Thursday, September 11, 2008

What To Eat Before Bikram Class - Part One

This morning I made a big mistake. Huge. In fact, looking back, it was really pretty silly of me. After all, I've been practicing Bikram for 18 months now, and have run a business in the Fitness Industry for nearly a decade. And yet I still thought it was a good idea to eat scrambled cheese and basil eggs for breaky just one hour before class. Okay, I also had toast. And spinach. And bacon. The shame, the shame! The truth is, I knew it wasn’t the best idea, but I just pushed that passing thought away and went for it anyway.

As any of you who have ever gone to class with a full belly will testify, my enjoyment was short lived.

And, needless to say, it was a pretty tough class. Posture by posture I struggled through, gritting my teeth and praying that some kind of super digestion would soon kick in and rid me of my bloated, heavy belly.

Well, that didn’t happen, and my energy remained on a downward droop for the better part of the day. It’s 5pm now, and I’m really only just starting to feel awake again.

I guess I deserved to feel in a slump all day. After all – I know better. And most of the time I do the right thing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t veer off course from time to time. And when I do, it tends to be in a major way. The kind that makes you feel like vomiting while lying face-down in class.

Having said that, there’s a small part of me that realises today’s experience was actually pretty positive. After all - it was certainly a good reminder of why I don’t normally indulge that way prior to entering the sweat centre!

But enough about me. How about you? Do you know what works best in your body before class? What you should eat in order to boost your energy while still feeling nice and light in the belly?

In speaking to students at the Fitzroy Food for Yoga seminar and around the studio, I’ve come to realise that many people really don’t know what – if anything – they should eat before practice. If you fall into this category, ask yourself the following:

Should I Eat At All?

Not everyone needs to eat before class. In fact – for many of us – we’ll get more out of our practice on an empty belly. The question of whether to eat may depend on the time of day. If you’ve been awake for only an hour or so, it’s best to hold off on the food. Food in your belly during class will drain you of energy. This is because you’re body must focus first and foremost on digestion. That pretty much puts a stop to reaching any new limits with your postures, and you may even make yourself feel quite ill. For the same reason, regardless of the time of day, I’d generally cease eating at least 90 minutes before class. There are some exceptions, and I’ll get to that.

If you’ve eaten a large meal on the day in question, I’d leave a good 3 hours before practising and avoid ‘eyes-bigger-than-stomach’ snacking until after class (if at all!) This may be difficult to adapt to initially, but I promise that you will ultimately feel much better for holding out, and your body will thank you for leaving your system free to focus on going the extra mile in class.

But What If I Just Can’t Get By With an Empty Belly?

Those of you who ‘love food and live to eat’ as opposed to ‘eat to live’ may need to eat something small, even if it’s quite close to class. This is mainly for morning classes. Not sure if you fall into this category? If you wake up ravenous most days, seem to digest most foods within an hour or two, and generally have a good idea of what your next few meals will entail, then I’m talking about you.

But even if this is not you, three hours is still a little too long if you haven’t laid a good foundation. For example – if you ate dinner quite early, went to bed hungry, and then didn’t eat more than a light breakfast and a salad for lunch, you may find it pretty tough to hold out through 6pm class until late dinnertime. If you’re not sure whether you need to eat, think back to your last 3 meals. Were they a ‘solid’ meal or just a light snack? If you’ve eaten 3 solid meals within the past 16-24 hours, you should be okay to hold out. If you’ve been skipping meals or grazing, I’d suggest eating something light around 90 minutes before class.

So Which Foods Are Best If I AM Eating Before Class?

We all have different ‘types’ when it comes to which foods work best. To put it very simply, some people function, feel and look their best on a (good quality) high protein/high fat diet while others do better on carbohydrates. I’m definitely a protein person. When I eat predominantly protein and fat, with most of my carbs from vegetables, I’m like a well-oiled machine, and I stay in good shape. If I eat a high-carb diet (even if it’s ‘healthy’) I start feeling and looking awful. But my Mum is exactly the opposite. Long story short – what you should eat before class, and indeed in general, is a very individual matter. The best approach is to eat a light meal with both protein/fat and carbohydrate represented. For example:
  • A soft-boiled egg with a little spinach and fetta
  • Some natural plain yogurt with half a banana
If you choose carbs alone (fruit, cereal, salad) you may find you feel great initially and then you slump. Choose protein without carbs and you it’s likely you’ll experience a heavy feeling in your gut which will slow you down during class. Combine both and you have a recipe for success.

