I thought this is a great post to revisit as it's one of the most popular questions I am asked.
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
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.