Best Foods for Yoga
By Dana Leigh Smith
Though they may help you look the part, expensive workout outfits won’t do much in the way of improving your yoga skills.
Dropping green on nourishing workout fuel, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Not only can noshing on foods rich in the right nutrients before and after a yoga class help you hone your skill set, it can also aid weight loss—so you look even better in your yoga pants—and post-workout recovery, allowing you to hit the mat again sooner rather than later.
Not sure what foods to stock up on or how close to your Hatha class you can eat them? Don’t sweat it. Eat This, Not That! checked in with some of the nation’s top nutrition and yoga experts and asked them to weigh in on their favorite yoga eats. After adding a few of their go-to picks to your weekly lineup, we’re confident you’ll be seeing improvements in your practice—and physique—in no time.
EAT THIS BEFORE HITTING THE MAT
Even if you’re a seasoned yoga pro, inversions can sometimes bring on dizzy spells due to dehydration. To keep your head from spinning—and your tummy from rumbling—nosh on some watermelon before throwing on your yoga gear. “Watermelons are primarily made up of water, so they can keep dehydration and hunger at bay without weighing you down,” says celebrity personal trainer and yoga instructor Kristin McGee, whose clients include Tina Fey, Steve Martin and Bethenny Frankel. “The quick-digesting carbs are also a good source of energy to fuel your workout. If you’re eating on the run, a watermelon juice is a great alternative.”
“Before attending a yoga class, I like to whip up a smoothie with a combination of fruits, vegetables, nut butter and coconut water,” says New York-based yoga instructor and nutritionist Maria Sorbara Mora, R.D., CDN. “Smoothies are not only light and hydrating, but also easily digested. This ensures energizing nutrients will be available to fuel my workout as soon as I hit the mat,” Mandy Ingber, a celebrity fitness advisor, yoga expert and New York Times bestselling author of Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover agrees, adding “I look for fuel that’s light but filling” She recommends making “a smoothie made with almond milk or coconut water, a third of a frozen banana and a scoop of maca or cacao protein powder. She tells us that Sunfood and Sunwarrior are her go-to brands.
To keep tummy rumbles from ruining your zen “snack on something rich in carbs that has a low glycemic index an hour or two before your class begins,” says Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a dietitian with Just For Today, a nutrition counseling and yoga center. “This ensures you’ll have sustained energy without any gastrointestinal disturbances,” she explains. Both a slice of whole-grain toast and apple fit the bill.
Bananas are nature’s PowerBar. They’re a good source of digestible carbohydrates, which easily convert to workout fuel. The fruit is also packed with potassium, a nutrient that wards off cramping that is often lost through sweat. McGee suggests drizzling a banana with a touch of honey before heading to class.
“While I don't feel too strongly about eating certain foods before hitting the mat, it’s always beneficial not to perform inversions or twists on a full stomach,” explains Nutrition Therapist and Yoga Instructor Anastasia Nevin, RDN, RYT. (Doing downward dog with a belly full of food? So not a good idea. Trust us!) “For that reason, I’ll often grab something light like a Lärabar. They’re made with dates, which provide a natural source of energizing carbs.” We like the Apple Pie flavor since it’s free of caloric add-ins (like chocolate) and comes in under 200 calories.
EAT THIS POST-PRACTICE
Though you may be tempted to gobble up the first thing you can get your hands on, you’ll want to be more strategic than that when it comes to your post-workout fuel. “After a yoga class, it is very important to rehydrate and replenish your carbohydrate stores,” says Kaufman. “And eating a fruit salad is the perfect way to do both—especially when it’s made with water-dense fruits such as melons or grapefruit.” Prefer to bend it like Bikram? Listen up: “For those practicing hot yoga, it may also be beneficial to drink a coconut water. It’s naturally rich in electrolytes so it can aid rehydration better than water and ward off post-workout fatigue.”
Whether you grab a quick smoothie or sit down to a salad, Ingber urges all yogis to incorporate dark leafy greens into their post-workout meal. “Greens like kale, arugula, romaine and spinach help alkalize the blood and are a good source of B vitamins in addition to a plethora of other vitamins and minerals. After oxygenating your blood with your breath during practice, you want to give your body good nutritional support to keep it going,” explains Ingber.
“If your class is finishing up close to mealtime, I suggest making a whole-grain sandwich with chicken, tuna, or turkey, topped with veggies, cheese and a bit of dressing. The combination of nutrients helps replenish the body's protein and fuel stores that have been depleted during the session while providing sustained energy for the rest of the day,” explains Mora.
The only thing that beats the sense of calm you feel after a yoga class? Enjoying it as you sip a chocolaty treat! “If you won’t be able to grab a full meal after your class, I suggest refueling with chocolate milk or a high-protein chocolate milk alternative,” says Diana Cullum-Dugan, RDN LDN, Massachusetts-based registered dietitian and yoga instructor. “Chocolate milk replaces fluids lost as sweat during your workout, and the combination of carbs and protein helps replenish glycogen stores and repair muscles that may have been broken down during practice.” Sounds like a great excuse to indulge to us!
Not too many people know it, but eating beets after a yoga class can effectively ward off soreness and fatigue, explains McGee. “The nitrates in beets widen blood vessels, ushering more oxygen-rich blood to the muscles. In turn, less lactic acid—the stuff responsible for the burn you feel during chaduranga—builds up in the muscles,” she explains. The less sore you feel, the sooner you can return to the mat for another class. To reap the benefits, add beets to salads and sandwiches or use them as a avocado toast topper.
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