Can I Eat Before My Yoga Class?

How to comfortably and sensibly fit our need to eat around our yoga classes.

Can I Eat Before My Yoga Class?

“Timing is everything…”

WRITTEN BY Evolve Wellness Centre

READ MORE ON Ailments, Fitness

If you’re a busy and health conscious working professional, the chances are that you spend most of your waking hours at the office with a couple of early mornings, lunch times and evenings reserved for yoga, swimming, the gym or any other physical activities.

These times however, also happen to coincide with breakfast, lunch and dinner, those points in our day when we tend to be at our hungriest. Only, who wants to work out on a full stomach or have to have to eat breakfast or lunch in 5 minutes to make it into work on time? How can we comfortably and sensibly fit our need to eat around our yoga classes?

Eating Before Yoga
Revered teacher, founder of Iyengar yoga and author of the classic guide to yoga practice ‘Light on Yoga’, BKS Iyengar stated that ‘Asana should preferably be done on an empty stomach.’ Of course he’s right. In an average yoga class you’re likely to see people bending forwards, bending backwards, twisting to their sides, engaging their cores, lying on their bellies and turning upside down. With a full meal inside you this could quite literally be a recipe for disaster, leading to nausea, cramps, reflux, hiccups and vomiting.

Iyengar then goes on to say that you can practice yoga four hours after a heavy meal and one hour after a light meal. Although more than fifty years have passed since ‘Light on Yoga’ was published, his guidelines remain relevant. So in short yes, you can eat before a yoga class. Timing however, is everything. Whilst some people are able to eat small snacks immediately before their class with little obvious ill effect, the general rule of thumb is to leave a significant period of time between eating and being physical active.

If you’ve eaten a heavy meal, it’s generally advisable to wait for two to three hours before undertaking any form of exercise. As well as the general discomfort from having a bloated stomach, when you’re physically active after a big meal, your digestive system has to compete with your muscular skeletal system for the blood flow and energy that it needs to assimilate your food. The result of this physical head-to-head can be intense gastrointestinal discomfort.

If forgoing food for two to three hours is likely to make you feel lightheaded or leave you with hard to ignore hunger pangs then pay attention to your body. You can simply eat a lighter meal of fruit, yoghurt, nuts or crackers one to two hours before class. Before a spring morning yoga class, Evolve Wellness Centre yoga therapist and teacher Bérénice Würz-Smith recommends drinking herbal tea or warm water with a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar, followed by a green smoothie or a berry smoothie. In the autumn and winter she recommends drinking a cup of ginger and lemon tea, followed by porridge.

Exceptions to this advice include people living with type 1 diabetes, who need to eat before or in class to avoid the risk of hypoglycaemia. It’s also advisable to consult a doctor for any other medical conditions which may affect your practice.

Eating After a Yoga Class
Iyengar advised a wait of thirty minutes after yoga before eating but again listen to your body. If you took a yoga class first thing in the morning on an empty stomach then it’s probably a good idea to eat as soon as you’re able so that you can improve your concentration and bolster your energy reserves for the day ahead.

For lunchtime classes, Würz-Smith recommends eating after your practice and if that’s not possible having a smoothie an hour before class. For spring and summer evening classes, she advises eating greens to support the liver and warm salads with grilled fish or organic free range chicken. For autumn or winter evening classes she advises eating warm soups or broths, or slow cooked casseroles, with warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper.

If your practice has been particularly vigorous, then eating 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates and proteins within two hours will help to replace your muscles' glycogen stores. It can also help to repair the micro tears in your muscles that stimulate growth in the tissues.

If you’re prone to post class aching muscles try eating magnesium rich foods and/or taking magnesium supplements. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer that reduces lactic acid, which is partly responsible for delayed onset muscle soreness. Sources of the mineral include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains, raw cacao, bananas, figs, seafood and Greek yogurt.

If you’re having to eat on the hop, straight after a morning or lunchtime class before dashing back to work, try to avoid rushing to eat your food. Chewing food slowly and thoroughly will not only help you to digest your food properly, it will also help your brain to register when you feel full.

Don’t Forget To Drink

If your regular yoga class feels more challenging than usual it may be that you’re dehydrated. Making sure that you’re properly hydrated before and after your yoga class can make a real difference to your wellbeing in your yoga class. It can help you to avoid tiredness, cramp, stiffness and dizziness. This is even more important if you’re taking an Ashtanga or a hot yoga class.

However, instead of drinking large amounts of water right before class, which will leave you with a full stomach and make your asana practice uncomfortable, build up your water intake a few hours before class. You can even eat fruits or vegetables with a high-water content. If you’re in a particularly sweaty class such as hot yoga, sip water in class as needed or as directed by your teacher.

Water is generally the best way to stay hydrated but for classes of 60 minutes or more or hot yoga classes on a hot and sweaty day, coconut water is a good alternative before and after class. It will help you to maintain your electrolyte balance and as a result your stamina.

Intermittent Fasting
There are many benefits to short periods of fasting or intermittent fasting. Scientists have found that going without breakfast before a workout can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

However, fasting can take a leave you feeling dizzy, faint or weak particularly if you’re participating in a demanding class like Ashtanga. This could be due to a drop in your blood sugar levels. Your body after all needs fuel to perform at high levels. The danger is that if you’re feeling unsteady in class, you could injure yourself. So if you’re feeling spaced out, eat a snack such as a banana to help raise your blood sugar.

Also, consider that it could be wiser to conserve your energy whilst you’re fasting and only practice higher intensity yoga once you’ve eaten. If you still feel compelled to take a class though, choose one that’s low intensity such as restorative or yin yoga but make sure that you’re properly hydrated first.

Written by Susie Vandi