It’s a tricky thing sometimes. You need to fuel up before a workout, but lots of different foods can cause discomfort during physical exertion. Even foods that are otherwise very healthy can be a no-no before hitting the gym, so what’s a person supposed to do? Just remember that the ideal pre-workout meal includes a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Other nutrients (in large quantities) are best left until after your cool down. Read our list of foods to avoid before a workout to feel better, stronger, and more energetic while you exercise.
Flaxseeds & other high fiber foods
Flaxseeds are full of fiber and very good for your body in general. But too much fiber before a workout can cause painful bloating or gas that is sure to slow you down. Nutrition experts suggest limiting the amount of fiber you eat in the two hours before hitting the gym. Other fiber-rich foods include bran, fiber supplements, raspberries, peas, and artichokes.
Energy gel packs are advertised as being designed to fuel workouts. But unless your daily workout involves at least 90 intense minutes of cardio, you don’t really need them. The gels contain enough sugar to disrupt insulin levels and potentially inspire a binge later on. If you are running a marathon, by all means check out the selection of available gels, but don’t bother for your standard everyday workouts.
Hummus is a fantastic, healthy snack, but it is bean-based. Can you guess where we’re going with this? Bean products are high in indigestible carbohydrates and tend to cause gas and bloating. They don’t call beans the “musical fruit” for nothing. Save the hummus for after you work out.
As we reach adulthood, our bodies don’t really require dairy like they used to when we were growing. That’s not to say that you should stop eating cheese or drinking milk, but you are much more likely to experience some form of digestive distress when you eat dairy within 2 hours before and after exercise. If it makes you feel lethargic, burpy, or like you want to pop some Tums, it’s best to skip it.
These enhanced water products are also billed as health drinks, but in reality they are just full of sugar. And if not sugar, they contain artificial sweeteners. The jury is still out on whether or not these sweeteners have dire health consequences, but we know that they can disrupt beneficial bacteria in your gut. That affects optimal absorption of nutrients and hinders your overall health goals. They are also really bad for your teeth.
Ripe bananas are actually a great choice to eat before a workout. However, if you choose a banana that still has any trace of green on it, it is technically unripe and in a starchy state. That makes it much harder to digest and can cause gas and bloating. Brown spots on the skin are what tell you that the banana is fully ripe. The sugar content in a ripe banana is much easier to digest, but eating a green banana is not inherently harmful. It’s just better done after a workout.
Crudite is just a fancy word for cut raw veggies. Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers are common ingredients for crudite plates. These vegetables are super healthy, but are high in indigestible carbs in their raw state. As we mentioned before, indigestible carbs before a workout will burden you with bloat and painful gas.
Hard-boiled eggs are a great way to get your protein, but they don’t contain the carbohydrates that you’ll need for energy. And because protein takes a long time to digest, it could weigh you down while you’re exercising. Instead, have just a few slices of that egg on a whole wheat English muffin to get the right mix of carbs and protein. Or save the eggs for afterward – protein has been shown to help with post-exercise recovery.
There is some evidence that spicy food boosts your metabolism, which is great. Beyond burning more calories, you may even live longer if you regularly consume spicy foods like cayenne pepper. But before a workout is just not the best time to eat a spicy meal. Food in your stomach gets jostled about during exercise, and spicy food that washes back into the esophagus causes heartburn.
Most energy drinks rely on a combination of caffeine and sugar to give you a boost of energy. But they also tend to cause gas, bloating, and fatigue when you inevitably crash. And beyond that, they aren’t even very good at keeping you hydrated – arguably the most important part of a good workout. A modest amount of caffeine, on the other hand, can help you power through your routine, but it’s best to get in the form of anti-oxidant rich green or black tea.
There’s a reason that store-bough smoothies taste different than the ones you make at home, much the same as store-bought tacos are different than homemade. They come with additives that tweak the brain’s pleasure sensors and leave us wanting more. Avoid extra sugar and fat by blending your own fruit smoothie with real fruit (not juice, which offers no fiber to help slow digestion) and a scoop of protein powder for an effective carb/protein balance.
Avocados feature “good fat” the monounsaturated kind that supports weight loss, reduces your risk for heart disease, and decreases inflammation. They also have a healthy dose of fiber to help keep glucose levels steady. But this fat/fiber combo takes a long time to digest, and pulls blood to the stomach to assist the effort. This can lead to cramping. To stay more comfortable in the gym, save avocado for after your workout.
Everyone is different when it comes to their preferred pre-workout nutrition. Some people hate to have any food at all in their stomachs, while others can eat anything they want with no issues. If you notice that you are experiencing bloating, cramping, gas, or fatigue during your workout, use our list as a jumping off point to determine what might be causing the issues. One small dietary change could make a world of difference in your comfort level during exercise. It’s an easy fix that might mean the difference between maintaining a successful fitness habit and giving up entirely.