You need to eat food to fuel a workout, which is a great excuse to devour your favorite snack before hitting the gym. As David Wiener, training and nutrition specialist at fitness app Freeletics, pointed out: “If you exercise on an empty stomach, your body won’t have enough energy to perform at its best.”
But – and this is a pretty important but – it’s just as bad to eat the wrong thing before a workout as it is to eat nothing at all. And that’s because “all your energy will go towards digesting that food” instead of powering your exercise.
Fibre-filled foods: In general, foods rich in fibre like wholegrain bread, whole-wheat pasta and oats are good for you and can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer and regulate the digestive system. However, before a workout these foods should be a no-go as they take longer for the body to digest and can lead to gastrointestinal distress. This distress can result in bloating, nausea, gas and stomach cramps which could hinder a workout, meaning you should avoid them before working out.
Fizzy drinks: It’s well known that fizzy drinks are nutritionally void and more often that now laden with sugar, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that they’re a poor choice for your pre-workout drink. Their high sugar content and carbonation can make you feel bloated, and lead not only to a sugar crash, but also cause stomach cramps and nausea during your workout.
Nuts: Although healthy fats are an important part of our overall diet, eating high fat meals or snacks like nuts before exercising can compromise your workout. This is because fat is a nutrient which slows digestion, and the more fat in a meal or snack, the longer it takes for that meal or snack to be digested. Pre-training, the purpose of nutrition is to prime the body, and for that to happen the food needs to be full digested and ready to use as fuel. If you do want to include fat in your pre-workout, make sure you allow 1½-2 hours before exercising.
Spicy foods: While spicy foods may satisfy your taste buds, they should be avoided before exercise for a couple of reasons. Firstly, spicy food can result in indigestion or heartburn which can leave you in pain and having to abandon a workout. Secondly, spicy foods can lead to increased cramping which again could force you to halt a workout, or effect the amount of effort you’re able to put in.
Cruciferous vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are important vegetables to include in your diet, but they will wreak havoc on you while you exercise. This is because these vegetables are high in raffinose, an indigestible carbohydrate that can trigger abdominal bloating and excessive gas.
Refined sugar: Inadequate amounts of sugars and carbohydrates in your system before a workout can lead to lethargy and fatigue, especially when you’re exercising, but you must pay attention to the source of sugar, and as always do your best to avoid refined sugar found in many manufactured products. Instead opt for glucose which is found in carbohydrate rich foods or fructose which is found in fruits and vegetables; your body uses these types of sugar far more effectively and efficiently.
Dairy: Milk, cheese and yogurt should always be consumed after a training session. This is because their high fat content can cause you to feel lethargic and will increase your stomach’s acid content during a workout. Eating dairy before a workout can also lead you to feel extra gassy. Some people also find dairy particularly hard to digest, and if this is the case, consuming dairy prior to exercise can lead to stomach upsets and bloating.
Avocado: Avocados should be avoided pre-workout due to their high fat content (even though avocados are filled with good, mono-saturated fat). In addition, avocados are rich in fibre, and this combination takes the body longer to digest which could result in stomach cramps.