When and What to Eat Before and After Yoga Practice?

It is always said that we should never exercise after eating a big meal. Or rather we should eat light a few hours before starting any intense workout.

But ever wondered why there is so much emphasis on having or not having meals before exercising?

While some forms of traditional yoga may not be as intense as a gym workout, however, you are still performing poses where you are twisting or bending. These poses put pressure on the abdominal organs. And anybody who has experienced doing these poses on a full stomach will know how uncomfortable it is.  

Plus, many of us must have experienced the embarrassment of the sound of stomach gurgling in the quiet space of the yoga studio!

In this article, we will cover some aspects of eating meals before and after yoga practice. This includes aspects such as what to eat, how long to wait after eating, when an empty stomach is recommended, what foods are avoided before and after yoga practice.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of food intake before and after yoga practice, let us first discuss the science behind the nutrient that food contains. It is essential to know what you are eating and why certain nutrients are important.

Knowing what to eat is important

When we talk about food, nutrients are the building blocks of which it’s made up.

Each nutrient has a specific role in before and after yoga practice. So taking foods which contains a certain amount of nutrients are always suggested.

Based on the yoga style you practising, include food that contains carbohydrates, proteins, fat, and water content in low to moderate proportions in your pre and post-yoga meal. Each of them has a different function yet combined together, they work toward building a healthy body.

Carbohydrates can be gained from grains such as rice, wheat, root vegetables, fruits, etc, which provide us with energy. Carbs are recommended for long and intense yoga sessions such as a vinyasa and power yoga practice.

Proteins are needed to build, repair and maintain healthy tissues. Poultry, meat, seafood, eggs, dairy products, bean products are good sources of proteins. Eating protein is recommended to perform strength building and balancing yoga exercises.

Fats provide energy, protect our organs from shock, produce hormones, joint lubrication, and prevent loss of heat from the body. They also help in transporting fat-soluble vitamins in the body. Meat, fish, seafood, dairy products, nuts, seeds, oils are a few sources of fats.

Lastly, water, which makes up the majority of the body. It can also be found in abundance or trace amounts in most fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, dairy products. Water helps in detoxification, maintaining body temperature, promoting blood and oxygen circulation, lubrication, transporting nutrients, etc. 

It should be noted that neither one nutrient can help you maintain optimum body composition. Excess or deficiency of anyone can lead to imbalances such as weight gain, rashes, diabetes, high/low blood pressure, brittle bones, liver diseases, etc.

Can yoga be practiced empty stomach?

Ideally, you should practice yoga on an empty stomach. This will give your belly the space to expand and contract during deep breathing exercises (pranayama) and poses that require twists and bends.

However, if you are really hungry, tired or have been on a tight schedule and are about to begin soon, it is better to take something before yoga. Basis your intake, give some time for digestion;

  • A gap of 3-4 hours is a must between heavy or main meals and yoga practice.
  • If your class is about to begin in 1 hour, you can take a light meal such as a salad or a bowl of cereal before yoga.
  • Before the class (within 30 minutes), don’t eat anything. However, you can drink water (should not be overdone) to keep hydrated.

A little protein and carbohydrates will not only give you the energy to sustain the entirety of the class but also not divert the energy to the digestive system. So it’s a good option to have a light snack before yoga.

What can you eat before a yoga class?

Eat foods that give you energy and are easier to digest. You do not want to have something that will cause trouble in a yoga class even after 4 hours of eating.

Here are some pre-yoga meal ideas:

Protein diet – It is quite well known that fruits are extremely healthy and a good source of nutrients and minerals. For your pre-yoga meal, you can go for high-fibre fruits such as bananas, apples, pears, or dried fruit. You can also include avocado toast, peanut butter with fruits, which are healthy options for a light meal. 

Nuts – Raw nuts or in the form of protein bars are also a good source of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. They give you ample energy and help you stay hydrated. Make sure that you are eating plain and unsalted nuts.

Smoothies – One of the best ways to absorb the nutrients and minerals of fruits or veggies is to drink them in the form of smoothies. They are thick enough to fill your stomach yet light enough to digest easily. Keep the mix simple with 2-3 ingredients with a selection of berries, fruits, and milk or yogurt so that it doesn’t become too heavy. 

Oats – Oatmeal is considered the safest choice for having grains before your yoga practice. They are light and you can flavour them as per your preference as they are flavourless. They are easy to digest, easily fill your stomach and you get a good amount of fibre to give you energy.

If your class starts within 3-4 Hours or more

This is the ideal case of taking a meal before yoga class.

The practitioners who have evening yoga classes may wonder what to eat in lunch that will help their practice 3 or 4 hours later. In such a case, you can take your regular meals including moderate carb foods like lentils and whole grains. Apart from this, these foods can be taken;

  • Low-fiber veggies, sprouts, vegetable soups
  • Fruit salads
  • Cereals
  • Fruit or any light smoothies

If your class starts within 1 Hour

If you have signed up for a morning yoga class that is scheduled after breakfast, you would like to go light. However, having fat-rich food, heavy carbs or grains is not a good idea if you have a session within one hour.

Below are some ideas of foods you can have if your yoga class starts in an hour;

  • Fruits like bananas, apples, grapes, and also other seasonal fruits
  • Nutrition bar with protein and wholesome ingredients
  • Milk or yogurt

If your class starts in 15 minutes or less

The early morning yoga classes commonly bring this question to the practitioners. It is better to stay hydrated before your yoga class and there is no doubt that you can have water before going to your mat. However, drinking water should not be overdone.

