When (and What) to Eat Before Yoga

Organic Apples and Peanut Butter
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Every Yoga FAQ on the planet agrees on this one point: you should not eat anything heavy in the two hours before you plan to do yoga. If you have ever disregarded this advice, you will have discovered the reason behind this conventional wisdom. As you jump to the front of your mat and back, twist and forward bend, it's uncomfortable, and possibly even nauseating, to have too much in your belly. But you do want to go to class with a good amount of energy and without the distraction of hunger gnawing at your belly. With just a little bit of planning, you can manage your snack schedule so that you hit that place between full and starving just right.

Some traditions, particularly those that advocate early morning practice, like Ashtanga, advise that you do your asanas on a completely empty stomach (and after bathing and moving your bowels, by the way). B.K.S. Iyengar, in his classic book, Light on Yoga, writes that if this is difficult for you, you can have coffee, cocoa, or milk before yoga, which, at least in the case of the later two, probably doesn't sound too appealing. As with most things yogic, you know your body best so you should decide which pre-yoga snack works for you.

When to Eat

Eating something very light an hour before class usually works out well (your body may vary, of course). If you're running to class after work or on a tight schedule and realize that you just have to eat something, you can cut it a little closer if you just take a few mouthfuls of something. After class, you can eat whenever you feel hungry, though you may notice that the attention you've given to your body during class encourages you to keep it light and healthy, which is one of the ways yoga can help you lose weight.

What to Eat

Healthy plant-based nibbles are the way to go. Follow the rules you would use for any pre-workout snack, with a few exceptions. The deep twists and forward bends you do in yoga are particularly likely to force out burps and gas, so you want to avoid things that induce those. You also don't need to carb load in quite the same way as you do for a run or bike ride. It's more about finding something that will sit well and carry you through your session.

  1. Fruit + Protein: A piece of high fiber fruit plus protein, like an apple with nut butter, is a good go-to. A bowl of berries with a little yogurt is another option. A banana is also a great choice.
  2. Nuts: A handful of almonds is a staple or substitute your favorite nuts.
  3. Bar: The high fiber, high protein, low sugar bar of your choice.
  4. Grains: Oatmeal or other cooked grains also tend to work out well.

What Not to Eat

  1. Anything greasy or fried: You'll definitely regret it if you go for a burger and fries before class when you start moving. 
  2. Hard boiled eggs: Good for protein, bad for burps.
  3. Garlicky foods: Same principle as above. If you can tolerate it, garlic-laced foods like hummus are ok but you may not enjoy the taste as much the second time around. 
  4. Smoothies: This may be controversial because some people love their pre-yoga smoothies. If they work for you, great, but they can also slosh around in your stomach, particularly in poses where there is pressure on your abdomen like salabhasana. Better to save the smoothie for an after-class treat.
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