9 Foods to Avoid Before a Workout

Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN
by Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN
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9 Foods to Avoid Before a Workout

What to eat before working out is an important consideration for many active folks, but what not to eat is just as key for an awesome exercise sesh. Exercise requires a large volume of blood to be pumped to working muscles. Consequently, blood flow to the stomach is reduced during exercise. For this reason, you don’t want your stomach to work harder than it has to because that may lead to tummy troubles. While some athletes may have an “iron stomach” and can get away with eating some of these pre-workout no-no’s, in general most folks should avoid these nine foods before exercise.

9 Foods to Avoid Before a Workout

Think: black bean burgers, three-bean soup and veggie-bean burritos. Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat …. y’all know what happens next. Athletes on high-fiber vegetarian diets may have GI tracts that are adjusted to a load of beans, but many would have difficulty with a pre-workout fiber bomb. (Fun fact: 1 cup of beans contains 16 grams of fiber, about half of a day’s worth!) An even bigger culprit for stomach upset? The indigestible carbohydrate raffinose, which beans are a rich source of.

We’re talking bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. While these vegetables are very healthy and contain potent anti-cancer properties, their sulfur-containing compounds can cause gas in some people. (Think: rotten egg smell.) These veggies are also high in raffinose, making eating a bowl of cruciferous veggies before a workout a digestive double whammy.

9 Foods to Avoid Before a Workout

If you’re sensitive or intolerant to a certain food, it’s important to avoid it before working out. Lactose-intolerant athletes should steer clear of lactose-heavy dairy products like milk and soft cheeses, as they could lead to intestinal cramping. Hard cheeses, yogurt, kefir and lactose-free milk are delicious dairy options for those who need a low-lactose diet.

Before you hit the gym, avoid greasy fried foods like burgers, fries and pizza, as they have saturated fats that stay in the digestive system longer and are harder to digest. These foods can lead to bloating, cramping and diarrhea.

Sodas, fizzy waters and beer cause the stomach to expand with gas — producing discomfort, indigestion and flatulence. No one wants this trio during yoga class.

Hydration is key, but alcohol doesn’t count toward that daily goal. Not only do alcoholic beverages have diuretic properties, they are dehydrating, and they suppress fat oxidation, making it harder to achieve body composition goals. And, of course, exercising under the influence can lead to injury.

While juice does contain carbs and fluids (important pre-workout requirements), downing a cup of juice immediately before a workout might not be the smartest idea. Fruit juice is high in fructose, a sugar that doesn’t digest as quickly and could cause stomach cramps, especially for those with irritable bowel syndrome or fructose sensitivities. Juices like orange or tart cherry are great foods for active people, as they provide essential vitamins and minerals needed for recovery, but it’s best to consume them as part of a meal or smoothie an hour or more before exercise and/or after a workout to rehydrate and refuel.

9 Foods to Avoid Before a Workout

Pastries, doughnuts, scones and ice cream are all on the “no” list. Desserts are high in fats like oils, shortening, cream and butter — not what you want in your body when you’re trying to perform at your best.

While some people may be able to work out after eating an extra-hot bowl of pad Thai, spicy foods stimulate the digestive system and may cause heartburn, which is not what you want during a workout. Before working out (especially pre-competition), it’s best to avoid spicy foods for up to 24 hours before to give the GI tract a rest. Choose bland, easy-to-digest foods before a workout.


