Q: Is it better to eat before or after a yoga class? I have heard you are not supposed to eat for several hours before a class for some reason.
A: This is a common question in yoga and one that gets a lot of different answers depending on who you ask. First of all, let’s define what we mean by eating. There are snacks, which would be something like a few nuts and a piece of fruit or maybe half a sandwich. There are small meals which would be what we likely have for lunch such as an entree like a full sandwich or serving of food along with a salad and a drink. Then there is a large meal which we might have at our favorite restaurant with one or two servings of food with chips, desert and a drink or two. Of course there is also the Super-large meal we might have at Thanksgiving which involves repeated servings and multiple visits to the pies.
Yoga classes involve physical activity and putting our body in various positions relative to gravity. Our stomachs and our heads are going to be moving around and may end up in different positions from when we are sitting or standing. This makes it necessary to adjust our eating a little to make sure we don’t end up feeling nauseated. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your yoga class starts a couple of hours after a small meal, three hours after a large meal and maybe a day after the Super-large meal. You can eat a snack or light meal within an hour of the yoga class and probably do just fine. Some people notice that certain things they eat do better than others and you would do well to observe the way you feel in class.
It is very important that we don’t risk having low blood sugar in our yoga class so I suggest having a small meal or snack within the two hours prior to class. Low blood sugar can lead to light-headedness and you don’t want to pass out in your class. Low blood sugar can also lead to fast physical exhaustion during your yoga workout and that will diminish your efforts and increase your risk of injury.
A follow through meal is a great idea and I encourage my students to eat a high protein meal or at least a protein drink within one hour after the yoga class. This will ensure they have enough protein so their body will be able to build muscle without falling into a situation where the nitrogen balance in their body dips into the negative and they begin to harvest their own muscles for their protein needs. Nobody who is trying to get stronger wants to be in negative nitrogen balance.
A post class meal that has about 25 – 30 grams of protein, easily obtained from 4 – 6 ounces of meat, fish or chicken or a cup of cottage cheese, will fulfill the body protein requirements after class. Try to avoid simple sugars from processed grains, fruits and added sugar for about 2 hours after class or else you will interfere with the natural release of growth hormone that is stimulated from exercise. You can learn a lot more about the role of protein in exercise health in our BYB Yoga Nutrition Seminars.
So to summarize, eat a small meal or snack within two hours prior to your yoga class. Eat a protein rich meal within an hour of finishing your yoga class. Follow these steps and you will feel great, enjoy plenty of energy all class long and receive the greatest benefits from your workout.