What to Eat Before Exercising

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We’re all familiar with the conventional wisdom about how it’s not a good idea to eat or drink anything for an hour before exercising. While following this advice certainly can’t hurt, it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are certain types of food and beverages that, when consumed immediately before exercise, can lead to cramps and poor performance. But there are plenty of things an athlete can eat or drink that may actually boost performance—or at the very least won’t hurt. The key is to consume things in moderation, and to know what you can and can’t have. Here’s the current consensus among the experts.

1. Not too much: There’s one thing that we should get out of the way: Eating or drinking a large amount before exercising is not a good idea. It doesn’t matter what the food or beverages is; if you have too much of it, it’s going to be bad. So no matter what you do, stay away from the large meals. And if you do eat something big, try to allow at least 2 hours for the food to digest. Four hours is even better.

2. Focus on carbs: The pre-exercise hour is one time when it’s actually a good idea to consume carbs. But of course, when doing so, it’s best to consume high-quality carbs. Stay away from highly processed sugary snacks, as they’ll only slow you down and make you feel woozy. Instead, have sugary fruits, whole-grain breads, and healthy energy bars.

3. Avoid fats: Foods with high fat content are particularly slow and laborious in digesting, which means they can drain away important blood from your brain and muscles, which will naturally decrease your performance. Try to stay away from fatty meats, french fries, potato chips, candy bars, and sweet pastries before exercising, or else you’ll suffer the consequences.

4. Don’t use caffeine: There’s a widespread rumor going around that caffeine can boost your athletic performance, but this claim is dubious at best. Caffeine can be helpful when it comes to providing you the energy to get off the couch and get moving, but it’s not going to do much when it comes to actually exercising. In fact, because caffeine is a natural diuretic, it may just cause you to become dehydrated very rapidly. Plus, coffee has been known to cause severe cramps and headaches when drunk in abundance prior to exercise.

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