What to Eat and What to Drink Before Singing

I often get asked questions like, “Doesn’t tea with honey help the voice?” “Does drinking olive oil and water make you sing better?” “Should I avoid dairy products before singing?” etc. Since the topic of what to eat and drink before singing is on the minds of many singers, let me give you my perspective now.

First, let’s talk about the ideas of lemon, honey, teas, throat sprays etc. While all of these things can help the throat feel good, the only way that any of them will actually come into contact with your vocal folds is if you breathe them, and this is not something I would recommend.  The only thing that you can breathe that is beneficial is steam.  I recommend that each of my students purchase a steamer. You can find steamers at your local drug store for about $35.  A popular steamer is the Vick’s Personal Steamer.  This is not the same as a vaporizer which puts moisture into the air of a room.

A steamer actually has a little mask that goes over the nose and mouth. Water is put into the basin beneath the mask, the unit is plugged into the wall and powered on.  A heating element then heats the water to just below boiling.  The steam rises from the heated water through the mask and is breathed into the lungs.  The steam passes over the vocal folds on its way into the lungs and has a very hydrating and healing effect on them. Steaming is much preferred over gargling.  I find gargling to be somewhat irritating and don’t recommend it.

As far as food is concerned, it is important to avoid singing on a completely empty stomach. Singing can be athletic, and you want to have plenty of energy for your performance.  However, it is also important to avoid singing on a completely full stomach.  When the stomach is too full, it is difficult to take the low breaths necessary for healthy singing.  Also, singing tends to cause burping when it is done too soon after eating, and burping is an activity that is usually frowned upon by many audience members during a vocal performance.

A rule of thumb is to eat a healthy “singers meal” about 2 hours prior to a performance.  A singer’s meal would be balanced in 1) lean meat, chicken, fresh fish, eggs, or a high quality vegetable protein such as tempeh or tofu; 2) a complex starchy carbohydrate such as whole grain bread, brown rice or potato (not much butter, and no sour cream); and 3) plenty of fresh vegetables and/or fruits (citrus fruits however seem to cause mucous or dryness in some singers). Make sure to never stuff yourself, especially before a performance.

Some foods and beverages to avoid prior to singing are mucous producing foods such as dairy, stimulants such as caffeine and spicy foods, soft drinks, refined sugars, chocolate, iced drinks and alcohol (including wine and beer).  Be aware also of any foods which you may be sensitive to or allergic to prior to singing (for example, some singers have trouble with citrus fruits, wheat, nuts, shellfish or soy).

It’s also important to keep the body well hydrated with water the day of a performance, but please remember to lay off on the water intake several hours before you go on, since there probably won’t be too many bathroom breaks.  Some performers will chew a bit of sugar free gum or suck on a sugar free hard candy prior to going onstage to keep the saliva flowing in lieu of drinking water.

I hope that answered some of your questions.  Please keep emailing me with more!

Voice Lessons

This blog is not owned or operated by Speech-Level-Singing International, it is owned and operated privately by Guy Babusek. The views expressed herein are strictly his own.

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29 Responses to What to Eat and What to Drink Before Singing

  1. rebecca says:

    I like the earthy practicality there.
    Have you seen the “excuses” page over at music class room? http://musicclassroom.weebly.com/excuses.html

  2. Guy Babusek says:

    I love the “excuses” page. Thank you for posting the link Rebecca!


  3. Kapitano says:

    singing tends to cause burping

    Oh yes. I found that one out the hard way – ruining take after take with "inexplicable" fits of burping.

    Pavarotti recommended not eating for eight hours before a performance – on the grounds that it made the voice come from the pit of the stomach. I suppose even the singing greats had their misconceptions.

    Anyway, greetings from someone who's only singing ambitions are:

    * To not get out of breath halfway through a line
    * To not have to use Melodyne to get the pitch right
    * To finish a pop album when the first two ambitions are met

  4. Tammy says:

    Thank you so much for this faboulous tips!! An amazing blog

  5. sachin says:

    and are there there any exercise which would soothe out vocals

    • Tim says:

      If your throat hurts don’t sing, period. If your voice is horse from singing then try the “vocal fry” exercise technique. If you don’t know what that is YouTube it. And, very soft (just under speaking voice volume), airy “OOOOOoooo”‘s descending from high note to low note on a downward octive siren scale.

  6. MaryKate says:

    I have an audition for my school musical of “Annie” and I am going out for the lead. This article really helped me out! Thank you!

  7. Mark says:

    I’ve found that extra virgin olive oil can be helpful with singing in two cases, but not particularly if you just drink it strait.
    1. Make a lot pasta, douse it in it and such as garlic salt and eat. No tomato sauce. Sing. (helped me with low notes, primarily, but only right after eating the pasta)
    2. Oil pulling with the extra virgin olive oil (helped with high notes and general singing–probably low notes, too). This helps a lot longer. Makes singing smoother.

    Don’t ask me why these things helped and just drinking oil didn’t. I’m pretty sure I didn’t inhale liquid oils, but they do have natural vapor, which I’m sure is harmless, much as smelling flowers is.

  8. judith says:

    What are the exercise that will help the vocal

  9. srishtee says:

    please tell what foods to eat if one is in tropical country? can i eat rice and pulses for instance?

