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Are Cold Beverages, Caffeine and Alcohol Bad for the Voice?

Are Cold Beverages, Caffeine and Alcohol Bad for the Voice?
Kristie Knickerbocker examines the impact of common drinks on vocal acoustics.

A student at one of my lectures saw me drinking ice-cold water in my handy Tervis cup. Those things are indestructible and I have one for every day of the week. Obsessed? Maybe.

There is no evidence to suggest that cold water is bad for your vocal cords, I told him.

Some think cold water can tighten the vocal muscles, but there is no scientific study proving this to be true. In fact, some singers prefer cold water over warm.

I know bodies react differently to certain things because we are all different, so if you feel cold water affects your singing voice adversely, then don’t drink it.

Just know that there hasn’t been a randomized control trial proving room-temperature is best for your vocal performance.


A moderate intake of caffeine should not affect vocal acoustics

A moderate intake of caffeine should not affect vocal acoustics. I always ask my patients to limit their intake daily, and to counter each cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage with an equal amount of water.

Beer actually counts toward hydration, interestingly enough. Researches have found that when you are dehydrated, drinking beer will not only get you drunk, but hydrate you as well.

This is not meant to encourage each of you to get out there and get drunk prior to a performance. Some singers are very affected by alcohol and cannot stay on pitch when under its influence.

Caffeine was found to usually not impact vocal acoustics if consumed conservatively (100mg), and another study showed that caffeine does not adversely affect voice production at all.

Also, not related to the voice specifically, one study even suggests that coffee hydrates similarly to water.

Bottom Line: Cold or hot, it’s your choice. And when there’s a choice, go with water over alcohol. Caffeine consumption should be examined along with other factors when recommending cessation in the therapy room. When I look at this, I think, Starbucks? Why not.

This is the sixth and final article in a series by Kristie Knickerbocker.
Previous article: Which Foods Will Improve Your Singing Performance?
First article: Marijuana, E-Cigarettes and Vocal Health

Kristie Knickerbocker

Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She provides voice, swallowing and speech therapy in her own private practice, a tempo Voice Center, LLC. She also lectures on the singing voice to area choirs and students. She belongs to ASHA’s Special Interest Group 3-Voice and Voice Disorders. She keeps a blog on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com

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This article is adapted from Kristie’s blog which first appeared on The American Speech Language Hearing Association site www.Asha.org

  • al-andrew

    It’s important to remember that the voice works best in it’s natural state… So room temperature water is best…. No sugar , no dairy…. Alcohol can act as a mucsle relaxant too so that is not conducive to good vocal health.

  • Jason Sweeney

    I love that this article says that beer counts toward hydration, Its your round Kristie!, before a performance or on stage i always make sure im drinking room temp water, over years of trial and error this has always worked best. A teacher told me that the best way to think of it was, why warm up your vocal before a performance and then drink ice cold water! surely it would just tighten the vocal folds! flexibility required here please. Great informative article Kristie.

  • Kim Chandler

    How can cold water “tighten the vocal folds” when water goes into the stomach via the oesophagus and the vocal folds are over windpipe?

  • Kim Chandler

    “No sugar, no dairy” – why?

  • Kim Chandler

    A sensible, balanced article – a breath of fresh air! Thank you. I shall be sharing this with my clients :-)

  • 1st question: Would YOU ice your leg muscles before running? Vocal folds come BEFORE the esophagus. Muscles nonetheless.
    Question #2: The interstitial fluid of the cell (elimination and assimilation of toxins) becomes bogged down. ie plhlegm. Over a 3hr show even a 4+ octave voice (especially) tends to become tonally compromised. Excessive phlegm brings on glottal stroking or clearing of the throat.

