There is any amount of information about what to eat before training to maximize performance, build the most muscle and speed recovery. But is there anything you should avoid? Foods that might slow you down or even stop you in your tracks? Below are the five foods to avoid before you exercise and what to eat instead.
1. Spicy foods
There are people who can eat a whole bowl of chilies, no problem but for many, spicy foods can leave you with a serious case of heartburn – which can be very distracting especially during key events. A lot of chilies or spicy peppers can also irritate your gut further along down. Unless you are well used to it, this can lead to a case of “intestinal hurry” when you need it least. Lay off the hot spices just before you train and up to 24 hours before a big event.
Avoiding chilli? Flavour foods with herbs like basil and cooler spices like cumin, coriander and turmeric.
2. Fast Food
Although high fat foods like pizza, burgers and chips have a lot of energy (read: calories) they are the foods that take the longest to leave your stomach. A low-fat meal that includes carbs, lean proteins and vegetables will typically clear your stomach in less than 2 hours. If you eat something high in fat, then it can take up to 4 hours to clear your stomach. Not something you want to be running on!
Try fish, lean meat or chicken grilled or baked – not fried. Pair with pasta, rice or other wholegrains and a good serving of veg or salad. Sandwiches and wraps with tuna, turkey slices or cold meats are great options.
It may sound obvious not to drink before training but it is still worth a mention. Not only will alcohol make you feel more sleepy, it also dehydrates you. And there is nothing like dehydration to slow you down and make you cut a workout short. Alcohol also stops you from getting a good nights’ sleep (yes, you will fall asleep more easily but you don’t get the deep sleep you really need). So avoid alcohol the night before an important training session or event.
4. New Gels or Carbohydrate Supplements
Although carbs added during a long distance event can boost your energy and get you across the finish line, trying a new one out on event day can be a disaster. There are a range of different carb gels all based on different kinds of sugars. A surprising number of people can have a negative reaction to a large amount of a new carb gel. From bloating and cramps to excessive wind and an urgent need for the loo, symptoms can be enough to stop you in your tracks. Try out new gels well in advance of an event and as a specific part of your training to find out what works best for you.
Although avocados count as one of your 5-a-day and are packed with healthy monounsaturated fat, their high fat content means they are another food that can take time to leave your stomach. This also holds true for foods like nuts and hummus: really healthy and a great source of protein after training, but high in fat and not something eat in large amounts beforehand. Keep the avocados for after...
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Sarah Keogh in association with John West
Consultant Nutritionist - MSc., BSc., MINDI
Sarah has a degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from Trinity College and a Masters in European Food Regulation.
She runs a food and nutrition consultancy giving one-to-one advice on nutrition and diet as well as working with some of Ireland's leading food companies.