Fizzy drinks or any kind of salty, fatty or large meal should be strictly avoided if you are immediately heading to a yoga class. If it is an early morning class, the best way to attend it is on an empty stomach. 

What foods to avoid eating before a yoga class?

It goes without saying that you should not eat fried or oily food before yoga which can cause gas, burps, heartburn or acidity. Avoid burgers, fries, pizzas, or any other heavy and greasy foods before a yoga class. Such foods are difficult to digest and consume a lot of energy making you feel tired.

Some raw foods such as cauliflower, beans, spinach, kale and celery cause bloating and contain complex carbs that take longer to digest. So if you really want to have them, it is better to boil, saute or cook them to eat before 3 or 4 hours of a yoga session.

Processed foods contain sugars or large amounts of sodium which can be detrimental to the digestive system and also be a reason for low-sugar levels. It is better to stay away from them.

Spicy foods can easily cause heartburn or acidity. They will also be rough on your digestive system if not digested properly. So avoid them up to four hours before yoga practice.

Also, avoid red meat up to six hours before yoga class as it is considered heavy and takes more than a day to digest. Hard-boiled eggs and garlic-related food should also be avoided if your body doesn’t seem to take them well. Indeed, according to the yogic diet, yogis shouldn’t eat meat, eggs or a non-vegetarian diet.

How soon after yoga can you eat?

It is understandable that you will feel hungry after bending, twisting, and folding yourself in various yoga poses, but do not eat anything immediately after yoga. Give your body time to absorb all the sensations and effects of the yoga exercises that you have performed.

The ideal time recommended is 30 minutes after a yoga session. However, this doesn’t mean that you can gorge on whatever you feel like. Eat something that will counter the lactic acid in your body.

Lactic acid is created by the body when it is low on oxygen and it starts converting glucose into energy during an intense workout. When you practice intense yoga, your muscles will create this acid to sustain the energy. Though it is not a cause of major concern however if proper care is not taken, it can lead to painful cramps and sore muscles.

Water, freshly squeezed juices, homemade soups, sauteed veggies, yogurt with berries, tofu, quinoa, etc. are some food options that you can consider after 30 minutes of yoga practice. Make sure you are getting enough carbs and protein post your yoga session.

When to drink water for effective yoga practice?

You should build a habit of staying hydrated throughout the yoga session as water is one of the best sources of energy.

When going for a yoga class, drink water at least 15-30 minutes before so that you do not get an uncomfortable feeling of liquid sloshing around in your stomach while doing yoga. The water should be at room temperature as cold. Ice-cold water requires extra energy to heat up before being expelled from the body. 

It is also possible, especially during hot yoga, Bikram yoga, or other intense yoga class that you may feel a pang of thirst. In such cases, keep a water bottle beside you to drink a few sips and restore the electrolytes lost due to sweat. 

But in the case of conventional yoga such as Hatha, it is not recommended to drink water while practicing yoga as you may lose your focus and flow of performing the poses. In terms of body sweating also, these yoga styles don’t create any sort of water deficiency in the body so you won’t feel the need for water in between the session.

Remember to replenish yourself with sufficient (1-2 tall glasses) water just after a yoga session so that you can restore your energy and also wash away the toxins completely.

Is drinking coffee equivalent to drinking water to hydrate the body?

Drinking coffee or any form of caffeine or alcoholic beverage is not recommended before or after your yoga practice.

If you drink coffee before a yoga class, you may get a boost of energy that caffeine supplies, however, it also causes acidity, increases heart rate, and dehydration.

But if you really cannot live without coffee or are in a dire need of it, take it 1-2 hours before your yoga class begins. This will give time for the body to process it and also avoid the sudden crash after the energy boost.

Maybe you think that water is too boring. In such cases, try going for flavoured water that you can easily make at home. There are many recipes available online for immunity boosting, detoxification, increasing metabolism, etc. Take advantage of such recipes and play around with the flavours to keep it fun.

Coconut water is another extremely healthy and beneficial alternative to water to restock your electrolytes after an intense yoga session.

What to eat for morning/noon/evening yoga?

While the morning is the best time to do yoga, many people prefer the afternoon or even the evening based on their routine or schedule.

If you’re a morning person, start by drinking lukewarm water mixed with honey and lemon to warm up your stomach. This concoction is said to be great at aiding in detoxification. Follow it up by eating a small bowl of oatmeal, a small glass of smoothie, or a few pieces of fruits with peanut butter to get the energy for your morning yoga session.

After morning yoga, you can proceed to have a light and healthy breakfast. In breakfast again you have many options; you can have oatmeal/muesli/cereals with nuts, quinoa salad with lots of vegetables, greek yogurt with berries, fruits, avocado on a toast, a tall glass of your favorite smoothie, etc.

For afternoon and evening yoga, follow the routine and time frame that has been mentioned earlier.

During dinner, eat a comparatively lighter meal than your lunch such as a big bowl of soup or salad, Indian cottage cheese (paneer) or tofu steak with sauteed vegetables, etc.  

Furthermore, eat early as it will give your body the time to digest your food and you will have revived all this energy in the morning. It is also beneficial for a healthy bowel movement. 

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