If you exercise with an empty stomach, your body will not have sufficient energy to perform at its best. However, it is just as bad, if not worse, to consume the wrong types of food prior to a workout. With the wrong foods, you may spend all your energy digesting your meal, prevent blood flow to your muscles or simply experience uncomfortable stomach problems.
Continue reading to learn more about some pre-workout foods that you should avoid and healthy substitutes that can improve your workout results.
Sugar-packed foods like candy, cookies or donuts will immediately get your energy levels up. These refined sugars are easy for your body to digest. Unfortunately, that means you will lose the energy after digestion, leaving you with a blood sugar crash.
Watch out! You might think a granola bar or a protein bar is a healthy alternative to a sugary snack. However, be sure to check the nutritional label to make sure it does not have too much sugar. The same goes for yogurt, which can be a good pre-workout food as long as it does not have too much sugar and fat.
And remember not to substitute sugar-free candies. A lot of these no-sugar candies have sugar alcohols that can cause an upset stomach during a workout.
Spicy foods can lead to heartburn and indigestion. These conditions can leave you way too uncomfortable to continue your workout.
Some experts even recommend avoiding spicy foods up to 24 hours before a workout. However, some people may be less sensitive.
Too much salt before a workout can lead to dehydration, especially if you do not have enough water with your salty snack. Symptoms of dehydration like cramps and headaches can bring a quick halt to your workout routine.
You definitely do not want to have a soda before your workout because of the refined sugar and caffeine it contains. But even carbonated waters will leave you with gas and stomach discomfort.
Furthermore, any type of carbonated drink can prevent essential fluids from getting into your muscles.
Fibers are generally considered an important part of a healthy diet: They keep you feeling full and aid in your digestion. However, they are not an ideal pre-workout snack to eat within two hours of your workout. They will leave you feeling bloated, gassy and generally uncomfortable during your workout.
Fibrous foods to avoid before you exercise include:
- Beans. In addition to fiber, beans contain an indigestible carbohydrate called raffinose. This kind of carb can lead to an even more upset stomach. Remember that hummus, a healthy diet option, is also made of beans and therefore not good before exercise.
- Flaxseeds. While flaxseeds are generally great for your health, they are not ideal as a pre-workout food. You will end up too bloated and gassy to do your best.
- Cruciferous veggies, including cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, among others. While they can be insanely healthy as part of your balanced diet, they do not make a good pre workout food. Like beans, they contain the indigestible carb raffinose, which can cause you to have stomach problems during your workout. Remember to leave the kale out of your pre-workout smoothie.
Milk products can be dangerous to athletes who are lactose-intolerant or sensitive to dairy. These foods can cause intestinal cramping, gas or diarrhea during your workout. As long as you are not lactose-intolerant, you can instead opt for hard cheeses or yogurt with no added sugars. If lactose-intolerant, go with a lactose-free dairy option.
Junk food like pizza or burgers are typically greasy and full of saturated fats (the bad kind of fat). Most Americans already know fatty, greasy foods can leave you sluggish afterward. It’s definitely not an appropriate feeling for a workout.
Fats make foods harder to digest during your workout. Your body will send your blood to your stomach to help it digest rather than sending it to your muscles. Additionally, fats will keep carbs from getting out of your stomach and fueling your muscles during your workout. Aside from these workout losses, digesting fats leads to stomach issues like diarrhea and bloating.
Even a helping of red meat prepared at home contains too much fat to be a good pre-workout meal. It can take your body 24 to 36 hours to digest a steak. Your body will spend too much energy converting red meat into additional energy, leaving you too drowsy for your workout.
And avocado, a generally nutritious food, has too much fat to be a good pre-workout snack for the same reason.
While protein can be a valuable part of your muscle-building diet, any pre-workout snack should include carbs. Usually, protein shakes do not have carbs. The protein you consume immediately before a workout will not get digested in time for your body to use it. Instead, your body may use up all your body’s available glycogen, the carbs stored in your muscles.
These drinks have their place: They are good for replenishing salts and carbs in your body after an intense workout. However, they are not intended as a pre-workout drink. They contain as much simple sugars as candy, and will therefore leave you with a sugar crash in the middle of your workout.
What to Eat Instead
Your best option for a snack immediately before your workout is something packed with simple carbohydrates. These carbs are easily digested, giving you clean energy to burn during your workout. Examples include:
- A box of raisins, trail mix or other small portion of dried fruit.
- A banana.
- Whole-grain bread or toast.
- Nut butters.
- Greek yogurt with fruit.
If you have at least a couple of hours before your workout, have a larger, full meal containing carbs, fat and protein. Meal recommendations include:
- Stir-fried tofu and vegetables with rice.
- A protein shake that includes milk or a milk substitute, fruit and a nut butter like peanut or almond butter.
- Grilled chicken or salmon, sweet potatoes and vegetables.