Health and Nutrition / Yoga Musings

When/What to eat before yoga class?

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of eating dinner or lunch right before yoga class, you must know what an icky experience it is to have that spicy curry dish or that babaghanoush burning its way back up your throat in the middle of downward-facing dog. A lot of students ask me when/what they should eat before yoga class, or if they should just forgo eating altogether. I’ve found that it’s not so much when you eat in relation to yoga class that matters, but what you eat and how much. Here are some practical suggestions for managing your hunger before class without ruining your practice later on.

The first rule of thumb I try to follow is to not eat anything “saucy” within three to four hours of class. Last week, I made the mistake of having a delicious tofu and vegetable dish in a Chinese black bean sauce almost three hours before a very advanced vinyasa flow class. Fifteen minutes after the start of class, my lunch started coming up, and this continued on for pretty much the rest of practice. It definitely altered (I’m reluctant to say “ruined”) my practice, and I sure wished at the time that I had eaten something else for lunch.

The second rule of thumb I try to follow is to not eat too much before class, and the closer to class I eat, the less I try to eat. For instance, if I’m trying to sneak in a snack in the hour before class, maybe a few almonds and a handful of pretzels washed down with a glass of soy milk will be fine. But if I eat much more than that (and it’s very tempting to do so, especially if I haven’t had lunch that day and I’m taking, say, a 6:00PM class), I usually regret it after a few Surya A’s and B’s.

Finally, as much as possible, I try to avoid anything spicy or oily before class. For whatever reason, spicy and oily foods (regardless of the consistency of the food) seem to work their way back up in yoga class.

Examples of good food choices before yoga:

Dry nuts, fresh fruit (non-citrus), pretzels, banana bread, celery, a bowl of cereal, dates, a bagel, some dark chocolate, half a serving of vegetarian sushi, dried fruit, half a serving of a fruit smoothie (made with low acid fruit), sports nutrition bar

Examples of less than ideal food choices before yoga:

Curry, hummus, most soups, coffee or tea, OJ or any other high-acid juice, any meat, most Chinese food, almost all Indian food, anything deep-fried, salad with heavy or oily dressing, anything pan-fried or sauteed, pizza, cheeseburger, burritos

Of course, each person is different from the next. The recommendations here are really just a reporting of my own personal experiences, and what I’ve gathered over the years from talking to other yogis. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who can down, say, a sausage pizza (if you eat that kind of thing) and jump right up into a handstand with no problem. But, for us mortals, we have to be careful about what we consume, in general, and we have to be even more careful about what we eat when it comes to maximizing the benefit of our yoga practice.

10 thoughts on “When/What to eat before yoga class?

    • Hi Pramoda,

      As it so happens, I’ve been planning to write more food/nutrition/diet related posts on the blog in the new year, including recipes. Stay tuned!

      – Eugene

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