We’ve all gotten the advice not to eat before yoga practice—or at least to finish your last meal two hours before beginning. If you’ve ever made the mistake of digging into a huge sandwich an hour before class, you know why. But on particularly hectic days, even yogis can break the rules of self-care—including eating well during the day—and simply getting to a yoga class can be a major feat. And the only thing worse than coming to class full is coming hungry. So what’s a yogi to do?
Eating before practice can fuel the body, something especially important for physically challenging classes. And even the busiest yogis can make this work if they’re prepared. Here some things to keep in mind if you need to eat up to two hours before class:
Get hydrated. Drinking water is obviously the most effective way to do this, but you can also do this through hydrating food choices. If you have a blender on hand, try making a smoothie. Smoothies are infinitely customizable, and blending up a few nutrient-rich ingredients like avocado, coconut milk, and vitamin-rich fruits can give you a boost without making you feel stuffed. Many markets now also offer fresh smoothies and juices for those on the go.
Choose whole foods. When possible, select fresh foods rather than packaged or processed snacks. So while a protein bar may be quick and easy, it’s hard to keep track of where ingredients come from, and the packaging often goes straight in the trash. Instead of grabbing that “meal replacement bar,” visit the bulk section of your grocery store the next time you’re there for some trail mix. These mixtures of fruit, nuts, and even 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.
Take your vitamins. Vitamin- and mineral-rich foods, like 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.
Eat like a yogi. Learn some principles of Ayurvedic and Yogic eating. Even if you’re newer to yoga, chances are you’ve heard about Ayurveda, 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 will help you identify what foods work best for you before a practice, and keeping these simple guidelines in mind will help you choose your pre-class snack wisely. And if one day you just can’t help it and indulge in that sandwich before class, consider avoiding 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 tuck in a snack before class? What experiences (good or bad!) have you had with eating before yoga?