Most Yoga and Pilates students know the rule that you should not eat 2 hours before a Yoga or Pilates class. If you didn’t, you do now. This rule also applies to belly dance, core classes, any class on the fitness ball, boot camp, or any type of fitness class or personal training session that involves twisting, abdominal training, or inverted postures (where your head is below your stomach). Most people only make the mistake of eating too soon before this type of class once. After that, they understand the rule without question!
However, what do you do if the class you want to take is not well spaced between your meal times? Do you skip the meal? Do you skip the class? Do you leave your class early because you’re starving? What if your regular lunch is around noon or 1pm, but your class is at 6pm or 7pm, and you know you won’t be hungry at 4pm to give that 2 hour window? How do you deal with this dilemma?
I teach a number of classes that start somewhere between 5pm – 7:30pm. The people who attend them often arrive right after work, or have only been home briefly before heading to the gym. These people are hungry, but determined to work out. Unfortunately, when you’re hungry, you’re also tired, cranky, weak, distracted, and unlikely to get the full benefit of your class. Clearly, starving yourself for a class because the timing doesn’t fit your normal meal schedule is not healthy. I completely understand your problem, and I have a solution.
Rather than moving your meals around every day to try to fit both your work schedule and your evening class schedule, or starving yourself, or missing out on great classes because you’re too hungry to go to the gym, you should have an appropriate, small snack 75 – 60 minutes before class. It seems like an obvious solution, I know, but it’s hard to give yourself permission to eat in that forbidden window. And there is most certainly an art to picking the right snack foods. If you eat too much, you will be sick once you start working out. We don’t want that! If you eat too little, or the wrong thing, you will make yourself hungrier in the process. We don’t want that either! What you want is a small, light, but nutritionally packed snack that will give you power and energy and stop the hungry feeling, while also leaving your stomach empty enough to handle twisting, crunching, and forward bending. It sounds like a tall order when you look at the big picture, but that’s what Yoga teachers are for. I can help you with this.
I have compiled a list of just the right kind of snacks and portion sizes to help you with this problem. I recognize that nutrition related decisions confound most fitness goers. They’re being buffeted from all sides by the latest diet trends and conflicting information. I’m not going to ask you to take a formula and figure it out. All you have to do is look down the list and figure out what is going to work well for you. I’ll even tell you why these snacks are the right choice to help you with your hunger problem, and I recognize that many of my students and readers are vegan or vegetarian, and I am completely sympathetic to that need. I also realize that you may need to have this snack on the road or standing in the break room before you leave work, so ingredients and preparation for them are minimal. All of them are portable.
- One banana cut length wise with ½ - 1 tablespoon of peanut butter spread on it: This also works well on apple slices, but I recommend the banana if you like them because they are higher in potassium, which you will need if you sweat at all during your class. You’re also not limited to peanut butter. You can use almond butter, macadamia nut butter, soy nut butter, or any similar spread that you like. You don’t need a lot of the nut butter, though. A little will be enough to cut the hunger. A lot of these kinds of products can be oily, so if you eat too much, they won’t settle well in your stomach. Just the apple or banana alone will work fine, but won’t have as much staying power to prevent recurrent hunger as just a ½ tablespoon of nut butter will lend them.
- A handful of almonds with a handful of apple slices: just 1 handful of each is enough. Almonds are the best choice of nut because they are less oily and high in fiber. However, if you don’t like almonds, feel free to use cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts, or whatever you do like. Keep the portion small and include a small amount of fruit. Apples also have a high fiber content, so they leave you feeling sated. The nuts give the apple a more lasting effect. You could use a banana (again high in potassium) or an apricot, or figs. All of these fruits are high in nutrients your body is likely to need during your work out. Make sure that you use fresh fruit. Canned or dried fruit will often contain much more sugar per portion than fresh fruit. If you eat a lot of sugar before your work out, you may have a brief increase in energy, but it will quickly burn off and leave you feeling hungrier than ever. Always choose the freshest, least processed options for your snacks.
- Kale Chips: I cannot say enough good things about kale. This snack is low in fat and high in just about every possible nutrient you could want. It’s also filling thanks to its fantastic fiber content. For the record, kale chips are very easy to make. Ten minutes in the oven at 350 degrees with just the lightest brush of olive oil or flaxseed oil will produce a lovely, crunchy kale chip. You can add salt, pepper, or whatever seasonings you like. I like a sprinkle of cayenne on my kale chips. It works best to sprinkle the chips with seasonings before you bake them. One loose cup of fresh kale will give you plenty of chips to combat your hunger.
- Veggie sticks with hummus: You can use any vegetable that you like: carrots, bell peppers, celery, snow peas, cucumbers, radishes, parsnips. Squash or zucchini cut into sticks also work well for this. You only need about a handful of veggies with 1 – 2 tablespoons of hummus. Keep the portions small. Vegetables are high in fiber and always a good choice when you need to stop your stomach from chewing on you between meals.
- For non-vegans, ½ cup of cottage cheese with a handful of fruit or veggies: If you don’t like cottage cheese, a single cheese stick of any variety that you do like can be used instead.
- A little fruit with a small amount of yogurt: I highly recommend cutting open a nice ripe apricot and filling the pitted center with just little yogurt. The portion is 1 apricot plus about 1 tablespoon of yogurt. This yogurt based snack option will satisfy your appetite without over filling your stomach. I use plain Greek yogurt when I eat this snack, but you can use any kind of yogurt that tastes good to you.
- A small portion of just yogurt: this one you’ll want to be careful about. Yogurt cuts the hunger well, but doesn’t always settle as nicely in the stomach. Some brands are also very high in sugar, so you may end up hungrier before you make it home for dinner. Always read the label. Know what you're eating. But it’s portable, so I know it’s appealing. If you can get this snack into your system at about the 2 hour mark before your class, it will likely fuel you well until your class ends. If you try to down a single serving of yogurt right before class, it might try to come right back up when you start doing abdominal compressions. If you like yogurt, and this feels like a top choice snack for you, then you can try cutting the normal portion in half so that it is less likely to feel heavy in your stomach. This option works for any type of yogurt: Greek-style, standard dairy yogurt, soy yogurt, coconut milk yogurt, or almond milk yogurt. I highly recommend coconut milk yogurt as being fortifying and least likely to make you uncomfortable if you have to eat it right before class. Eat half before class—leaving as much time before the class actually starts as possible—and save the other half to eat the moment you get out of class so you won’t be ravenous when you get home.
Any one of these options will keep you strong and sated through your work out. Yes, only one. It’s enough. If you eat more than that, your stomach will be too full to handle your class routine, and then you’re back to square one. It’s also a great idea to have one of these snacks ready in your locker for you to eat after your work out or on your way home from the gym. It will be small enough that it doesn’t ruin dinner for you, but will prevent you from over eating at dinner if it has been a long time since your last full meal.
Naturally, leaving your 2 hour window before class totally free of eating is ideal. But when you must have something, choose something light, filled with fiber and complex carbohydrates, and low in sugar, oils, or fats. Never go hungry. Forcing your body to work when it has run out of fuel slows your metabolic rate way down and actually causes you to store rather than burn calories. So, get your healthy, small snacks ready. Hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of you at the gym, and hearing a lot less of your growling stomach.