Saunas are great for relaxation and can provide a variety of great health benefits, but there are certain things you need to consider when planning your session. You know how important it is to drink plenty of water (before and after!), but what about food? Should you eat before or after using the sauna?
When using the sauna, you should ensure that you’re neither full nor very hungry. When full, your body is focusing on digestion, which can lead to nausea and vomiting; an empty stomach, on the other hand, can lead to dizziness and shakiness. Just like with exercise, you should eat a couple of hours before visiting the sauna to hit that sweet spot.
Keep reading to learn more about the best times to eat before and after your sauna session, plus some great snacks if you need a little something extra.
Is it better to eat a meal before or after using the sauna?
How do YOU feel right after you’ve eaten? Are you ready to hit the ground running, or are you ready for a nap? Your answer is probably closer to the latter.
Your heart rate increases in the heat of a sauna similar to a light workout. Would you exercise on a full stomach? On an empty stomach? The answer is no and probably not. There is a sweet spot when you should use the sauna, and it’s not when you’re hungry, or full.
It’s better to eat a meal 2.5 to 4 hours before you hit the sauna because it takes 2.5 hours for at least 50% of food to exit your stomach. If you do eat before the sauna, eat an hour before and keep it light.
Keep reading to find out exactly why it’s so important to time your meals properly on sauna days.
Potential issues with using a sauna on a full stomach
You know how you shouldn’t swim right after eating? You shouldn’t visit the sauna on a full stomach for similar reasons. You won’t drown, but you’re not going to get the full benefit of your session – and you’ll probably feel pretty rotten – if you do.
Issues you may face using the sauna on a full stomach include:
- Stomach pain/ bloating
- Dizziness/ nausea
Most of these are the result of your body trying to do double duty. During your sauna session, you expect to see an increased heart rate, sweat, and other (less obvious) detoxifications. When your body is already focused on digestion, this can be physically overwhelming.
Overall, you should ensure that you leave 2-3 hours between a meal and your sauna session to ensure that the digestion process is given enough time.
Using the sauna on a completely empty stomach comes with a host of different issues.
Potential issues with using a sauna on an empty stomach
You also shouldn’t use the sauna on an empty stomach. Think back to the exercise comparison: you’d never attempt even a light workout when all you can think about is lunch, would you?
Some issues you may experience in the sauna on an empty stomach:
While you may be metaphorically chilling in the sauna, your body is working hard. During a typical session, your heart rate will jump 30%, and your blood pressure may rise or fall. If you don’t have the fuel required for this exertion, your sauna will actually be less relaxing and you’ll lose out on the great benefits of your sauna visit.
Even if you don’t have time for a full meal the suggested 2-3 hours before your sauna session, you should at least eat a light snack 30-60 minutes before heading in. (More on that later!)
Use the ‘exercise rule’ to time your meal before the sauna
Think about it: when do you eat when you’re going to work out? Use that same mentality when planning your sauna session.
The best mealtime is 2-3 hours before exercise – and the same is true for the sauna. This allows your stomach time to empty some, while also ensuring you have fuel for the activity.
After you eat, your body is working hard on digestion. When exercising, your body is working hard, and it’s the same for the sauna. Plan your meal accordingly so your body can focus on one thing at a time.
If you’re not a planner, there are plenty of light meals and snacks to eat before the sauna.
The best light meals and snacks to eat before using the sauna
If you’re overwhelmed by what to eat or not eat, can’t plan that far in advance, or just need ideas, you’re in the right place!
These small snacks can be eaten as little as 30 minutes before your sauna session:
- Peanut butter
- Energy bar
- Protein shake
- Boiled egg
For these snacks, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be eating much. For example, a protein shake or smoothie are good choices but make sure you keep the portion small (and avoid high-fat options).
Depending on your schedule and the time of your sauna visit, you may want to consider a small instead of a quick snack. These should be eaten 60 minutes before your session:
- Small pasta dish
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (or other light sandwich)
Keep in mind you’ll want to allow your body some time to break down even light snacks. Give it about 30 minutes to an hour for snacks, and an hour for light meals.
What to eat or drink after using a sauna
Just like you wouldn’t eat a burger immediately after a workout, you should allow your body time to recover and settle down after your sauna visit. Remember: as relaxing as the sauna can be, your body is essentially “working out” to maintain a healthy temperature.
You should hydrate immediately after finishing your sauna session to replenish the water you lost while sweating. If you can, drink something with electrolytes for optimum recovery. Wait 30 minutes before eating.
Immediately after your sauna visit, you should drink:
- Pickle juice
- Low/no sugar sports drinks
Once your heart rate and temperature have returned to normal – about 30 minutes – you should have a light snack, preferably something with carbs and protein, such as:
- Energy bar
- Boiled dgg
Looking for some more tips about what you should eat and drink once you’re out of the sauna? Check out this article!