  • al-andrew

    Hi Kim , I think LosCastro pretty much nailed it regarding the phlegm issue which is very prevalent with the intake of Sugar and dairy, they just interfere with the ” Natural ” vocal mechanism…

  • al-andrew

    Yes agreed the article is balanced 😇 But one certainly needs to be carfeful and fully understand (which I know you do 😀) how the voice works before bending the important rules. My students are taught not to drink anything but room temp water, but from personal experience ( and I tell them this) during long performances (2-4hr) if you feel flat or tired don’t hesitate to grab a juice or something, (I liked #appletizer ) consumed together with water I haven’t found this to be a hindrance to normal vocal function.

  • Kim Chandler

    But drinking cold water and icing leg muscles aren’t the same action with the same consequences. In my opinion there are bigger ‘fish to fry’ in vocal health maintenance than whether someone likes to drink cold water or not :) And not everyone has an adverse reaction (i.e. phlegm) to sugar or diary products. Also the amounts are critical. Each individual needs to find out for themselves what works or doesn’t work for their specific situation.

  • Jason Sweeney

    my understanding is that the cold water passes them and tightens and can tighten the folds.. is this not the case, surely cold water doesn’t help flexibility.`please enlighten for my understanding Kim.

  • Jason Sweeney

    Agreed Kim but surely these are just strong tips that people give , of course everyone is different. Does cold water not stiffen the surroundings of what make the voice works? In my live experience this is what iv always come across and its the same for sugary and diary, they seem to all inhibit my performance and others i have spoken too. LostCastroMusic & al-andrews i share the same opinions as you guys from what i have experienced. Kim as im am just learning about all of this is great to get your insight, for you personally does none of these effect you when singing?

  • Kim Chandler

    Bless you Jason, and I do find this is a common misunderstanding amongst the singers I coach… The voice is a wind instrument. Whatever you eat or drink goes down the ‘pipe’ (oesophagus) behind the ‘pipe’ that the vocal folds are in (trachea). Have a look at any anatomy picture if you need evidence. And what happens when you accidentally inhale bits of food or drink? You cough it out! If water was going directly past the vocal cords you’d be drowning! Also, the water you drink now can take up to 4 hours to process and hydrate your vocal folds so take that into consideration :)

  • Kim Chandler

    If that’s the case for you then of course you personally should avoid those things. I also think there’s a case for experiencing issues if you’re told to expect them. In my opinion there’s too much hysteria surrounding relatively unimportant things like this. With the rock ‘n rollers I coach I’m happy to hear they’re drinking water at all (be it cold, tepid or hot) instead of guzzling alcohol or taking drugs before performing! “Don’t sweat the small stuff” applies here :) As for me, as an industry vocal coach and session singer, I’m routinely singing 4-8 hours a day and find no ill effect from eating cheese at breakfast or having coffee or tea before or during a recording/coaching session or drinking cold drinks at a gig (I live in a hot country). If I did, I’d stop. Simple as that.

  • FL-Wolf

    When singing outside in cool temperatures, I like my little cup with warm tea, so I can take a sip once in a while between songs. In summer I usually drink cold water, but without ice when singing. This works for me…

  • cdcollins

    I disagree concerning sugar. So do some of the top Otolaryngologists in NYC who have treated many of our country’s and the worlds’ top singers. The two best things for hydrating the voice are pineapple juice and apple juice. They stimulate the production of amylase and the natural sugars help keep your throat moist. Water is actually one of the worst things one can drink while performing as it washes the amylase and natural sugars out of one’s mouth and vocal tract and can actually serve to dry up one’s vocal tract. For water to really help, one should being 24 hours before the performance drinking extra water.

    Dairy does thicken mucus and can create a worse problem with phlegm, as can bananas.

  • cdcollins

    I agree regarding cold water and dairy, but not sugar. Morton Gould, Anthony Jahn and some of the other top voice care specialists in our country, if not the world have recommended that pineapple juice and apple juice are the two best things a singer can drink for hydration. They stimulate the production of amylase and help keep the vocal tract moist. Water actually washes the amylase and sugars out of our mouth and can have the opposite affect of drying the vocal tract.