Do You Still Need To 'Refuel' After A Yoga Class?
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
At mbg, we're huge fans of yoga. Beyond its long list of mental and physical benefits, yoga is downright enjoyable to do—it's the perfect balance of challenging and grounding. Of course, there are many types of yoga. There are restorative classes, like yin or hatha yoga, and classes more geared toward building strength and flexibility, like vinyasa and Bikram yoga.
Given that each form of yoga requires a different level of effort and skill (I've practiced for years, and I still lose my balance), it's hard to know whether or not you should "refuel" afterward, in the same way you would after a sweaty HIIT session or long run. What makes a yoga class strenuous enough to require post-yoga fuel, and what should that fuel be?
How to know if a yoga class is strenuous.
Growing up playing four sports, I assumed that getting in a good workout meant you not only broke a sweat—you were drenched by the end. That's why I was drawn to Bikram yoga in college, which is 90 minutes, 26 postures, done in a 108-degree studio. But after taking my first difficult vinyasa class, I realized that how much you sweat doesn't determine how difficult a yoga class is, and that not everyone is looking to sweat during their practice.
"There are many different types of asana practices (the physical practices), which tend to be 'difficult' in different ways," says Aditi Shah, a yoga instructor at Peloton. "In a physical sense, modern 'flow' practices, in which postures are sequenced along with a breathing pattern, are today often regarded as the most challenging, as the flow moves quickly from one posture to another."
"However," she notes, "as with any physical endeavor, it's the effort that one puts in that determines its effect on the body. If you've ever held your arms up in warrior 2 for five minutes, you know it's quite a challenge! Ultimately, as with any practice, you get out of it what you put in."
In other words, whether or not a class is "strenuous" depends on the person and the class. If you're in a vinyasa class and your heart rate is high or you're shaking trying to balance in a pose, your body is putting in work. But if you put very little effort into a hot yoga class, it doesn't matter if it's hot and you're sweaty—you're lessening the intensity of your session.
But yes, some types of yoga tend to be harder.
In general, though, yoga classes where you're constantly moving or trying to balance are going to require more effort from your body and thus feel more strenuous (think vinyasa and heated flows). Restorative yoga practices, Aditi says, tend to be the least physically strenuous.
"In restorative yoga practices, props are set up to support poses so that practitioners may remain in them for several minutes at a time. In fact, restorative yoga specifically seeks to help restore the part of the nervous system that stimulates rest and relaxation."
If you really push yourself during your practice (you spend the session testing your body's physical limits), chances are you're going to come away from it knowing whether or not it was strenuous for you. And if it was, then it's time to refuel.
What you should eat after a tough yoga class.
With workouts like running and strength training, there's no question that refueling afterward, particularly with protein, is necessary if you want to minimize your risk of injury and recover properly. But is it the same with yoga?
Despite the movements being different (strength training, for example, contracts your muscles while yoga lengthens them), yoga can cause soreness, which occurs when we tear microscopic holes in our muscles while exercising. So if you leave a yoga class feeling like you're going to be sore, you should get some protein ASAP. But as registered dietitian Lisa Hayim will tell you, what you should eat and how much depends on the person and the difficulty of the class.
"What you eat after a workout class of any nature will depend on what energy stores you have left, so it's difficult to give a general answer," Hayim says. "Assuming the class is rigorous and stores are depleted, it's best to refuel with protein, carbohydrates, and some fat. Most importantly (and often overlooked), you have to hydrate and replenish your electrolytes."
At the end of the day, everyone's yoga practice is unique, and whether or not you refuel depends on how you feel after a session. If your goal was to push yourself and exert a lot of energy, then it's likely that you'll need to eat something afterward to refill your tank. But if you went into your practice with the intention of clearing your mind, unwinding, and stretching, there's less pressure to scarf something down. Listen to your body—it knows what it needs.
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction. A runner, yogi, boxer, and cycling devotee, Bass searches for the hardest workouts in New York (and the best ways to recover from them). She's debunked myths about protein, posture, and the plant-based diet, and has covered everything from the best yoga poses for chronic pain to the future of fitness, recovery, and America's obsession with the Whole30 diet.