As voice actors, our number one job is sounding our best. It’s no surprise that the foods we eat right before a session can impact the quality of our voices, but you might be shocked to know that some of your favorite foods make being a vocal professional much harder… I’m looking at you Trader Joe’s 1000 Day Gouda cheese!

But, we do have options. I’ve found that eating clean is a great way to sustain vocal health, and a plant-based diet is a great way to keep your voice smooth. Tabitha Brown, actress, and vegan food influencer has a YouTube channel with a mixture of vegan food and lifestyle content if you’re looking for recipes and healthy living inspiration.

Before any performance or recording as a vocal artist, singer, or speaker, there are some foods you’ll want to avoid at all costs– dairy being the first. I know it’s tasty, but this delicious complement to your meal clings to everything on its way down the throat during digestion. Dairy causes new mucus to build up and makes mucus thicken in the lining of your throat. Not only can dairy potentially block your vocal passageway, but it can also completely change the sound of your voice. So, before your next session, make sure you put the yogurt, milk, cheese, and cream aside.

Like dairy, fried and fatty foods can also gum up the vocal cords and hinder your ability to perform. In addition, foods high in sugar can increase the acid levels in your body, possibly leading to acid reflux while you’re exercising your voice. You’ll want to avoid overly-processed, fatty, and high sugar foods when you need to utilize your vocal cords because they can damage your esophageal lining and vocal cords. A sugary sweet treat before work might sound appetizing, but the phlegm build-up is not worth the hassle.

Hear me out– dessert is always a nice reward or pleasant surprise, but knowing when to consume it is paramount. Juice, jams, lollipops, gummies, alcoholic beverages, and throat lozenges with high sugar content can create a phlegmy build-up that you won’t want to manage while working. As a vocal professional, you should consider your sugar intake before you have a session, and consider saving the cocktail until your work is done. This way you’ll avoid the aggravations of a dry or scratchy throat.

Caffeine is another substance to avoid before working because it leads to dehydration and can dry out your vocal folds while constricting muscles. Tightened muscles in your throat can cause damaging stress to your voice box. As far as drinks, try not to consume sodas and carbonated drinks in the few hours leading up to a performance. Instead, consider drinking room-temperature water or kombucha as an alternative.

By now, you know which foods to avoid. And even though water is excellent for you, it takes a while for the water to hydrate your voice. Mama Jan1 recommends hydrating your vocal cords easily and quickly with steam. I have one of those portable handheld steamers from MyPureMist, and there are many different sizes for travel or daily use. Before a performance, I also recommend sticking to fruits and vegetables or any natural and unprocessed foods. Honey and licorice root are a few great options for snacking, you can even find Licorice root in tea form, and it’s great for creating a layer of lubrication and protection on the throat. Any foods high in protein and Vitamin A are also great, as they will help support the mucus membranes in your vocal cords.

Luckily for us, these aren’t foods to avoid all the time, only during the few hours before a session begins. In those few hours before a session starts, your body can finish digesting from the throat and clear any obstructions that would get in the way of your vocal cords doing their job. If you want to make each performance or session count, and you’re willing to implement these small changes, you’ll be able to feel and hear the results. Over time, these habits will also change the health of your throat and esophageal lining and can completely alter your ability to share your unique sound with the world in the best way.

1 For more resources on vocal health and foods, check out Jan Smith’s YouTube Channel.