Running out the door for a workout? Stick to simple carbohydrates, which are easily digested. Some good options are a slice of toast with jam, a small apple or banana, a small box of raisins or a few swigs of a sports drink. If you’ve got at least 1–2 hours before a workout, here are some more satisfying options to consider:

  • Oatmeal with fresh berries and nut butter
  • Turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread
  • Bagel with banana and peanut butter
  • Rice bowl with (non-cruciferous) veggies, chicken or salmon
  • Yogurt or smoothie bowl

Originally published September 2017, updated with additional reporting

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About the Author

Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN
Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN

Kristina is a board certified sports dietitian located in Orlando, Florida where she specializes in intuitive and mindful eating. She is the author of the food and nutrition blog, Love & Zest where she shares {mostly} healthy recipes with simple ingredients that are meant for real life. As a new mom, she knows that eating well and living an active lifestyle isn’t always easy… but it’s always worth it!! Kristina loves spending time outdoors with her family, sweaty workouts, and a good cup of coffee. Get in touch with her for one-on-one nutrition coaching (virtually or in person), or connect with her on PinterestInstagramFacebook  and YouTube.


30 responses to “9 Foods to Avoid Before a Workout”

  1. Avatar slrigney3 says:

    so…you state not to eat yogurt before the workout but then suggest a yogurt bowl…? not so sure that this is not a conflict here….

    • Avatar Christina S says:

      She states if you have an hour or two prior to your workout, then it’s ok. The body has time to process it.

    • Avatar Christina says:

      Hi, I re read the post about the dairy and it states that if you have a dairy intolerance to lactose then steer clear. But otherwise it’s OK.

  2. Avatar Mike777 says:

    She does not say to avoid yogurt; it is listed as an alternative

  3. I’m doing Weight Watchers, and it’s working fantastic for me. I’m losing about 10 pounds per month. (40 pounds so far). HOWEVER, most of the things that they say are okay to eat on this site, are a HUGE no-no on Weight Watchers. The only thing on the list that would be a smart choice for me, would be the turkey sandwich, but only if it were made as a wrap. Fat free yogurt is the only other choice that is good. Rice? Huge point killer. Oatmeal? Healthy? Yes. Point killer? Yes. A bagel? You’d die if you saw how many points one bagel will consume. BUT, on Weight Watchers, you can eat all the fruit you want. Points? Zero, on ALL fruits. Something to think about. Randy McDaniels, TLC.

    • Avatar disqus_YdgZkuzrpE says:

      Points are arbitrarily assigned. Calories are measures of energy. If you measure what you eat and count calories you don’t need points.

    • Avatar mrprytania says:

      Hi Lazy. From your description it reads like WW is a variation of a low carb or steering you towards a low carb diet. Have you done a comparison of “points” vs their carb / sugar content? Would be interesting. Thanks.

    • Avatar proudmomm says:

      The problem with WW is that you can’t have stuff but if you are just counting with MFP then you can say oh I can have that!! that has made a difference for me to go from I can’t to I can. Yes I can have dessert today but I was careful on everything else I ate!! Give it a try!

  4. Avatar Catherine L says:

    Ha — the rules are simple: if it makes you fart, don’t eat it.

  5. Avatar Chris I says:

    When there’s a line for the elliptical, I walk by it and let one rip. This usually clears out the line and gets me on the machine much quicker. I’ve even gotten people off the machines I want to use by releasing a nice juicy gas bomb in the vicinity. I usually then wave my hand back and forth in front of my nose and point at the nearest older person. Works like a charm!

  6. Avatar Anthony Savage says:

    Hmmm, my best pre-workout meal consists of ice water and black coffee. Fantastic for burning fat and I am not trying to compete with an insulin surge. Alternately, a pre-workout drink (like x-plod) really helps motivate me!

    • Avatar robinbishop34 says:

      Not sure what kind of workout you’re doing, but if you’re attempting to build muscle/strength… even endurance, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Pre and post workout meals are essential for any progress.

      – Replenish muscle glycogen that was depleted during your workout.
      – Reduce muscle protein breakdown caused by exercise.
      – Increase muscle protein synthesis.
      – Reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.
      – Greatly enhance overall recovery.
      – Reduce cortisol levels.

      If on the other hand you’re trying to lose fat and you only engage in moderate activity as a means to burn extra calories, you’re probably okay.

    • Avatar Michelle says:

      My trainer told me that caffeine is great for pre-workout, because it helps your blood accept oxygen. So I have an iced coffee on the drive between the office and my gym. Great energy boost too!

