The Power of Hydration for Singing And Performance
How does a dehydrated vs. hydrated body affect your singing and speaking voice? What effect does dehydration have on performance?
So you want to perform at your peak? You want to be mentally and physically sharp throughout the day? You want to be creative and productive and energized? Many people say they want this, yet they deplete their bodies of the very "fuel" that makes this possible. Many rather have sodas, coffee, etc., rather than a glass of water.
As a vocal and performance coach, I have found that just about everyone who seeks my help for voice problems drink frighteningly small amounts of water. (Many drink a lot of other, not so healthy, fluids.) This is hardly a coincidence. Although there is more to healing and peak performance than drinking water, hydrating the body is a very important and ever so easy step. Studies have suggested that the average American is dehydrated. As much as 75% of the population may be chronically dehydrated.
While scientists argue whether these statistics are true or not, and how much water a person really needs, what we can agree on is that the thirst signal weakens as we age. We also know that the more dehydrated we become, the more our thirst signals weakens. When you start drinking more, you start feeling thirstier more often – you are awakening the thirst signal.
If you are thirsty you are already dehydrated. Thirst is never a measure of adequate hydration.
Water is the medium through which all of our cells communicate with each other. It is how the immune system monitors the body for invaders or imbalances and how it knows where to send its "troops" when the body is under threat; all done without our conscious awareness of what is happening.
Water makes it possible for the autonomic nervous system, and its two branches, to maintain equilibrium in the body. Every cell in our body becomes aware when there is even the slightest water shortage. In response, the cells change from a state of optimal function to a state of conservation. Our tendency to substitute water for sodas, coffee, juices, etc. adds to the problem. Sodas create a bigger problem than merely the dehydration factor. They are also highly acidic and water is needed simply to restore pH balance, or the body will take from its calcium reserves (the bones) to maintain equilibrium.
The dehydrating effect of caffeine is still being debated, but people who drink coffee tend to do so instead of drinking water (even instead of eating food sometimes), rather than in addition to it. Most health practitioners, nutritionist, sports-trainers, athletes, singers, peak performers, etc., agree that drinking more than our thirst tells us is of absolute necessity for optimal performance.
- Water carries nutrients to our cells, aids digestion by forming stomach secretions, flushes our bodies of wastes, and keeps our kidneys healthy.
- The kidneys control the concentration levels of bodily fluids and the balance of electrolytes. They are responsible for removing excess hormones, vitamins, minerals, and foreign toxins such as drugs, chemicals, and food additives. They get rid of the waste products from protein metabolism - uric acid, urea, and lactic acid - but they need lots of water to accomplish this.
- Research has suggested that women who stay adequately hydrated reduce their risk of breast cancer by 79 percent.
- Gastrointestinal problems have been shown to be connected with water shortage. Hydration can help prevent chronic joint diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis because water reduces inflammation and promotes cartilage health.
As singers and speakers, we depend on the flexibility and elasticity of the tissues, membranes, muscles and cartilages in our throat. We need water and lots of it. No liquid ever touches the vocal cords directly on its way down. You are not lubricating the vocal cords with the sip that you just took, although the swallowing itself does have a lubricating effect. To truly lubricate the vocal cords and the larynx, the water must go through your entire system.
On stage, we expel enormous amounts of energy whether it is a physical performance or not. Touring musicians live in air-conditioned vehicles and air-conditioned hotel rooms. AC and heating dries the air. The traveling voice professional would benefit by bringing a portable humidifier (clean it often to avoid bacterial growth). Airplanes are probably the most dehydrating forms of transportation. Athletes and singers drink copious amounts of water when flying (as should everyone). Jet lag worsens with dehydration. Conversely, keeping the body hydrated when flying is one way to diminish the effect of jet lag.
So how much is enough? The answer is that it depends. The measuring stick is always to have clear and odorless urine throughout the day (except for early morning). Can you drink too much water? Yes, the condition is called hyponatremia, and is a condition in which excess water intake dilutes the normal amount of sodium in the blood. However, realize that we are here talking about massive intake of water, such as the marathon runner who drank 3 liters in one hour the night before a race. The bottom line is this:
- If you want to heal illness, you need to hydrate.
- If you want to prevent illness, you need to hydrate.
- If you want optimal performance, you need to hydrate.