Coffee and singing can be a controversial pairing in the world of music. On the one hand, caffeine dries out the vocal cords, on the other, it can get you revved up for a show. So is coffee bad for your voice, or is the occasional cup now and then ok?
As a singer, it’s important to consume good quality products that’ll increase your overall health. But does this mean you have to limit what you drink and when? In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of it, as well as alternatives and better ways to drink coffee.
Is coffee bad for your voice?
There isn’t a simple answer to this, as it really depends on what you’re used to and how coffee interacts with your own body. As a singer, there are preferable drinks that enhance vocal performance. But as with tea drinkers, many coffee aficionados just don’t want to ditch the drink.
But firstly, coffee isn’t recommended for people with some disorders or health implications. Let’s take a look at who should skip it, or at least reduce their intake.
- Those who suffer from anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant and encourages a ‘fight or flight’ feeling, which can make a person’s anxiety even worse. Drinking caffeine if you already suffer from anxiety could even cause a panic attack.
- Pregnant women.
- Those with high blood pressure.
- People with heart problems.
- Insomniacs (people who frequently struggle to sleep)
Is coffee good for your voice?
The good news is, it’s not all bad. It contains antioxidants and can have anti-inflammatory effects.
Coffee and singing
There are two potential problems with coffee specifically for singers. It dehydrates the vocal cords and can stimulate anxiety. This effect means caffeine can alter your singing. On the flip side, when it’s drunk in moderation, caffeine can benefit your performance by providing more energy and uplifting your mood.
What you add to coffee can also be a problem. Sugar also causes an energy spike and is bad for your health. Cows’ milk is – like all dairy – bad for your vocals as it promotes the production of phlegm and makes your voice sound ‘claggy’. So swap the sugar for some honey and the milk for an almond, soy, oat or coconut alternative.
Is coffee bad for singing?
There’s little scientific evidence either way, although one study found no correlation between drinking coffee and singing. A group of individuals consumed caffeine tablets and found no difference in the body’s ability to create sound and perform at the usual level. More research found that a weak cup of coffee has no adverse effect on phonation, but that drinking higher volumes of caffeine could have a poor effect on phonation. So a medium cup of coffee daily, won’t have a noticeable impact on your voice.
Coffee and vocal cords
Hydration increases the flexibility and efficiency of your vocal cords. This is why singers should drink plenty of water – around eight glasses a day. Coffee works in the opposite way to water and dehydrates your vocal cords. As the body needs water to lubricate the vocal cords, coffee decreases your body’s ability to absorb water, meaning your voice can sound hoarse.
In fact, coffee dehydrates the whole body – not just your vocal cords. With little moisture on the cords, this creates more tension between them which shortens your vocal range and limits your capabilities. The task of singing also becomes more difficult because your body has less moisture to lubricate the cords.
If your vocal cords are hydrated, you’ll have a less chance of vocal injury and temporary vocal breaks. Coffee’s dehydrating effect can encourage a dry throat, meaning you’re more likely to swallow between lyrics. The answer is: drink more water, especially if you’re consuming caffeine.
Can singers drink coffee before a gig?
Yes and no.
We suggest avoiding coffee ahead of your performance if you have a tendency toward nerves or stage fright. Performing can be nerve-wracking enough, without stimulating your anxiety even further. Just 200mg of caffeine (two cups of coffee) can increase the speed of your breath, making your heart beat faster and increasing your body temperature.
It’s difficult to calm your mind when you’re experiencing these symptoms. Someone who’s more anxious is more likely to experience these negative side effects.
Can you drink coffee before singing if you’re not anxious?
Yes. If you’re less responsive to anxiety, and caffeine doesn’t affect your wellbeing or physical behaviour, you don’t have to reduce the amount of coffee you consume. However, don’t increase your intake from your usual number of cups on performance days. If you suddenly drink a lot more, it could start to affect you differently.
Let’s not dismiss the positive health benefits that coffee has. Firstly, it can increase your energy levels, thanks to the caffeine. This increases dopamine levels which also improves your mood and supports the mental function. If you’re feeling tired on your performance day, we recommend drinking one cup of coffee three-four hours before your big moment.
What to drink before singing
So if you’ve decided after reading all of this that you’d prefer to swap your latte, macchiato, cappuccino or americano for something else, what should you choose?
If you need a kick
Grab a green or herbal tea. This has less caffeine than coffee and is packed with antioxidants to fight diseases, so you get the pep with plenty of hydration. For extra energy choose matcha green tea.
If your singing voice isn’t on form
Drink liquorice or throat coat tea. These clarify and protect your vocals.
If you’ve got a cold, flu or a cough
Make a warm lemon and honey or lemon and ginger drink. Use fresh ingredients for heightened effect and a great taste. Warm it up, but make sure it’s not too hot.
If you’ve got a nervous stomach
Drink a peppermint infusion. This helps to settle the stomach and reduce excess gas.
If you’re replacing an iced coffee
Enjoy a chilled pomegranate juice. It’s filled with antioxidants and energisers, plus vitamins and minerals.
To date, a full study on the effects of coffee and singing hasn’t been conducted. So the best advice is if you’re going to drink coffee on the day of a performance, proceed with caution. Consider how caffeine affects you personally, but certainly don’t overdo it – hold the double espresso shot!
- Is decaf coffee good for your voice?
No coffee is ‘good’ for your voice, however, decaff is better if you want to avoid a spike in energy and the jittery effect that caffeine can produce. It also won’t raise your heartbeat or stop you sleeping like regular coffee.
- Can singers drink coffee while recording?
Check the rules with the studio. Hot drinks can be a spill risk around expensive equipment, so water is safer. And always use a flask or bottle with a covered top, so if it does get knocked over, it won’t spill out.
- How long before singing should I avoid dairy?
Don’t drink or eat dairy products (cows’ milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream and butter) for at least three hours before your gig, recording or audition. But ideally, you should avoid it for as long as possible and reduce your dairy intake.
Is coffee bad for your voice or do you find you’re ok to combine drinking coffee and singing? Let us know -and tell us about your favourite alternative beverages in the comments below.