I hope I’ve given you the knowledge to start to figure out what the best approach is for you. Don’t worry – I’m not going to leave it there. In my next post I’ll give you an insight into foods you should definitely avoid before class (and why), as well as some more specific ideas on pre-yoga food combinations for different types of people. In the meantime, why not record what you do or do not eat before your next three classes, and track your response. Pay attention to the way your stomach feels, your physical energy, and your mental focus. A 'tick' in all three areas is usually a sign that you're doing things right. I'd love to hear from you in the comments section - what works best for you before class? Do you have any questions for me? Or maybe just something to share about your practice.

Until next time, remember -

It's not just Food for Yoga. It's Food for Life.


*Oh – just so you know, I didn’t write this all in one go. I actually finished it a couple of days after the big breaky day. In fact, as I write, I’m sitting at a cafĂ© enjoying my post-yoga poached eggs, spinach and avocado. A much better approach than the one this article began with!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, this is so very helpful! I'm just beginning bikram and had two totally different experiences based on what I had eaten prior to class.

micheloquent said...

Your info was extremely constructive and useful. I am on my 6th consecutive Bikram class(woohoo)going for the 60 day challenge.Aside from blading,I haven't worked out for 8 years, I used to be a trainer way back when and I pray that my muscles have that memory I used to promise others;)I will say that after only one class my flexibility was already back about 40%.
In tomorrows Bikram class I really don't want to feel like I may have to run out of the studio and have to make the choice of which end to bless the toilet with(I came wayyyy too close to that happening this morning after not eating)I took a 9:30am class(awake at 8am)...ok I did have a few sips of strong coffee with milk and sugar, and NO FOOD and after the first 26 minutes of class I followed that first course (or curse more like) with ice water!OY! AY! It hit me like a cement block! I got so dizzy and nauseous...I'm such a dumb**s LOL
The other morning I had an egg on some toast with a bit of cheese and I was good to go in the class. (I have cut out alcohol and soda)
Im pasting an amazing article that just came out on a writers 60 day Bikram journey, its hilarious and poignant.I was a bit deflated as I was about to start writing my own version of said essay, ah well, as my friend said "There are no original ideas, just different approaches. This might actually help draw attention to your take, and if you have a better style and approach, Oprah will give you a car!" LOL thank you for your blog, beyond helpful!

Kat Eden said...

I'm so sorry, for some reason I only just saw your comments guys! Good to see you've both felt the benefits of really thinking about what to eat - it definitely does make a HUGE difference :)

micheloquent said...

Hi Kat, I actually finished a 101 day challenge!!!Woohoo ^_^ I have lost 45 lbs too.please check this out and thanks

Michael said...

Dear Kat, I've done a double-pass the last two weeks. The instructor suggested "a quinoa salad with salmon, or something like that three hours before the first pass, a smoothie in between and soup and an egg after the second pass". For this week's double-pass, I'd like to try something different if your care to make a suggestion?

Tomas said...

A good article Kat, which is great for all types of practitioners. :)

I have a question though. Recently I have done a lot of studying, which demands a lot of sugar (carbs) going to my brain functioning of learning. It's amazing how much energy you need to use your brain (Another aspect of my behaviour neuro science/science of psychology studies).
So my issue is that some people are starting to complain that I'm starting to look too thin due to my Bikram practise. Not sure if this is a bad thing as I'm feeling in good balance with yoga and the dormant lifestyle of studies. However, my question is how to live this good balanced lifestyle with a bit more flesh on my body. :) Way back when I used to go to the gym for muscle building they told me I should take protein shakes straight after the work out to bind protein to my damaged muscle fibres and in that way build more muscles etc. I'm an Aquatarian so meat (apart from fish) is out of the question. Any suggestion would be good.

Ps: I also posted this question on the Fitzroy Bikram fan page. :)

The Yoga Diaries said...

Hi Kat - thank you for the words on achieving the best out of our yoga practice.
I had the most phenomenal Bikram experience today.
Upon rising I drank water & made a plunger of coffee.
I had one cup of coffee with cream & soon after took B Vitamin complex with a banana.
Now I don't know if it was my teacher or the combination of said foods, but whatever it was worked!
What are your thoughts on coffee before class?
& vitamin B complex?
Thank you!


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