  10. irraj marrium says:

    thanks for the tip on how to make your voice better

  11. Ron says:

    I have a few personal tips if anybody wants a few more: For me persaonlly, I find that drinking an ample amount of orange juice at room temperature the day before any performances and auditions works literal miracles for me. I never read this anywhere; I just discovered one day that when I sing well, I always drank o.j. the previous day. Now I do it deliberately and it works beautifully. I hear a lot about honey, but I find that honey just makes me cough and has never helped me sing better. I also avoid salt and dairy, and I comsume as much “watery” foods as possible if I’m going to sing in a day or so; foods like raw vegetables. I find that rather than just drinking water, the vitamins from the veggies give me the extra energy. I hope this extra info can help you, too! ;)

    • Tim says:

      How much orange juice do you drink the day prior? I also find that sipping room temperature pineapple juice while performing really lubricates the throat and stimulates saliva.

  12. Salil says:

    Thank you!!!

  13. schrodinger says:

    For me, fresh juicy fruit such as watermelon, grapes, peaches, some pineapple and the like (but no citrus like oranges) work wonders. They provide both moisture and good energy-producing electrolytes and sugars. ‘Hard’ fruit like apples, pears and such don’t do as much for me because they often leave annoying little bits which can tickle in my throat. Bananas are okay if I eat them a few hours before and drink enough water to rinse out any particles. A little bit of very dilute orange or lemon juice can help too, if I don’t overdo them– but whole oranges, grapefruit or other citrus is irritating to my gut and my throat, and make MORE mucus in response to the irritation. Dairy and chocolate are verboten for 24 hours before I sing, and foods that leave scratchy particles are also off limits for at least 6 hours. So are very spicy foods, because of mucus… this is hard because I love, love, love spicy food!

    Our choir is singing the Mozart ‘Requiem’ at church tonight, so I’m enjoying a light meal now of chicken, gluten-free pasta with some olive oil and Italian herbs but no garlic for the benefit of my fellow choristers (I have celiac disease so wheat is always a no-no), and a bit of steamed vegetables, with some watermelon for dessert. An Advil beforehand will also help with irritation afterwards. We’ll have our pig-out of all the forbidden foods and drinks at our after-party!

  14. LoMein says:

    I know singers should take special care of their throats/body/voices. It always made me wonder about terrific singers like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin. These guys always had drinks and cigarettes in hand. Did they have a secret weapon to combat all that?

  15. Lauren says:

    I’m in my high schools production of Phantom of the Opera, I’m Carlotta and she has one of the most, if not the most, difficult singing part in the show. And my sister just found out she had strep throat and a sinus infection. I’m really worried I’m going to catch it and this week coming up is tech week, next weekend is the show. I don’t know if it’s just mental, that I’m trying to psych myself out, or what, but I woke up with a bit of a sore throat and I can’t afford to get sick. I’ve looking up home remedies that may help sooth your throat and vocal chords. I know that I have to drink a lot of water, no dairy products, no soda or carbonated beverages, etc. I love coffee but I decided I’m not drinking it until after the show is over, I will be drinking tea instead with lemon and liquid sugar (I’m not sure if that sugar is okay and I don’t like honey). I just wanted to see if you had any tips for me, even though this post is like 6 years old.

  16. Rubi says:

    Thank you Guy!!! Very informative, I will try the steam! ;-)

  17. Jacqueline perkins says:

    So enlightening .Thanks for sharing this priceless information on the voice technique and how to keep it strong . These tings I learned but some how I lost sight on them and ended up with a lump on my vocal chord . I spent one year there for treatment .now I am relearning what not to do ,I am a professional singer and like others I love to sing . Wisdom is so valuable when it come to the HOW in using your Voice.

  18. jennings says:

    i find the information to be very informative. but i will love to know what kind of tea in particular show i drink?

  19. jennings says:

    good question!!

  20. Keziah Beck says:

    Guy, did you know that the vocal cords have salivary glands directl on the folds themselves? We all know that hydration is what all good singers should try to achieve. When your tongue detects the bitterness of the lemon and the sweetness of te honey, it stimulates your salivary glands! So it turns out honey and lemon is actually very efficient for keeping your throat hydrated. The lemon will only dry your throat if you put too much in!

  21. knowledge says:

    thank you

  22. Jim P. says:

    Very good advice here. All stuff I learned in singing lessons. I do 3 sets a night going 3-4 hours total, I have a big tenor voice. It’s hard not to talk to people without seeming like a di%k, lol, so I find it best to just disappear. I LOVE the steamer idea, never heard of it, I’m getting one. I find 7up to be hydrating over water, though I know sugar is bad, but it’s caffeine free and refreshing and has taste. Maybe I’ll got to flavored water as I can’t do water alone as it’s tasteless, never liked just water. My coach also said nothing too cold or hot, making his choice room temp gatorade.

    I’ve also managed to maintain a good voice as a smoker for 30 plus years, so nothing will stop the cigs between sets! Need that, no way around it. I do have a question, though. I find singing a couple mins in head voice (falsetto) on my two 15 minute breaks a night to cool down, some call it war down, is helpful. (a e i o and u’s) Then I shut up til back on stage. Thoughts?

  23. celia336 says:

    Excellent content. Possibly the best I’ve come upon.

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