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How to Eat Before Yoga Class for Peak Performance

Having a full stomach in yoga class is like eating a three-bean salad before a first date: You just don't want to do it.

"Yoga is a lot of movement, twisting and turning. The last thing you want before a class is a stomachache, cramping, or gas," says Lisa Hayim, registered dietician and founder of The WellNecessities. But knowing how to fuel up isn't easy. "Most just don't know what to eat, period, and many make the mistake of not eating at all, leaving them hungry, starved for energy, and unable to perform at their best," she adds.

That's a quick route to a wasted workout. "Without food in the body, toning and muscle growth won't happen, because the body is in 'preservation' mode — it's not ready to take on new muscles, because it's too busy trying to provide energy to what you already have," says Hayim. "As a result, the body taps into your existing muscle, breaking it down. It's a lose-lose situation."

To transform things into a slimming win-win, we reached out to top nutritionists and yoga instructors to find out the best strategies for fueling up before hitting the mat.

Time Things Right

The ideal fuel is a 200- to 300-calorie snack, consumed up to a half-hour before class, to leave time for digestion before you get your om on. A bigger meal (in the 400- or 500- calorie range) should be eaten two to three hours before class. "[Avoid] meat, heavy foods, or slow-digesting foods with a strong taste two hours before class," says Mark Balfe-Taylor, director of yoga at TruFusion. "The richer foods may repeat on you while in an unusual shape in class and might be less appealing the second time around!"

Eat This! Tip

"Vegetables can be a great source of carbohydrates for an athlete. But high-fiber ones can cause gas formation, stomach cramping, and ultimately affect performance," says Hayim. Before a mat session (or any kind of workout), steer clear of foods containing bran, beans and cruciferous veggies.

Avoid High-fat Foods

Before any workout, stay away from fatty or greasy foods. "Even those with good fat — say, peanut butter or a high-fat yogurt — are absorbed more slowly, and can lead to feeling uncomfortable," says Hayim. Instead, focus on fast-acting carbohydrates and a bit of lean protein. "The carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables can directly be turned into glucose, the form of energy your cells need to help you thrive. They can use this energy immediately, providing the boost you need without bloating," adds Hayim.

Eat This! Tip

Gearing up for power yoga? Try amaranth porridge made with almond milk topped with a handful of nuts and fresh berries. "The porridge (a carb) with nuts (a protein) will provide longer, sustained energy to get you through a power-yoga class than a carb-based snack alone," says Kayleen St. John, RD, nutritionist at New York City's Natural Gourmet Institute. "Amaranth gets extra points because it's a complete plant-based protein and high in iron, a mineral many athletes (and women) don't get enough of."

Sip A Natural Electrolyte Drink

No, don't beeline for the packaged stuff at the grocery store; it's full of sweeteners and chemicals you don't want. "Preferably, this drink should be natural and without sugar," says Balfe-Taylor.

Eat This! Tip

Balfe-Taylor's recipe: Combine one liter of purified water, a teaspoon of sea salt containing minerals (such as pink or grey himalayan), cucumber and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Leave it to soak overnight, and drink it before going about your morning routine. For other delicious infused hydration options, try these 14 Detox Waters That Banish Bloat.

AM Class? Snack Smart

There's nothing worse than downward-dog-over-a-garbage bin. "Eat as lightly as possible and then consume a good breakfast after class," says Balfe-Taylor. To break the fast before an early class, opt for half an avocado or a small handful of almonds, preferably raw.

Eat This! Tip

For a snack before a sunrise salutation session, Hayim recommends these power-food combos: A cup of oatmeal with banana or sliced apples; a handful of dried apricots or raisins with ¼ cup soy nuts; or low-fat Greek yogurt with a ½ cup blueberries. Feeling like you need extra oomph to make it through a long power flow? Try any of these 6 Foods That Boost Workout Endurance.

Befriend Your Blender

Hayim's favorite pre-workout snack is a banana protein smoothie. "Every pre-event meal or snack, even yoga, should focus on carbohydrates and fluid," she says. To make it, combine a banana, a half-cup of spinach, a half-cup of almond milk and a scoop of a plant-based protein powder. "A banana is low in fiber and easily digested and absorbed, in comparison to high-fiber fruits with skin. They're also a rich source of potassium, which is an excellent electrolyte, essential for fluid balance," adds Hayim. Though it will give your smoothie a thinner consistency add an extra half-cup water for additional hydration.

Eat This! Tip

It's extra-important to hydrate before Bikram, a type of yoga done in a very hot room, so try a smoothie that includes green tea, hemp hearts, kale, and a bit of pineapple or mango, suggests St. John. "A hydrating snack like a smoothie is ideal before a sweat-filled Bikram class. Also, this smoothie is packed with antioxidants which may help prevent muscle soreness." For more after-class tips, check out these Best Post-Workout Habits for Muscle Growth!

Perri O. Blumberg
Perri O. Blumberg is a freelance food, health, and lifestyle writer. Read more about Perri O.