The ancient holistic science of Ayurveda teaches us that we should treat our bodies like a temple: regular exercise, balanced diet and proper rest. Regardless which style of yoga you practice – either relaxing Yin or challenging Ashtanga – if you wish to expand the benefits of your yoga practice, it’s important to remember that what you eat after yoga – matters!
Just like any other type of physical activity, nutrition makes a significant difference. Although yoga may not always seem taxing, this practice burns calories. If you skip a post-exercise meal or snack, you can actually experience a loss of muscle and limit your benefits.
Nevertheless, the rule of thumb goes for… not skipping a post-workout meal
However, even here, your post-yoga meal will highly depend on whether you jumped on your favourite yoga mat early in the morning or late in the evening.
If you’ve had a productive yoga workout regardless the timing of the day, chances are you sweated quite a bit. If so, one of the best things you can do for yourself is drink plenty of water: it will hydrate your skin and muscles while keeping you feeling alive. You can also try drinking coconut water, or squeezing a fresh lemon or lime into regular water, which will add flavour as well as plenty of Vitamin C.
Although the type of food you choose may vary depending on the type of yoga you practice as well as the time of day, it’s a good idea to consume a meal with carbohydrates plus protein to refuel both mind and body. As you might know by now, our bodies are most receptive to receiving nutrients within the first 2 hours after physical activity, therefore after a yoga session, refuel with a meal or snack that has about 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein ideally as soon as you can. This will help to rebuild and repair muscle tissues and bring back your energy levels. Examples of foods which have this ratio include a Greek yogurt parfait, a quinoa bowl with veggies, tofu or beans, or simply a Greek yogurt smoothie with fresh fruit.
These options are not the only ones available but they’re a few standby options that are always a good place to get started.
Early morning yoga practice:
If you are a yogi who loves to go to bed early because you know that rising with the sun has a positive impact on your body and mind – then you most likely will start your Sun Salutation on an empty stomach. It is very normal that your nutritional needs are going to be different as well. After a yoga class, it’s important to rehydrate with a few glasses of water. Then, you need to start off the day with a healthy balance of nutrients which will not only restore your muscles, but will also provide the energy to carry on with a new day.
Examples of protein, healthy fats and carbs at the breakfast table can include:
Scrambled tempeh or eggs with veggies and whole grain toast
A smoothie with greens, fruit, and chia or hemp seeds
Oatmeal or quinoa cooked with almond milk, berries, and walnuts
I personally love smoothies with fruits, greens and a little bit of almond milk. I know some yogis who change their post-yoga meal every other day, to keep it a little more exciting! If a smoothie is too light for you and you require something more filling, a wholegrain toast with banana and peanut butter spread or oatmeal with berries and nuts should make your belly happy.
Lunch time yoga practice:
Okay, before you start thinking about your lunch time post-yoga meal, I hope you realise that you having the time to practice yoga in the middle of the day is already a blessing! There are so many people who don’t even have the time to have lunch and yet here you are – the lucky yogi enjoying your lunch break with a mat! If your yoga mat is already ready for your lunch time yoga practice, make sure you’ve had something light prior – like a piece of fruit – and don’t even think about skipping a proper meal after.
After the lunch time yoga class you want to eat something nourishing that’s going to get you through the day. However, since the afternoon is often associated with a mid-day slump, you might want get an energizing lunch. This is a meal that should be a little heavier while making it through the afternoon. The options could be:
Hummus with sprouted grain crackers or bread and veggies with a side of fresh fruit
Sprouted grain wrap with black beans, cheese, salsa, and guacamole
Large green salad with cooked grains, beans or a lean protein, and topped with a sliced avocado
All of these meals offer healthy ways to nourish your body without feeling sleepy afterwards, which is important if you have to get back to your office. Do your best to stay away from protein shakes, because no matter how healthy they sound, they are still filled with preservatives, extra sugar or way more protein than you actually need. Go for greens – you can never go wrong with them! A bowl of salad with various veggies (preferably fresh ones, not cooked) and a wholegrain cracker will give you everything you need to restore the energy and support your muscles.
Evening yoga practice:
The type of meal you choose for evening yoga may depend on whether you’ve already had dinner or are having dinner after your yoga class. An early evening yoga class usually means that you’re saving dinner for the end of yoga practice, but hopefully you grabbed a quick snack before the class – banana, apple or avocado.
It’s very tempting to skip a meal after an evening yoga practice, but even though it’s not recommended to go to bed with full stomach, if you’re laying in bed hungry and waiting for the morning to come – that’s not good either! To ensure that your body is recovering while you sleep, have something light at least one hour before going to bed: light soup (e.g Miso soup), coconut water with a piece of fruit, or banana with date spread. Avoid having nuts late in the evening, because they will keep you awake.
Other few of the dinner options that will help you refuel but won’t ruin your sleep with extra digestion could be:
Soup with vegetables, bean/lentils, and barley or quinoa
Salad with beans, guacamole, and salsa
Rice bowl with a Tahini or nut-based sauce, and vegetables
Steamed vegetables with your choice of seasonings and avocado
Although the foods that you eat make a significant difference, you also want to make sure that you’re replenishing important electrolytes. Please remember, that after any type of physical activity, your body can become dehydrated. Yoga is not an exception. Water is a good option but won’t contain electrolytes on its own. If you are attending hot yoga classes regularly, you especially need some additional electrolytes after this yoga class. Consider adding coconut water to your post-workout routine for a healthy boost.
Another area to consider is the intensity of your yoga session. Hot yoga or flow yoga that may be more active may mean increasing the portions of your post-yoga meal or snack. Make sure that you adjust your post-workout snack to the intensity of the session.
If for whatever reason you don’t have much time for your post-yoga meal, no matter whether your practice early in the morning or late in the evening – chocolate milk will do wonders!
Recent research shows that chocolate milk could be an excellent post-workout snack – not a meal – because it has everything you need: carbs, protein and fats! (Now that’s a healthy excuse to drink chocolate milk!)
Foods to Avoid
When it comes to a post-workout meal or snack, it’s best to avoid foods that are high in sugar and fat. For example, a yoga session may lead you to overindulge in a high sugar treat such as a cupcake or milkshake. While these may be satisfying, they’re going to harm your fitness goals. Also, foods high in fat and heavily processed as fries or chips aren’t a great choice. Make sure that you keep healthy, nourishing foods and snacks with you after practice. This will ensure that you have healthy choices on hand, even if you can’t have a full meal. These foods give you the option to nourish your body and support its function over time.
Although you don’t have to follow a strict meal pattern after yoga, these are a few different post-yoga meals or snacks. They’re based on the time of day that you engage in yoga so adjust your patterns based on the yoga class. Use these options to guide your choices and consider making your own as you feel comfortable.