The most common question that comes our way on advising people about yoga styles and teachers is when is a good time to eat before your yoga class or after? How can we comfortably and sensibly fit our need to eat around our yoga classes?
Right now, as many of us are working big part of time from home - there is a real opportunity to arrange our schedules to fit our yoga classes.
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 even vomiting.
Eating before your yoga class
Iyengar in his book ‘Light on Yoga’ which was published over 50 years ago goes on to say that you can practice yoga four hours after a heavy meal and one hour after a light meal. So in short yes, you can eat before a yoga class, but timing however, is everything.
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.
You can simply eat a lighter meal of fruit, yoghurt, nuts or crackers two hours before class. Before a spring morning yoga class, our yoga Bérénice Würz-Smith recommends drinking herbal tea or warm water with a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar, followed by a smoothie with some protein - hemp or any other that you use. In the autumn and winter she recommends drinking a cup of ginger and lemon tea, followed by porridge.
In case you are joining the class spontaneously and feel pretty hungry - the best is to eat a handful of nuts, small banana or half avocado or even few squares of dark chocolate. These foods will give you enough energy for the class without feeling heavy on your stomach.
What NOT to eat before the class
According the health and fitness trainers, before yoga class you should not eat any grease or fried foods, hard boiled eggs, garlicky foods or carb dense foods like rise, pasta and etc. as they do require your body to be in more stillness to digest them.
Yoga wellness people do recommend to avoid eating raw vegetables just before the class as their high fibre content can lead to gas and bloating. Leave raw said for after the class.
Just before the class is highly advisable too avoid any smoothies as the excess liquid can give you the heavy feeling in the stomach and it will be pretty uncomfortable especially for head stands, twists and any other asana that requires to lower our head down.
Eating after your yoga class
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.
If you did a lunchtime class, then you should have your lunch meal 30 minutes after the class. 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.
After evening classes in spring and summer, is great eating your greens to support the liver and warm salads with grilled fish or organic free range chicken. In autumn or winter season you will feel healthy eating warm soups or broths, or slow cooked casseroles, with warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper.
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, DO NOT drink large amounts of water right before class, which will leave you with a full stomach and make your asana practice uncomfortable. Instead 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. At evolve we also love cucumber water in hot summer days and the lemon water in winter months.
Written by Susie Vandi with additions from Renata Justel