Your yoga class just ended, and your stomach is grumbling. You may find this surprising: Yoga doesn’t always feel like the most strenuous exercise, so why did it work up such an appetite? There’s no shame here, just curiosity.
If you’ve ever experienced this, you’re not alone. Several Quora and Reddit users have asked the same question.
The truth is, hunger’s a complex mechanism. “Hunger levels vary based on the length and intensity of the workout, what you ate beforehand, how much you ate beforehand, your workout yesterday, etc.,” says Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, the co-host of the Nail Your Nutrition podcast and CEO of Bucket List Tummy. “Hunger can be very individual, but you should never ignore it, especially after a workout when your body is in a catabolic state.”
Three reasons why yoga might be making you hungry
If your stomach’s distracting you during savasana, there could be a few things to blame.
1. Yoga poses require fuel, aka calories
You’re likely expending more energy on the mat than you realize. “‘Not moving’ is not the same thing as holding poses for periods of time, which stresses muscles and joints and requires significant energy,” explains Susan Bowerman, RD, CSSD, FAND, the senior director of worldwide nutrition education and training at Herbalife Nutrition. “Sweating is not the only indication that the body is working hard or requiring fuel, and you may be working out harder than you think.”
She adds that some people may not want to eat a lot (or much protein) before a workout, so they’ll end up feeling hungry afterward because their body wants to refuel.
2. Yoga helps you be more in tune with your body
Part of what makes yoga stand out from other forms of exercise is that it’s a mind-body practice. That means, in part, that it brings more awareness to how you feel and what your body needs. “In fact, compared to an intense cardio session or HIIT workout, where your appetite may be suppressed due to adrenaline and hormones released, you may be more in tune with your hunger after a yoga session,” says Schlichter.
3. Yoga can stimulate your digestive system
Here’s a fun fact: Yoga doesn’t only stretch your arms, legs, and back. “Even gentle forms of yoga, like restorative or yin yoga, can stretch and stimulate your digestive system, which moves food through your digestive tract and makes room for your next meal,” says Randi Sprintis, MS, an Ashtanga yoga instructor. “So, even slow-moving yoga can make you feel hungry.” As your body feels more awake, your digestive system does, too.
What to eat before and after yoga
It’s hard to enjoy yoga—or the period after, which is hopefully relaxing—when you’re hungry. So how can you fuel your body best?
Shortly before you hit the mat, Schlichter recommends grabbing a small carb-based snack, like a piece of fruit, crackers, peanut butter on toast, or a glass of juice, for quick energy. If you’re eating further in advance of class, add some protein.
“A good rule of thumb is to try to eat at least an hour or two before a class, and stick to foods that are easy to digest,” Sprintis suggests.
“After a yoga class, you want to shoot for foods that can restore your energy, rehydrate your body, and help you feel satisfied,” Sprintis says.
Eating after exercising helps your body in more ways than one. “A combination of carbohydrates and protein can help replenish glycogen stores, increase your blood sugar, and prevent muscle breakdown, all of which will help your body recover quicker for future workouts,” Schlichter says. If you aren’t eating a meal shortly after class, she suggests having something like a smoothie, Greek yogurt with fruit, or cheese and crackers as a snack. “While a post-workout snack may not be necessary for everyone after a yoga workout, be aware that an absence of hunger does not always mean you shouldn’t eat anything,” she adds.
Additionally, Bowerman notes the importance of hydration (which some foods can help with, too!). “The most important thing is to rehydrate, as many yoga studios are quite warm and you can lose a lot of fluid during a session, even if you’re drinking water,” she says. “Afterwards, you can replace fluids and carbohydrates with foods like refreshing fruits (especially watery melons), soups, or a smoothie.”
The bottom line is this: Honoring your body is just as important off the mat as it is on the mat. “Remember that yoga is about being on your own path and not judging yourself or others, especially over food choices,” Sprintis says. “Listen to your body and find a balance that works for you.”