Some of these foods may be healthy, but they won't help your athletic performance (at least not if you eat them at the wrong times.)
Toby Amidor, R.D. 1 / 8
Most every food has a place in a healthy eating plan (Just check out these Men's Fitness Editors' Top Cheat Meals!) However, if you’re an athlete, you know there are certain foods that can sabotage your performance, while others amp it up. But it's more complicated than simply labeling foods and drinks as "good" or "bad" for your workout. Oftentimes, the "usefulness" of a food depends on the type of exercise, the duration, and intensity. Certain foods are absolutely useless (and can even have negative effects) right before a hard workout, while the same foods can and should be part of healthy meals at other times in your day. (When it comes to food and exercise, timing is everything.) Find out why these 7 foods are potentially useless for athletes, and which you should be eating (or drinking) instead.
(Lots of) Pasta
Carb loading can help boost energy during a long distance event, like a marathon. But, carb loading doesn't mean you should be overdosing on mounds of pasta the night before the race. Correct carb loading is about increasing the amount of carbs you have during your meals for several days before a race, while decreasing the amount of physical activity you do. If it is not done properly, it won’t be effective. Find out more about how to do it right here.
Vitamin-enhanced waters are often used as a crutch to replace a varied and balanced diet. What's more, it doesn’t have the right electrolyte blend to replenish what’s lost from sweat during an intense workout or if you are exercising in hot and humid conditions. That’s when it is a good idea to turn to a sports drink instead. Sports drinks are specially formulated to help serious athletes replenish fluid and electrolytes from sweat lost and carbohydrate calories to fuel muscles.
Protein bars are usually higher in calories, protein-packed to feed tired muscles, and filled with carbs to replace energy stores. However, they can be overly sweetened and heavy in calories. Also, many protein bars contain a laundry list of ingredients and preservatives you don’t need to put into your finely tuned body.
Although convenient, you can get the same energy post-workout from whole foods like a glass of low fat chocolate milk or a turkey sandwich. If you like the grab-and-go nature of protein bars, then choose wisely. Look for those with between 300 to 400 calories and 15-20 grams of protein per bar (like CLIF bars). Also forgo low-carb bars as you actually need those carbs to help replace energy stores lost during your workout.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up right before a workout, skip the whole grain bread or other fiber-filled foods. High fiber foods take longer to digest and the energy won’t be available in time for your workout. Instead, snack on a piece of fresh fruit or yogurt before your workout. Or, check out the Men's Fitness picks for Best Pre-Workout Foods.
Energy drinks contain stimulants, sometimes caffeine, but oftentimes non-regulated ingredients by the FDA. Although energy drinks increase short-term energy by giving you a buzz, they also increase heart rate—something you just don’t want to mess around with. Most energy drinks also contain a lot of sugar, which ends up racking up unnecessary calories.
If you need a stimulant fix, stick to a cup a day of good old coffee or tea.
That said, skip the fru fru coffee drinks and stick to plain old Joe (get it black or with a splash of low or nonfat milk). Caffeine is a stimulant (great for athletic performance) and does contain antioxidants, but fancy coffee drinks, like mochas and blended beverages, oftentimes contain loads of calories and mounds of sugar.
Coconut oil has become the fat of choice for many. However, people forget that coconut is still a fat and contains 120 calories per tablespoon. They end up using several tablespoons of coconut oil throughout the day, adding hundreds (if not thousands) of unnecessary calories, which can lead to unwanted weight gain. Although fat is important for peak athletic performance, going overboard can compromise it. You want to be careful with the amount of fat immediately before exercise because you won’t have time to digest it. Fat the night before a workout or race (in moderation) is okay, because your body will store it as fuel to be used during that exercise.