We’ve all gotten the advice not to eat before yoga class—or at least to finish your last meal two hours before beginning practice.

If you’ve ever made the mistake of digging into a huge sandwich an hour before class, you know why. The only thing worse than coming to class full is coming hungry. So what’s a yogi to do? It’s important to find the balance between having the proper energy levels and blood sugar levels without being completely full or hungry.

When to Eat Before Yoga

Eating lightly before practice can fuel the body, something especially important for physically challenging classes. If you’re headed to a physically challenging class and you don’t want to be hungry during class, try eating a light snack an hour before class. Pay attention to how your body feels during class after doing so. Listen to your body to find out what works best for you.

If you’re feeling hungry before your yoga session, eat a pre-yoga snack that’s nutrient-dense and easy to digest. Eating a small portion is better than eating nothing and not having the energy to make it through the class.

What to Eat Before Yoga

  1. Choose whole foods. When possible, select fresh foods rather than packaged or processed snacks. While protein or energy bars may be quick and easy, it’s hard to keep track of where ingredients come from, and the packaging often goes straight into the trash. Instead of grabbing that “meal replacement bar,” visit the bulk section of your grocery store for some trail mix. These mixtures of fruit, nuts and even dark chocolate (itself an energy-boosting food) are great when you’re in a hurry. You can also keep most nuts, fruits, or granola in your bag for easy access to nourishment throughout the day.

2. Make a smoothie. Smoothies are infinitely customizable, and blending up a few nutrients- and vitamin-rich ingredients like avocado, coconut milk, almond milk, coconut water, leafy greens, hemp seeds, and/or fresh fruit and veggies can give you a boost without making you feel stuffed. If you don’t like smoothies, try green juice. Many markets now offer fresh smoothies and juices for those on the go.

3. Eat vitamin and mineral-rich foods. Bananas, avocados, and dates (high in potassium and other minerals like magnesium), will give you the energy you need without making you feel too full. These foods also help maintain proper organ function and lower the risk of disease and injury. According to the National Institute of Health, potassium is vital for communication between nerves and muscles and helps regulate muscle function. Nuts, like almonds and cashews, also contain high amounts of minerals like calcium, zinc, magnesium, and iron, as well as vitamins E and K., Try eating a handful of almonds or nut butter.

What Not to Eat Before Yoga

  1. Greasy or fried foods. These are notoriously hard-to-digest foods. Greasy fried food can create gas and bloat and tend to make you feel uncomfortable and full.
  2. Carb-dense Foods. Rice, pasta, pretzels, and bagels are rich in carbohydrates which boost inflammation and are difficult to digest.
  3. Raw Vegetables. While raw vegetables are good for you, they should be avoided before yoga as their high fiber content can lead to gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
  4. Dairy. Consuming too many milk products can lead to diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
  5. Acidic Foods. Citrus fruits and acidic vegetables can irritate the stomach lining and give some yogis an upset stomach.

Practice Conscious Healthy Eating

Learn some principles of Ayurvedic and Yogic eating. Ayurveda is an Indian medical system that takes a holistic approach to health and diet. Whether or not you know your dosha, the predominant energy in your body, becoming familiar with some basic tenets of the Ayurvedic diet can be illuminating for your yoga practice, and can help build balance in the body.

Ultimately, practicing conscious eating and being mindful of the types of food you’re eating will help you identify what foods work best for you before yoga, and keeping these simple guidelines in mind will help you choose your pre-class snack wisely.

If one day you just can’t help it and indulge in that sandwich before class, consider avoiding certain yoga poses such as inversions and deep forward bends and backbends, as they can exacerbate heartburn if practiced too soon after a meal. Instead, choose supine asanas, such as those practiced in restorative classes, as they can aid digestion and calm an upset stomach.

Do you typically sneak in a snack before class? What experiences (good or bad!) have you had with eating before yoga?

Courtesy / Credit: Yoga Basics

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