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Caffeine and the Singer


Is a cup of Joe really that bad? Nutritionist Sharon Zarabi sounds a wake-up call.

We live in a fast paced world and want to get more out of our body and our voice for the least health investment we can manage.

So what do we do?

Some singers stop in for a cup of Joe, or even more accessible Red Bulls® and the billion dollar industry of 5 Hour Energy®.

We * think * that caffeine is helping us to beat time, giving us greater alertness – improving our ability to perform.

Think Again

A pilot study was performed where 250 mg of caffeine was provided in tablet form to eight subjects.

CaffeineText02This is a small pool of subjects – so further research needs to be done. However, the results are telling:

The caffeine had an effect on each subject’s voice quality – this was determined by using laryngograph readings as well as monitoring blood levels while subjects engaged in free speech, reading a passage and singing “happy birthday”.

The vocal folds require moisture to work efficiently and though caffeine comes in the form of a liquid, it acts as a drying agent.

In fact, caffeine pulls water out of your system and depletes the vocal folds of needed lubrication.

Dry vocal cords tend to tighten which temporarily hinders voice range and endurance.

The more caffeine you drink, the worse the effect on your voice – check out the chart below to make sure caffeine isn’t sneaking into your life.

What You’re Aiming For

Voice scientists are unanimous that we should be drinking 6-8 cups of water daily.

This will help the vocal cords vibrate with less “push” from the lungs, especially in high pitches.

CaffeineText01Need another reason?

Adequately hydrated vocal cords resist injury from voice use more than dry cords and have an easier recovery rate.

And why the eighth cup? This will help thin out any thick secretions.

 Hope for Coffee in Your Life

If you are hydrating your folds with water, you don’t have to give up coffee entirely but try to limit yourself to one cup / day which is 8 oz.

Avoid drinking this single cup of coffee before a performance or any occasion where you will be making demands of your singing voice.

Choose instant coffee when viable as opposed to filtered coffee that can have two and half times more caffeine.

All the while, maintain adequate hydration with clear water – don’t compromise on this.

Check Your Intake

The list of caffeinated supplements is limitless.

To give you a better idea of every day beverages and their caffeine content see the table below:


The numbers on the horizontal axis represent the milligrams of caffeine in an 8 oz serving. Try to limit yourself to no more than 150 mg/ day

Yes, caffeine is a natural stimulant and you may feel more alert for the short run, but the negative affects of choosing caffeine as a lifestyle outweigh the benefits – especially for singers.


Sharon Zarabi
Sharon Zarabi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian Nutritionist (RD, CDN) and Certified Personal Fitness Trainer with the International Fitness Professional’s Association (IFPA) and Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA.) She is a contributor to The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health (Oxford University Press) and her work can be viewed at www.sharonzarabi.com/

The author thanks researchers involved in these studies:
S. Akhtar, G. Wood, J. S. Rubin, P. E. O’Flynn and P. Ratcliffe (1999). Effect of caffeine on the vocal folds: a pilot study. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 113, pp 341-345. doi:10.1017/S0022215100143920.

Titze, 1988; Verdolini-Marston, Druker, & Titze, 1990; Verdolini, Titze, & Fennell, 1994; Verdolini et al., 2002; Titze, 1981; Verdolini-Marston, Sandage, and Titze, 1994).

The chart is reprinted from: DCAPS – Alcohol & Drug Counseling, Assessment, & Prevention Services, WSU Counseling Services, 280 Lighty Student Services Building. Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-1065 | (509) 335-4511 | ad.caps@wsu.edu

  • al-andrew

    It can take up to two hours for the water we take in to have rehydration effect on our bodies, it is believe to be the same for coffee which is mostly water anyway. I totally agree with everything above except for the advice of drinking coffee before a demanding session. No hot or extremely cold drinks should be taken, only tap warm water. That being said my biggest weakness is my daily coffee allowance.


    They didn’t say to drink the coffee or caffeine drinks
    before a demanding session they said do not drink ANY caffeine filled drinks before a session because either could hinder the vocal cords. ☺

  • Daniel

    I’m a little confused. I just read that study and it does not conclude that “caffeine had an effect on each subject’s voice quality”. You are misrepresenting the results of a very, very small sample size. The study concludes “substantial changes were seen to authenticate the fact that caffeine does produce alterations in voice quality but these alterations have considerable intra-subject variability”. Meaning out of only 8 participants some showed alterations and some didn’t. This is in fact the only study I have found that showed ANY change in voice quality. There are several other studies that used a larger (still too small to be conclusive) sample size and different doses of caffeine that concluded there was zero change in any of the participants. One study used 100mg and the other went all the way up to 480mg. Neither one showed any significant change. Caffeine might well have an effect on your voice, but until that is actually proven we should make it an individual choice, not continue to state facts that aren’t there.