Historically, I've been of the mind that on workout days, you can get away with eating pretty much whatever you want. I've been known to pregame yoga with boozy brunch and dance cardio with diet Coke. However, I can't say I've never regretted these choices. (A few months ago, I nearly became reacquainted with my brunch midway through a ModelFit class).
But trainers agree that when thinking about what to eat before a workout, it shouldn't be a matter of what you can "get away with," but instead what will best serve your body. "You don't want something that fills you up too much or will come back up in the middle of a workout," says Diana Mitrea, who is both a certified personal trainer and a group fitness instructor. (It's as if she could intuit my ModelFit incident.) When you eat something that makes you feel bloated or sick, then it becomes hard to commit to your session, and you won't end up with the results you want. Of course, everybody's food tolerances are different—what might be irritating for one person might be perfectly satisfactory for another. "I can't do a protein shake because it tends to be a big volume and can feel like too much in my stomach," Mitrea continues. "It's mainly what you prefer."
That said, there are certain foods that are more likely to mess with your workout than others. Keep scrolling to discover the foods to consider avoiding before a workout (and the ones you should reach for instead).
Foods to Skip:
According to Erika Hammond, a founding trainer at Rumble Boxing, pre-workout is not the time to focus on fiber intake. "Anything high in fiber can cause bloating during your workout," she says. That means leaving hummus, beans, broccoli, and fiber-supplemented cereals for another time.
Trainers are unanimous: Enjoy your La Croix after working out, not before. "It is not great to drink anything with bubbles before a workout," says Ashley Guarrasi, another founding trainer at Rumble Boxing. "Things such as sodas, fizzy water, and beer cause the stomach to expand with gas, which can produce indigestion and discomfort."
It probably goes without saying, but alcohol of any kind of before a workout is not recommended. "Your workout is your time to impress yourself with what your body can accomplish," says Mitrea. "Don't hold yourself back by drinking alcohol."
The story is pretty much the same for dairy products, which are mucous-forming and hard to digest. "Dairy can cause bloating and gas as well," Hammond says. So even though a Greek yogurt or egg and cheese omelet sound like smart pre-workout fuel, your tummy might think otherwise.
Granola bars and cookies are convenient to throw in your gym bag, but they won't give you the sustenance you need for a good session. "High sugar and processed food can slow your energy levels, giving you that crash effect after too much sugar," says Hammond. Look for hidden sugars in your protein bars—they might contain more than you'd think.
Delicious, but ill-advised: "Oils, creams, and butters are not what you want in your body if you are trying to perform at your best," Hammond says. The problem, according to Guarrasi, is that "greasy foods like burgers, fries, and pizza contain saturated fats that stay in the digestive tract longer and can cause bloating and cramping." Donuts and pastries can be an even poorer choice, as they give you a double whammy of fat and sugar.
Science says that caffeine can actually enhance workout performance, but consider getting your coffee iced. "Hot beverages, such as hot coffee or tea, tend to make [you] sweat too much," Mitrea says. It's not a matter of safety or health, just comfort.
Foods to Choose:
So what should you eat before hitting the gym? "Healthy fat that is metabolized fast, such as almond butter or peanut butter, is best for before a workout," Guarrasi says. "If they are easily digestible, it helps fuel your workout because your body can assist the muscles being used in the workout instead of trying to break down a meal." As Mitrea adds, "I know many trainers who opt for a spoon of peanut butter or a handful of nuts for that pre-workout snack."
Combine your healthy fats with a complex carb for the perfect pre-workout eat. "Before a workout, you want to reach for foods that give you the energy you need," Hammond says. "Complex carbs offer the right energy—oatmeal is a great go to."
Try sprinkling some walnuts on a bowl of Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats ($6).