Vocal Wellness: Hydration…the fluid facts

Our bodies function best when they are well fed and well hydrated. We’ll talk more about nutrition in coming posts, but let’s address water here.

Our bodies are about 60% water.

photo by: José Manuel Suárez

Our vocal cords are covered with a layer of mucous that is water based.

This mucous does several things:
1. Helps with vocal cord flexibility (i.e. makes speaking and singing easier).
2. Protects them from friction while we talk and sing.

Without it our cords are stiffer, swell more easily when we sing and have a harder time recovering from a long singing session. When we are dehydrated the layer of mucous is either less or non-existent.

When you are mildly dehydrated you might notice:
1. Dry mouth
2. Headache
3. Dark colored urine
4. Dry lips
5. Low level fatigue

Hydration is systemic, meaning water has to get into your body before it can hydrate you – drinking water while singing or doing yoga will do a bit to help relieve a dry mouth and cool you off, but it won’t really help your voice in that moment.

How do you know how much water you need to drink? The old way of looking at it was everyone needed 64 ounces of water a day. Turns out it is more individual. Our diets often consist of about 20% water – almost every substance we consume has water in it (especially if you are eating lots of fruits and vegetables).

The remaining, 80% water you take in comes in liquid form – and hopefully a lot of that liquid is water, though tea, coffee, soda, fruit juice all have water. One study showed that caffeinated beverages don’t contribute significantly to dehydration in healthy adult males, but caffeine in high levels causes its own issues. Soda and fruit juice are also not ‘real’ foods, but food products, some laden with chemicals, so I advise avoiding them in general. If you exercise and sweat heavily you will need more water to keep you hydrated. In the winter I also recommend sleeping with a humidifier to keep your airway moist (waking up with a sore throat in the morning because you are so dried out is one sign that you would benefit from a humidified *NB a morning sore throat can also be a sign of reflux).

In the singing world we say ‘pee pale’. After your first morning trip to pee, aim to have light colored urine. (Totally clear urine can signify over hydration, something that isn’t particularly healthy either).

The next time you find your energy flagging at 3pm, try drinking some water to give yourself a boost. Carrying a BPA free water bottle is also a great way to be sure you are drinking regularly and staying hydrated!

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