Never Eat This One Thing Before Working Out, Experts Warn

Fueling up with this food could be slowing you down.

Exercise is a great way to enhance our health, but between busy work schedules, family, and other commitments, it can be hard to find the energy, even when we make the time. That's where your diet comes in. Experts say eating certain foods can help enhance your athletic performance, allowing you to make the most of your time at the gym. In fact, studies also show that there's one type of food you should never eat before working out, since it can actually inhibit your performance. Read on to learn which one thing you should never eat before exercising—and what to fuel up with instead.

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Timing your meals intentionally can help fuel your workout.

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Eating the wrong foods before a workout can make you feel bloated, lethargic, or nauseous—all of which can slow down your athletic performance. Of course, food is fuel, so not eating enough can leave you feeling low-energy, light-headed, and hungry. The key is to strike the right balance of nutrients to turbo-charge your time spent on the treadmill or in the weight room. It's also important to plan a meal schedule that aids digestion before hitting the gym.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it's best to wait at least three to four hours between eating a larger meal and working out. You can eat smaller meals or snacks one to three hours before exercising, and this should give you a slight energy boost. "Snacks eaten soon before exercise probably won't give you added energy if your workout lasts less than 60 minutes, but they may prevent distracting hunger pangs," their experts write.

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Never eat this right before exercising.

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Healthy fats are an important part of your diet, and they should make up roughly 35 percent of your caloric intake, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, experts advise against eating high-fat foods in the hours leading up to a workout. That's because it takes more energy to process fats, and this can slow you down as you exercise.

If you do choose to eat fats as part of your pre-workout snack, it's still best to avoid saturated fats in favor of more nutritious choices. Healthy sources of fat include nuts, avocados, fatty fish, chia seeds, eggs, and olive oil.

Eating a high-carbohydrate diet may enhance athletic performance.

Portrait of woman eating oatmeal with fruits for breakfast
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Studies have shown that eating complex carbohydrates in the days and hours leading up to an intense or prolonged workout can help enhance endurance.

"A key goal of pre-exercise nutritional strategies is to maximize carbohydrate stores, thereby minimizing the ergolytic [performance-impairing] effects of carbohydrate depletion," says a 2004 study published in the Journal of Sports Science. In fact, researchers found that increasing dietary carbohydrate intake in the days before athletic competitions lasting 90 minutes or more increased muscle glycogen levels—stored fuel for muscle building—and enhanced exercise performance.

However, balance in your diet is key.

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Though eating carbohydrates is a great way to fuel up for your workout, the best thing you can do for your overall health is to eat a wide variety of whole foods that offer a range of nutrients. Fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals are all crucial, and can be found in lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.

Listening to your body as you try out different food combinations can help you achieve optimal balance. "Individual experience should inform individual practice," the Sports Science study notes.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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