Yoga has been a rapidly growing form of activity over the past several years, with people being drawn to it for its benefits in flexibility, strength, stress relief, boosting mindfulness and aiding in speedy exercise recovery. Yoga may not necessarily be as physically demanding as other forms of exercise, but proper nutrition before and after a yoga session is nonetheless a key component to getting the most out of your practice and for your overall well-being.
Things to know before starting yoga
Most people don't like to have a significant amount of food in their stomachs during yoga, as it can be rather uncomfortable trying to move through the asanas after a meal – especially twists, forward and backward bends and inversions. You also don't want to be hungry though, or low on energy during your class. Regardless whether you enjoy Bikram, Ashtanga or are a complete beginner, eating a full meal at least 2-3 hours before your yoga practice can help you get the most out of it. Or, you can have a small snack up to one hour before to give your body time to digest.
What to eat before yoga class
Whether morning yoga or night yoga, depending on how quickly you digest, you may not want to have food that has a lot of fat before your yoga session, as fat substantially slows down digestion. The best food to eat before yoga are foods that are more easily digestible like fresh fruit, a light sandwich, steamed or roasted vegetables, hard-boiled egg, graham or saltine crackers, yogurt, cereal (with or without milk) or bread/toast with jam or a thin layer or nut butter or cream cheese.
However, perhaps the most important nutrient for your body for yoga is water! Your ability to move and maintain focus is compromised with even mild dehydration, and most people are already dehydrated well before they feel thirsty. Some recommend up to two bottles of water before yoga, but it really depends on how much fluid you've drunk earlier in the day, how much water is coming from the food you may have eaten, and what type of yoga you will be doing. It is essential to be properly hydrated before you start, especially since it is generally not recommended to drink water during yoga practice.
Can we drink water during yoga
Do you wonder why drinking water is not recommended during yoga? One reason is that the noises that happen with people drinking from their water bottles (popping or screwing lids, slurping, gurgling in the bottle, or placing the bottle down) can be distracting and can pull the attention of other students in class away from their practice. Yoga is a meditative activity and each person's mental focus should be as deeply within oneself as possible. Even for yourself, the act of stopping your yoga practice to drink water breaks your internal attention.
Secondly, cold or even room-temperature water during yoga is thought to disrupt the prana (or warm energy) that you are meant to build over the course of a yoga session. The goal for some types of yoga practices is to improve mood, digestion and detoxifying organs by building this prana, and cooling that prana by drinking water is thought to interfere with those benefits.
However, that being said, if you are feeling extremely thirsty, light-headed, dizzy, or weak during your yoga session, by all means, drink some water! Yoga is also about self-care and listening to your body, so if you don't feel right and need to have water during class, absolutely do so. (Just try to do it quietly.)
One exception, however, where it is more acceptable to drink water during practice, is in the more vigorous types of yoga, such as hot yoga or Bikram, where the room is heated, movements may be more challenging, and sweating is heavier. Students in these types of yoga classes should drink water (preferably room temperature rather than cold) during designated breaks if there are any. Interestingly, the founder Bikram Choudhury originally prohibited students from drinking water during class, however this generally is no longer the case in most studios. And again, always listen to your body. You should not sacrifice your well-being in the name of being a 'serious yogi'.
What to eat after yoga
After yoga, it is essential to replenish the fluids you may have lost during class through both sweat and through breathing. General recommendations are to drink at least a bottle of water after your yoga practice, or even two or more if you tend to sweat heavily or if you did Bikram or hot yoga. Some people may also benefit from an electrolyte-containing beverage with some sodium and potassium in it, but this is not necessary for everyone. You can easily replenish electrolytes through eating food, even if you don't eat immediately after your yoga class, but you definitely will want to drink fluids as quickly as possible.
If your yoga practice was particularly vigorous or strength-based, your muscles would benefit from replenishment from at least a small snack containing some carbohydrates and protein. Some example snacks include: a piece of fresh fruit or whole grain bread with peanut or almond butter, a handful of trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, or Greek yogurt with fresh fruit. If instead you have a meal after your yoga session, aim to include a whole grain or starchy vegetable, beans/legumes or tofu or other source of lean protein, and non-starchy vegetables or fresh fruit.
Help your body make the most of your yoga practice. Make sure you are well-hydrated before and after. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with as much plant-sourced food as often as possible to give your body the best nutrients to work with on a daily basis, but especially before and after your session to fuel and replenish your body.
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