Your brain and muscles need a steady supply of oxygen and glucose to perform at their best, and this supply depends on your blood flow.
A pre-yoga snack with circulation-boosting nutrients can significantly improve the glucose supply and oxygenation process during your practice and pranayama by:
- Dilating blood vessels
- Reducing blood pressure
- Improving heart circulation
- Reducing oxygen cost
- Delaying time to exhaustion
- Preventing blood vessel contraction
The Importance of Circulation and Oxygenation
Proper circulation is vital to get the most benefits out of your yoga practice, physically and mentally.
Constant oxygenation of the brain improves attention, spatial cognition, and motor control. This will help you stay focused and grounded in your practice and maintain balance and coordination.
Oxygenation is also crucial for energy production. Your muscles get energy from cellular respiration, the process that, in the presence of oxygen, breaks up glucose to produce ATP (adisone triphosphate), the energy used by all your cells. This means constant oxygen supply is essential to maintain energy and avoid fatigue, especially if you’re doing challenging poses or sequences.
Next time you’re looking for a snack before you hit the mat, make sure you include one of these recommended pre-yoga foods:
1. Nitrate-rich foods
Dietary nitrates are inert chemicals found mostly in vegetables, which turn into nitrites inside the body once consumed. These nitrites produce nitric oxide (NO), a gas in the blood vessels that dilates arteries, lowers blood pressure and improves exercise performance.
Studies show that consuming nitrates from vegetables:
- Reduces oxygen cost while exercising
- Reduces ATP (energy used by your cells) cost during exercise
- Delays the time to exhaustion
- Reduces the increase of oxygen consumption during exercise
- Increases power output
The top ten foods richest in nitrates are: arugula, rhubarb, cilantro, butter lettuce, spring greens, basil, beet greens, oakleaf lettuce, swiss chard, and beets.
As you can see, leafy greens are the biggest source of nitrates. A perfect snack can be a salad, a green smoothie, or an omelet with these greens chopped.
2. Potassium-rich foods
Potassium is an electrolyte (conducts electricity in the body), excellent at controlling blood pressure and dilating your blood vessels, which means it will help your blood flow easily during your practice.
The richest foods in potassium are beet greens, lima beans, swiss chard, sweet potato, potatoes, soybeans, avocado, pinto beans and lentils.
Beet greens have 37% Daily Value per cup, while lima beans and swiss chard have 27% DV per cup. Toss these foods in a salad and you can cover your potassium daily needs and boost your circulation before your practice.
3. Vitamin C-rich foods
Aside from boosting your immune system, research found that Vitamin C is also effective at controlling blood flow. Studies show Vitamin C stimulates nitric oxide (NO) production, a chemical that dilates arteries and improves blood pressure.
The top ten foods richest in vitamin C are papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, and cauliflower.
One medium papaya has 224% Daily Value of vitamin C, so half a papaya is going to cover your daily needs. Consider chopping it in your morning oatmeal, in a fruit salad, or adding it to your smoothie before hitting the mat.
4. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, nutrients with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The flavonoids in dark chocolate enhance blood flow by:
- Improving coronary circulation (circulation in the heart).
- Dilating arteries shortly after consumption.
- Regulating nitric oxide (NO), responsible for blood vessel dilatation.
The dark chocolate you eat should have at least 70% cocoa. The higher the cocoa content, the more flavonoids it has. Milk chocolate has low amounts of cocoa and it’s packed with sugar, and white chocolate is not even chocolate, so that stay away from that.
You can enjoy a square of dark chocolate before your practice, add some grated chocolate to your oatmeal or smoothie, or have a cup of hot chocolate made with raw cacao powder.
Garlic has sulfur components (polysulfides) that make it excellent at regulating blood pressure and improving blood flow by:
- Preventing the contraction of blood vessels.
- Regulating nitric oxide (NO), a gas responsible for blood vessel dilatation.
- Production of the gas hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the blood, which causes vasodilation and relaxation of the muscle cells.
- Preventing the formation of blood clots.
You can enjoy garlic’s circulation-boosting properties by adding it chopped to salads, in stir fries, roasted with broccoli, in vinaigrettes, in omelets, in hummus, and in soups.
6. Plant-based Protein
High-protein foods are sources of amino acids, nutrients crucial to the proper function of all the systems in our bodies.
Recent research found that certain amino acids beneficial to heart health, such as arginine, cysteine, and glutamic acid, significantly reduce blood pressure.
Vegetable protein sources were more effective at lowering central blood pressure and arterial pressure than animal sources, which means you can get more cardiovascular benefits from eating beans instead of a chicken breast.
The top plant-based sources of proteins include soybeans, tempeh, lentils, tofu, dried peas, pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, lima beans, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and peanuts.
Helping your body have a clearer mind and more energy through good circulation can maximize the effects of your yoga sequence.
Dietary nitrate, potassium, vitamin C, garlic, dark chocolate and plant-based protein are the foods to aim for if you want to optimize your circulation and enjoy a better yoga practice.