  7. Avatar robinbishop34 says:

    Pre-Workout (energy phase): Solid meal consisting of 0.25g per pound target body weight of both protein and carbs 60-90 minutes b/f workout. Think eggs, cottage cheese, low-glycemic carbs.


    Fast digesting source of protein and carbs (again both at 0.25g per/lb target bodyweight) 30 minutes before workout. Think protein shake with berries blended in.

    To stay within daily calorie expenditure, try to derive most calories preworkout from protein and carbs… not much fat.

    Post-Workout (anabolic stage): Exact same ratio of protein and carbs but you may want to swap out the lower glycemic carbs with higher ones… and you’ll want to get this down soon after the workout. Always remember that these meals count toward TDEE, NOT in addition to.

    Within 2-3 hours after post-workout meal, you’ll want to have a regular, balanced meal that includes good amount of protein, low-glycemic carbs, and healthy fats as per your individual macro limits. All are essential for muscle recovery, repair, and strength/growth.

  8. Avatar Jonathan Bowen says:

    This is loaded with inaccuracies. If you’re going to write blogs for guys and girls you need to understand girls have a small part of the fitness equation to consider. If you’re not going to work to understand that, you need to stick to writing for chicks. Saturated fat and fat in general is a testosterone boosting nutrient and there’s nothing wrong with consuming it before a workout. I presume with all of these you’re talking a normal 1 hour or more before a workout. Most guys are going to do their workout after their largest meal to maximize their energy level, which means yes that may include saturated fat. I bet you didn’t know – since you like repeating myths – that saturated fat is actually GOOD for you and an essential testosterone boosting nutrient. As with anything, you don’t want to overdo it, but to single it out just shows a lack of sports nutrition knowledge. Furthermore, athletes with lactose intolerance should avoid lactose?! Hahahaha no kidding! Anyone who is lactose intolerant should avoid lactose! This article was beyond stupid. Now excuse me while I go unsubscribe.

  9. Avatar Helen Hines says:

    She says dont eat yogurt and then below its ok to eat yogut. So, which is it, yes or no?

    • Avatar DaMerman58 says:

      “Hard cheeses, yogurt, kefir and lactose-free milk are delicious dairy options for those who need a low-lactose diet.” 😉

    • Avatar robinbishop34 says:

      It is perfectly fine to eat yogurt.. particularly greek yogurt, as part of your pre/post workout meals. It’s a low calorie/high (complete) protein source.

  10. Avatar Evince says:

    Is this the “how not to FART” article?

    Take “Beano” with beans, and you’ll be fine. 11 cents each.

    People know their limits, except with alcohol.

    “Might cause heartburn”???? Really? Is that a reason to skip spicy food 24 hours before?

  11. Avatar robinbishop34 says:

    You’re correct that the post work out supplementation is much more important, however the pre-workout meal is important if engaging in a heavy lifting/muscle building routine. The idea is if glycogen levels are depleted and you engage in demanding activity, your body will use amino acids as a quick source of fuel rather than existing fat stores (defeats the purpose when trying to add muscle mass) as well as provides additional energy necessary to push or pull the brutal, final 2 to 3 reps of the last set of each exercise.

  12. Avatar Michelle says:

    They don’t mention another side effect of spicy foods, either: the smells don’t always come out your nether regions. My favorite sandwich is pastrami on rye. If I eat one before a workout, my neighbors on the gym floor, running track, etc can tell. I sweat it out. While it’s not great for your social life, it DOES keep the mosquitoes away! 🙂

  13. Avatar Северо Восток says:

    WTF… first they say no dairy products – then fuel up with yogurt.
    Where is logic?

  14. Avatar Larry says:

    I normally don’t eat what I don’t see prior to my morning run. Nothings worse than those hunger pains during a run.

  15. Avatar vacalderon says:

    How much time before are we talking about?

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