Fueling up before a game, practice or workout can take your performance to the next level, provided you’re loading the right stuff onto your plate. Chow down on the wrong stuff, however, and your best-laid plans could go to waste. Trust us, the last thing you want to do is head to the bathroom between wind sprints. There’s no need for trial and error—here, with the help of leading sports nutritionists, we’ve rounded up seven foods that are ruining your workouts.
The poster child for a healthy meal, “a salad is healthy, but not the best choice before a workout,” says Erica Giovinazzo, RD and a coach at Brick CrossFit in New York. “All those veggies are high in fiber, and fiber slows down digestion. This could lead to bloating and gas during your workout.”
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Hot Sauces and Spices
Sprinting down the sideline is hard enough, but add a few teaspoons of Tabasco to your stomach and it’ll be darn near impossible to finish without tossing your lunch. “Many athletes report that spicy foods can cause heartburn or that the food will ‘talk back’ if consumed right before a workout,” says Pam Nisevich, MS, RD. “Avoid hot sauces, spicy curries and other fragrant, highly seasoned foods right before [a workout or game].”
Fried foods are generally tough on the stomach, but they can be especially detrimental before exercise. “High fat items like fried food take longer to digest, so you’re likely to feel weighed down and sluggish if you eat these foods right before a workout,” says Nisevich. “Also, fat relaxes the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus which can mean heartburn during the workout.”
“[Other] examples of foods high in fat and low in carbs include chips, cookies and pizza,” adds Joy Dubost, RD.
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You might think a jolt of sugar before a game might help you blitz past defenders, but Tara Ostrowe, RD, team sports nutritionist for the New York Giants, suggests otherwise. “Avoid anything high in sugar content before a workout or game,” she advises. “Sugar will spike your insulin levels and will cause your body to be in storage mode instead of helping your body utilize the energy for the workout. High sugar intake can also lead to gastrointestinal distress and cramping during the workout.”
Creamy Foods and Sauces
If you know it’s going to “sit in your stomach” for a few hours after you’ve eaten, you definitely don’t want to chow down on it before exercise. “Cream-based foods and sauces can cause gastrointestinal distress such as bloating and heartburn,” Ostrowe says. “High fat foods will slow you down and prevent optimal performance, since blood, oxygen and energy will now be shared with your digestive organs instead of solely your muscles.”
A slab of fatty meat is not a good bet for athletes, and it’s even worse if you’re priming yourself for performance. “Even though the protein is great, a burger is high in fat, and fat can take a few hours to digest,” Giovinazzo says. “High fat foods, even if they’re very healthy choices like avocado, can stay in your system for awhile, making you feel nauseous during your workout.”
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Whole grains are another choice that athletes usually feel comfortable about loading onto their plates, but should avoid before exercise. “Right before working out is not a good time to consume [fiber],” says Nisevich. “That’s because fiber acts as a broom in the GI tract, and too much of a good thing can wreck havoc on intense workouts. You can eat whole grains and high fiber cereals throughout the day—just not in the hours leading up to a workout!”