What to eat, or what not to eat, before jumping on your yoga mat is a topic many practitioners can be a little unsure about. The general rule of thumb is to try and eat at least two hours before a class, allowing your body enough time to properly digest before you begin twisting your body into pretzel-like shapes and tipping yourself upside down. Yet this advice can be challenging in a world where everyone has different work schedules and commitments, class timetables are forever changing, and every person digests food in a slightly different way. The key is to find a balance between arriving to class feeling satiated and energized, but not overly full and uncomfortable. It may take some time to find what works best for your own body type and schedule, yet here are a few tips to set you up for a great yoga class, minus the growling tummy or awkward bloating.
2-3 hours before:
As mentioned above, try to make your last main meal before a yoga class at least 2-3 hours beforehand. Eating a large meal even an hour before class can mean that not only will asana poses be uncomfortable (have you tried cobra or downward facing dog on a full tummy?!), but gas and flatulence may also be an embarrassing issue that takes your attention away from your tranquil flow. As your focus switches towards your practice, this concentration and movement will also move blood flow away from the digestive system, essentially halting your digestion which can cause cramping and further discomfort.
Try to ensure this meal contains carbohydrates for energy, protein to satiate hunger and build muscle, and healthy fats to support digestion, lubricate joints and keep your heart and brain happy. Some great simple options may include:
- Oats with almond milk, fresh berries and walnuts
- Quinoa salad with pumpkin and kale
- Sprouted bread or rice cakes with avocado and lemon
- Homemade soup with seed crackers
- Wholemeal salad wrap with hummus
- Brown rice and tofu sushi
30 mins before:
Two to three hours can be a long time if you have a speedy metabolism. Snacking before class is not illegal! No one wants to move through an asana class with a growling tummy or ‘hangry’ emotions that take the attention away from your class. Having a snack 30 minutes before class is a common way to balance blood sugar levels and ward off hunger without any negative side effects. Some sensible options are:
- Fruit is easy to digest and offers clean energy and fibre. Potassium rich bananas, a handful of fresh berries, or an apple is an easy pre-yoga snack
- Nuts and seeds are high in protein and healthy fats and offer both energy and sustenance. Try to opt for activated nuts which are easier for the body to digest and assimilate
- Energy bars are an easy on-the-go snack if you’re racing from work to class. Maybe even opt for half a bar at first, and choose something that has relatively simple food combinations with only a handful of natural ingredients.
- Smoothies are the perfect pre-yoga snack as they are nourishing, hydrating, satisfying and easily digested. Try banana, date, tahini and almond milk. Or banana, spinach, mango and coconut milk.
- Dried fruits such as prunes, dates and dried apricots also offer the body plenty of fibre and natural sugars for energy. Opt for just a couple and enjoy with a class of water as dried fruits can be dehydrating.
- Non-cruciferous vegetables like cucumbers and celery make for great pre-yoga snacks as they are both highly nutritious, hydrating and quick to digest
Now that you have a better idea of what foods are preferable to enjoy before yoga, there are certain foods that are best to avoid that are also worth mentioning:
- Processed foods are empty of nutrition and often high in sugar and salt
- Coffee and energy drinks are overly stimulating for the body
- Garlic, onion and spicy foods are hard to digest and can repeat in the body, causing gas and cramps
- Fried foods leave you feeling sluggish and fatigued
- Cheese and dairy are hard to digest and can cause cramps or stomach upset
- Meat and processed meats are heavy in the body, high in salt and take up to 6 hours to digest
Hopefully this has shed some light on how to best fuel your pre-yoga body. Remember that everyone is different, so experiment and find a routine and go-to meals and snacks that work best for you.