What do you eat before your workout? The wrong foods can wreak havoc on your body—and sabotage your exercise routine.
John A. Phillips 1 / 6
All psyched up for that killer session in the gym? Having explosive energy is key, but eating the wrong foods too close to go-time can really ruin your workout and set your training back in a big way.
“Putting the wrong things in your tank before you exercise can leave you lethargic, crash your system, or cause wicked cramps,” says Jim White, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “And going on empty can do the same.”
So don’t doom your cardio or weight session before it even starts. Here, the biggest pre-workout diet mistakes many men make—and why you should avoid them.
You’ve come up against an afternoon energy crash and are hoping that chocolate donut—which has been sitting on your desk since morning—will give you a high you can ride straight through your last rep. In reality, though, it’s going to do the opposite.
“Anything that sweet and high in refined carbs will spike your blood sugar—and cause you to crash right in the middle of your workout,” says White.
So you don’t necessarily intend to exercise after housing a hamburger value meal, but as it sits like a brick in your stomach, you feel desperate to work it off. Hey, whatever gets you to the gym, right?
Wrong. High-fat meals can take up to four hours to digest, which will seriously slow you down. “All your blood is flowing to your stomach to help with digestion, which means it’s moving away from your muscles when they need it most,” says White.
You think that going for a run right on the edge of hunger will help you burn off tons of fat? Sucker. All it’s going to do is make your workout feel like hell.
“Training hard on an empty stomach starves your muscles of glycogen—which makes them tire faster,” says White. “Even something small, like a piece of fruit and some yogurt, will give your entire body a much-needed boost.”
This one’s tricky, because research has proven that a little pre-workout caffeine can rev you up. The problem is, monstrous energy drinks also have tons of workout-crashing sugar (See: “The high amounts of caffeine in many of these drinks can really wreck your sleeping habits, setting off a vicious cycle,” says White. “Because when you don’t get enough sleep, your workouts and diet suffer, too.”
We’ve all seen Rocky, where America’s favorite fictional-champ-in-training starts his day off by chugging a glassful of raw eggs. And while a hit of protein before a workout can help build muscle, there are much better ways to get it than a rank-tasting beverage…that could come with a side dose of diarrhea-causing salmonella.
So what should you have instead? For a pre-workout snack, White recommends Greek yogurt or cottage cheese paired with a healthy carb, like fruit—or downing a modest protein shake (about 200-300 calories) 45 minutes before you’re set to sweat.