.
Or join our free online community at Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
Recipe (walnuts): Delicious and Super-Easy Walnut Snack
This is a great snack for singers on the go!
8 walnut halves
4 dates, pitted
Make a "date sandwich" by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try with pecans instead.
This week is the final week of my first session at Resonanz Opera in Mentor, Ohio. All the singers enrolled in this program have come such an amazingly long way in understanding themselves and their instruments.
I’ve been putting them through their paces with physical workouts designed for singers, as well as teaching them about health from a singer’s perspective.
We’re often given a list of vocal health tips that include a bunch of dos and don’ts. One of these is often – eat well. But what exactly does “eat well” mean and how does it affect the voice?
That is what these singers have been learning. And I’m going to share with you seven ways that good nutrition will aid your voice.
What is good nutrition?
When speaking of voice care, many sources will state what not to eat before performing, such as:
Or you may get very general advice such as:
Or advice of foods to avoid if you suffer from acid reflux.
This can leave you asking, “What are nutritious foods?” So you Google, you read labels at the grocery store and you’re still confused.
With so many seemingly conflicting diets out there how are you supposed to know what to do? Well, one thing they all have in common is that you are to reduce the amount of processed food in your diet and increase the whole foods, that is foods as close to their natural source as possible.
In addition, all of these diets stress eating more plant-based foods, especially vegetables.
7 Ways Good Nutrition Helps Your Voice
So if you are eating a more plant-based diet, here’s what it will do for your voice:
1. Improves energy levels.
The Standard American Diet (SAD), now adopted by many Western societies, is full of processed foods that have your blood sugars unbalanced, with a sugar high followed by a sugar crash. This can leave you feeling sapped of energy.
Eating whole foods, rich in fibre allow for a slower release of sugar into the blood stream maintaining a steady blood sugar level. Healthy sources of carbohydrates and fat are your bodies primary energy sources, but the nutrients in vegetables, especially in dark leafy greens will give you even more of a boost in energy.
2. Improves immunity.
The SAD diet is low on many immune boosting nutrients. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that aid in warding off those colds and sore throats, and even allergies that singers dread are missing in processed foods. Taking vitamin pills or having vitamins and minerals added into these foods is not the same, since they don’t get absorbed into the body as well and are limited to only a few nutrients versus the thousands of nutrients available in real whole plant foods. Whole food sources are designed for our bodies and have a wealth of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that will keep your immune system strong.
3. Balances hormones.
Keeping hormones balanced can have a big impact on the voice from keeping the swelling of the vocal folds associated with PMS at bay to managing stress responses to keeping your mood at an even keel. Diet plays a large role in this. You can read more about hormones and the voice here.
4. Keeps collagen and elastin fibres in the vocal folds supple.
The tissues of the vocal folds consist of collagen and elastin fibres. These proteins are responsible for flexibility and resiliency of tissues. We see it especially in our skin – wrinkles form as less collagen and elastin are formed. It’s not just superficial aging we need to worry about. We need to maintain elasticity of the vocal folds. Vitamin C is vital in the formation of collagen, as well as other nutrients such as hyluronic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, sulfur containing foods, vitamin A and plant steroids. A healthy diet rich in a variety of plant foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans and legumes will ensure that you have all the nutrients to keep producing collagen.
5. Speeds up recovery between vocal use.
As we sing we are using many muscles; laryngeal and respiratory getting the most use. With athletic use the muscles will start to break down and need to repair. You may also be experiencing some inflammation from overuse, as well as a build up of lactic acid. Hydration is essential, but so is a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and lean protein to repair and re-build the used muscles so that you will be ready for the next singing session.
6. Maintains appropriate body composition.
Body composition can definitely have an affect on your voice. Energy levels are higher because there is not excess adipose tissue to carry around. It’s easier to carry out the demands of a director (Does he ask you to fall to the ground? How many times do you need to do this over and over in rehearsal? Can you do it without effort and maintaining support of the voice as you do it? Or maybe you’re a musical theatre performer and need to dance while you sing.) Also, if you are prone to yo-yo dieting it’s hard to maintain a sense of support as your weight fluctuates widely. By eating a healthy plant-based diet, you will be easily able maintain a consistent weight that will service your voice and your health and keep cravings at bay.
7. Reduces risk of vocal injury.
Ultimately, every singer wants to enjoy a lifetime of singing. Avoiding vocal injury is one way to ensure that. When you have improved energy levels, less inflammation and less illness you will be able to sing with less effort (provided you also have good technique in hand). This will reduce the risk of damaging your vocal folds either through a hemorrhage, nodules or polyps. A healthy diet high in plant-foods, which are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytonutritents and omega-3 fatty acids, can be highly anti-inflammatory. Some especially anti-inflammatory herbs include ginger and tumeric, so if you feel inflammation, load up on them. Try this tumeric milk recipe.
So make sure you are cutting the processed foods and eating a wide variety of fresh or frozen plant foods. As they say: “Eat the rainbow”. Your voice will love you for it.
Get more guidance on how to eat healthly in our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
Hi, I'm so glad you found my wellness coaching site. I am a singer, voice teacher of over 20 years, certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.
A singer is a vocal athlete. Just like an athlete, a singer requires strength, agility and stamina. I teach singers to take care of their instrument, their body, through a holistic approach encompassing fitness, whole food nutrition, mindfulness and natural solutions.
In joining me you will learn:
Take a transformative journey to become an empowered singer that performs with outrageous confidence. Go from feeling exhausted, worried about your vocal folds, deprived, overwhelmed and stuck, to feeling comfortable in your own skin, completely energized, with renewed mental clarity and reinvigorated in a matter of weeks.
Don't let your hectic schedule keep you from eating healthy! Get your FREE Busy Singer's Guide to Eating Healthy on the Go.