When it is your first time going to a Japanese hot spring you might be wondering if you can or should eat something before taking an onsen bath. Here’s what I found after diving into the question.
Can you eat before taking an onsen bath? The most appropriate or best time to enjoy an onsen bath is when you are neither full nor hungry. After eating you should wait for at least 30 minutes to give your body time to digest the meal. Also, try to avoid having a heavy meal before going to the onsen and choose something light instead.
Although you should eat something before your hot spring bath, your meal can also have a negative impact on your onsen experience. Honestly, before my research for this article, I had no idea how much a hot spring bath can affect your digestion. From now on I will definitely be a bit more cautious about what I eat before going to an onsen.
Why it is Good to Eat Before an Onsen
Going to an Onsen has many health benefits and proven beauty effects. A soak in the hot water is a good way to stimulate the blood circulation of your body and helps to rejuvenate your skin. Since your body will automatically start pumping more blood toward your skin’s surface in order to cool it down.
After the initial increase in blood flow, though, your blood pressure will actually drop. As studies like this one from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, for example, show.
Lower blood pressure is a good thing, in general, and most of the time, it doesn’t lead to problems when taking a hot spring bath. However, as Mayo Clinic indicates it can cause dizziness, fainting, nausea, and fatigue. In extreme cases. your vision will get blurry and you might even lose consciousness.
Maybe you have already experienced this after taking a long bath or a shower on an empty stomach. You feel perfectly fine while in the bathtub or under the shower. But once you stand up or get out your vision gets blurry, you feel dizzy and you have to sit down. I tend to bathe way too long so I have experienced this a few times in the past.
Those symptoms are caused by the drop in your blood pressure. Again, for most of you, this won’t be a big deal. You just have to sit down and wait for a little bit and you will feel fine again. But dehydration can make things worse. So depending on how long you have been soaking in the onsen, the symptoms might be more extreme and you might be more likely to lose your consciousness.
Eating Before The Onsen Can Help Your Body Deal With the Heat
Sorry that was a longish and very medical explanation of what’s going on in your body while soaking in the tub. But it is a helpful base for the upcoming explanations. Now let’s look at how eating something before the onsen can help your body deal with the heat and the blood pressure change.
Food has an impact on your blood pressure. As this article by Medical News Today explains, your blood pressure tends to decrease slightly after eating, but certain foods can also spike it. So eating the right snack before your bath can help to keep the increase and decrease of your body’s blood pressure within a normal range.
But that’s not the only benefit of eating something before your hot spring bath.
Another benefit is that food will help you to stay hydrated. Literally, every food has some water in it but especially fruits and vegetables have high water content. They contain 80% to 90% water and so they are the perfect choice to improve your hydration before bathing. Hence, reducing the risks that come with low blood pressure.
Last but not least, the calories will help your body deal with the tension of heating up.
Your body is there to protect you. When your temperature goes up it will initiate protection mode and start fighting. Now imagine you have to fight but you are running out of weapons. Won’t you feel stressed?
This is exactly how your body feels when it has to deal with this situation but is running low on calories. A bit of food will help your body to cope with that kind of stress. So let’s give it some energy before entering the bathtub.
What You Can Eat Before Your Onsen Bath
As we discussed certain foods can help with staying hydrated and keeping your blood pressure in a normal range. As a general rule, a light meal or snack is best before going to an onsen. When you are staying in an onsen ryokan they will usually provide some tea and a snack in your room. It’s a good idea to eat that before going to the hot spring.
These are a few of my recommendations, but this is by no means a complete list or anything. It’s just what I will try to eat before going to an onsen from now on. Any other food you usually eat before exercising or going to the sauna should be as good as my recommendations below.
- Fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, berries, kiwis, pears, etc.
- Manju (sweets you will often find in an onsen ryokan)
- A smoothie
- A light salad
Risks of Taking an Onsen With a Full Stomach
When you take an onsen immediately after eating a meal it can delay your digestion or you might suffer from indigestion. This time I will keep the medical explanation simple and short, I promise. But the reason for this is your blood flow again.
In order to digest food, your intestines need additional blood flow to work properly. However, when your body temperature goes up your body also needs to pump more blood through the rest of your body to cool it down. Therefore less blood can flow around your stomach and the rest of your digestive system to help with digestion and your digestion will be delayed.
Especially after a heavy meal the body needs a lot of energy for digestion. In combination with hydration and low blood pressure that can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, and in extreme cases to fainting.
That’s why it is better to avoid a heavy meal before going to the hot spring. You should also avoid eating salty foods to prevent dehydration. If you have a big meal before your onsen visit Japanese onsen guides recommend you wait 1 hour before you enter the hot spring baths. After a heavy meal, I would even wait a bit longer. 1.5 hours at least or even up to 2 hours.
One of my students told me that he once fainted in a hot spring in Hakodate. He said it was a horrible and expensive experience (because he also had to stay in the hospital for a few days). I don’t know if it was because of food, drinks, or stress, though.
Dos and Don’ts Before Going to the Onsen
I hope this post didn’t sound too serious or complicated or anything. As I mentioned, in the beginning, onsens have a lot of benefits and I’m sure you will have a very nice experience. Just make sure that you are doing all the things you should do before going swimming or taking a sauna. Oh, and follow the proper onsen etiquette, of course. But that’s it in a nutshell!
So here are all the essential points I mentioned in this post. These dos and don’ts are just about eating and drinking and not a complete list. So don’t forget that you have to clean your body and wash your hair before entering the onsen, etc.
- If you are hungry have a light meal or snack
- Choose whole foods with high water content like fruits or veggies
- Drink a glass of water and make sure you stay hydrated
- Don’t take a bath after drinking alcohol
- Don’t take a bath right after eating
- Avoid heavy meals and salty foods