If you’ve mustered the willpower to get yourself to the gym, good for you—that’s half the battle. But once you’re at the gym and start scrolling Instagram for dumbbell exercises or triceps exercises, the real challenge is finding the energy to workout.
Your body requires the right kind of fuel to perform—especially through those last 10 minutes of HIIT class. While you know not to load up on cakes, pizza or champagne an hour or two before a sweat sesh, there are some more surprising—even seemingly healthy—pre-workout foods that are equally not so great.
We talked to top nutritionists and dietitians to uncover which ingredients make the worst exercise fuel and what you should be eating instead.
1. LEAFY GREENS
While a diet rich in salads and veggies is normally great, raw greens like kale, spinach and broccoli can cause serious discomfort when you’re on the move. “Thanks to their high fibre content, leafy green vegetables are almost guaranteed to cause abdominal distention—a.k.a. gas and bloating,” says Philip Goglia, Ph.D., author of Turn Up The Heat: Unlock the Fat-Burning Power of Your Metabolism. “If you’re in the mood for something light before your workout, swap a green salad for a green smoothie,” says Katie Serbinski, registered dietitian. “Just mix your favourite fruit with 65g greens, water and some dried oats or granola.” It’ll go down way easier.
2. SPORTS DRINKS
Your favourite athlete might guzzle bottles of energy drinks, but most brands on the market offer little nutrition—and way too much sugar. “Sports drinks can offer some vitamins and electrolytes, but the high sugar content goes right through your system in the blink of an eye causing you to crash later on,” says Serbinksi.
“Instead, opt for a lower sodium tomato juice, which provides potassium, promotes healthy blood pressure, and may even help you stay hydrated thanks to its low sodium content,” says Nancy Teeter, registered dietitian.
3. HUMMUS OR BEAN DIP
There’s no doubt that beans are a great source of protein. But prepackaged hummus and bean dips often contain lots of added oils—and are also prone to moulding. “If you’ve personally soaked the beans prior to cooking them, then you’re releasing the mould from them, but if not, you run the risk of consuming a high mould food that can lead to inflammation and reduction of oxygen consumption,” says Goglia. “Most athletes distance themselves from prepackaged dips of this sort for that very reason.” Fuel up with a few bites of low fat cottage cheese, instead—it’s light, satisfying and protein rich, without all the oil.
4. WHOLEGRAIN BREADS AND MUFFINS
While ordering the wholegrain version is usually a good move, it’s not when you’re about to work out. “Carbs in general that are yeast and gluten bound are inflammatory, meaning they hold water and cause bloating,” says Goglia. “They’re providing you with energy because they’re a sugar, but the side effects far outweigh the benefits.” Instead, opt for a plain, white tortilla that has less fibre and top it with a little nut butter and sliced banana for an extra kick of energy, suggests Serbinski.
5. RAW SEEDS
Grabbing a handful of raw seeds to nosh on pre-yoga might only leave you with bloat and stomach discomfort. “It’s all because of their fat content, which can be limited when you combine them with other foods that are lower in fibre,” says Serbinski. “Consider mixing just a teaspoon or two of your favourite seed with a half cup of porridge. The combination of fat, protein and carbs is the trifecta your body needs to perform at its best.”
6. ANYTHING SPICY
No one wants to push through a crampy, heartburn-inducing workout—and that’s the risk you run when you load up on last night’s Pad Thai or those jalapeno-flavoured crisps. “Foods with that much flavour and seasoning require a great deal of digestion time, setting you up for a nap rather than a heavy workout,” says Goglia. “If you’re craving something bold and savoury, opt for some chicken or turkey, packed with protein and low in mostly everything else.” Just remember to buy brands that have reduced sodium and little-to-no artificial additives.
7. PROTEIN BARS
“Don’t be fooled by crafty marketing,” says Goglia. “Unless what you’re eating tastes like salmon, chicken or steak instead of biscuits or chocolate, chances are it’s loaded with sugar and fairy dusting of some kind.” If you’re looking for something on-the-go and a bar is all you can find, make sure it’s one that offers up at least a healthy 50-50 split of sugar and fat content, he says. His favourites are Kind Bars or Cliff Bars.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.
Try these Healthy Smoothie Recipes or 9 Nutribullet Recipes for breakfast inspiration.