For anyone who practices yoga or Ashtanga yoga in particular, what to eat and when to eat questions will eventually make its appearance. How much? How little? What is best for me? When?
As a general rule of thumb, try to practice yoga on an empty stomach. This means waiting at least 3 or 4 hours after a meal before you practice yoga. After practice, a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fat will help our body recover, especially after a dynamic practice.
As a general guide, we want to find a diet that both nourishes our body and supports our yoga practice.
This, in turn, may help increase energy levels, improve digestion, and maybe even improve our practice. Let’s see how.
What to eat before yoga
It is recommended to wait 3-4 hours after a meal before practicing yoga. Ashtanga tends to be practiced in the morning, so if that is when you practice, ideally you would practice on an empty stomach.
The main reason we want to practice on an empty stomach is because the energy for digestion should not be taken away for the purpose of our yoga practice. Additionally, if we don’t give our body enough time to digest, any form of bending and twisting will most likely feel very uncomfortable. Most of us may have experienced this we fist started practicing yoga!
If you just want something small and light to nibble on, there are things we could eat before practice that may give us a good amount of energy. This is important because being well fuelled ensures energy for better quality practice.
Below are some options to try before your next practice.
|What to eat before practice||Benefits|
|Some apricots or dates||These give some initial energy for the practice.|
|A handful of nuts||A mix of protein and fat to help power you through your practice.|
|Oats||These prolong the body’s ability to burn muscle efficiently.|
|A smoothie that also contains chia seeds and coconut oil (among other things)||The chia seeds enhance the body’s ability to burn fat and cocnut oil because the fat contained here is burned as a carbohydrate.|
One final thing to consider before your yoga practice is hydration. This is something to consider even the day before practice. Try to avoid alcohol, foods that are too salty, and also as a general rule try to avoid processed foods.
Just before practice, a nice option is a cup of hot water with some squeezed lemon, especially in the winter. This is particularly good for you first thing in the morning, regardless of what time you practice.
What to eat after yoga
During our yoga practice, especially if it is a physically demanding practice like Ashtanga yoga, our muscle or tendon fibers may tear slightly or they may even get injured. This is one of the main reasons as to why what we eat after our practice is very important.
Indeed, we want our post-practice meal to replenish us and be easy to digest so our body can focus on recovery.
So it is worth putting some thought into what to eat after practice so we can help our body recover.
Below are a few suggestions of ingredients worth considering trying out after your yoga practice. These are categorized into the three major macronutrients that make up our diet: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
|What to eat after practice||Benefits|
|Carbohydrates||Fruit (e.g. banana and mango), sweet potato, rice, dates and oats||These will help replace the fuel in our muscles that we burn when we work out.|
|Protein||Pulses (beans, peas, lentils), tofu, seeds and nuts||These will help aid protein synthesis.|
|Fat||Nut milk, avocado, chia seeds, salmon and eggs (for the pescatarians/ vegans)||This will help metabolise fat.|
Carbohydrates should be our body’s main source of energy in a healthy, balanced diet. Even though carbohydrates, fat, and protein all provide energy, especially when we exercise, our muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel.
Limiting our carbohydrate intake may result in a lack of energy during exercise, fatigue, and delayed recovery.
As a general guide, if we consume 2,000 calories a day, between 900 and 1,300 calories should be from carbohydrates. That translates to 225-325 grams of carbohydrates a day.
Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. We need protein in our diet to help our body repair cells and make new ones.
As a general guide, we want 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So for example, if you weigh 130 pounds, you would want to consume 47 grams of protein daily.
Fats are a primary energy source and this helps to support the basic functions of our body. Consuming healthy fats regularly includes many benefits, such as balancing hormones and fighting inflammation.
As a general guide, we want 20%-35% of total calories to be from fat. So if you have a 2,000 daily calorie intake you would want 44-77 grams of fat in your daily diet.
Post practice smoothie
Below is a delicious and nourishing banana smoothie you could try after your practice. It includes a rich source of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, all the things your body needs after a demanding practice.
- 1 banana (aim for lightly spotted bananas as they are easier to digest)
- 1 tsp turmeric (anti-inflammatory)
- 1 inch ginger (anti-inflammatory)
- 3 dates (source of antioxidants)
- 1-1/2 cup coconut milk (or any other nut milk)
- 1 handful nuts (they contain good fat and protein)
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1tbsp chia seeds (great balance of protein and fat)
- 15gr hemp protein (or any other whole food protein powder)
Add all ingredients to the blender and add more nut milk if needed. Hope you enjoy!
The role of ahimsa in our diet
As yoga practitioners, we may want to move our practice beyond the mat, and so a yogic diet could take into account the philosophical teachings of yoga.
Ahimsa, the yogic concept of non-harming, can be applied to our dietary choices. Naturally, there are a wide variety of options to apply ahimsa to our diet. Ahimsa is the main reason yoga practitioners tend to be vegetarian or vegan.
The role of ahimsa is to make environmentally-conscious health choices that do not harm other people, animals, or the planet. As a general rule of thumb, try to:
- Buy locally produced food in order to minimize the carbon footprint of our food.
- Avoid plastic bags, plastic packaging, and plastic water bottles in order to reduce the waste we produce.
- Avoid meat as much as possible.
- For the non-vegans, eat animal products that you know come from farms where the wellbeing of the animals is a priority.
- Eat food that truly nourishes and sustains you.
- Prepare all meals with love, and who knows? Maybe our food will taste just that much better.
What foods should I avoid before and after practice?
Foods we should try to avoid include:
- onions and garlic
- unripe fruits
- processed foods
- food additives
- unripe vegetables
Should we drink water during practice?
We generally want to avoid drinking water during a dynamic practice as it is cooling and our energy may go into processing the water.
Is there a specific yoga diet?
In yogic literature there are three types of food:
- Sattvic food is the type of food we want to consume. These foods are fresh, whole, and natural. They don’t pull energy from the body, nor do they weigh us down. Examples include fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, lentils, rice, and grains.
- Rajasik food is the type we should ideally avoid. These foods stimulate the nervous system and overly stimulate. Examples include coffee and black tea, onions, alcohol, and spicy food.
- Tamasic Food creates a feeling of heaviness and lethargy. These are foods that are prepared more than three hours before being eaten, and food that is tasteless.