It feels awesome to finish a workout, that is, if you're able to get through it in one piece. Sometimes your stomach just doesn't want to cooperate, and tummy troubles can definitely disrupt a workout. Avoiding foods that cause stomach problems during a workout can set you up for greater success and endurance, as you'll feel better off in your own skin and have more agility. Stomach aches can especially interfere with high-intensity movements, like those found in a tabata, bootcamp, HIIT, or cycling class, for instance.
As a certified health coach, I work with clients on taking their fitness regimens to new heights, ones where they are challenging themselves and feeling accomplished upon making progress towards their goals. Some examples include: overcoming fear within a group-class element, taking the intensity up a notch in sprints, or increasing weights or reps for a given exercise. As the body adjusts to different movements, it's important to keep up with variety and manipulation of variables in order to shock the body and boost the metabolism. When your stomach hurts, you're not able to meet these goals, as workouts become way more difficult. Here are 11 foods that can cause a stomach ache when you're working out and should be saved for post-workout pleasure.
1. Breakfast Burrito
Eating a massive breakfast item, such as a breakfast burrito, can be too hard on the stomach before a workout, advises Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, over email with Bustle. "A lot of factors play a part in nutrition and your fitness routine. For instance, if you're planning to go for a run, the nutrition your body needs will vary depending on the length of your run and your individual body's tolerance. I would not recommend having a large breakfast burrito or donut prior to a run, as the grease and fat content in these foods could easily cause stomach distress during the workout," says Shaw. "However, a bowl of oatmeal, toast with banana slice and nut butter or something of a similar fashion is perfect," Shaw recommends.
While eating raw greens is totally healthy and a great option for a hearty lunch or light dinner, eating too many fibrous, raw foods prior to working out can be tough for the stomach to digest in time, advises Lauren Blake, RD, LDN, CHWC at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, over email with Bustle. "For many people, limiting high-fiber foods within 4 hours of exercise can help you avoid stomach discomfort and gas. Fiber slows down digestion, so eating high fiber foods right before a tough workout can cause cramps and excess gas," says Blake.
3. High-Protein Shakes & Bars
According to Blake, "while protein is an important fuel source and helps with muscle recovery, it can be a double-edged sword." Blake explains, "Some pre-workout bars and shakes pack high amounts of protein but lack in sufficient carbs, which can deplete energy levels. Protein digests slower than carbohydrate, so you can still feel tired and shaky even though you have eaten. As a general guideline, aim for a 4:1 carb-to- protein ratio to keep your energy levels up." This is especially true if these bars contain gluten, as gluten can irritate the stomach in some people.
4. Heavy Dishes
While this isn't one singular food, eating excess of anything before a workout can be troublesome for the stomach when working out and it can lead to cramping and decreased mobility, explains Blake. "During a tough workout, blood flows away from the gut in order to provide larger muscles with adequate energy. This redistribution of blood causes a number of GI distresses like diarrhea, reduced digestion, and nausea. This may be the reason why some workouts make you feel like throwing up," advises Blake.
5. Citrus Foods
Maybe rethink that glass of OJ before a morning spin class. "Highly acidic foods like tomato sauce, spicy, fried foods, and some citrus fruits can cause indigestion when working out for some people," says Blake. "For people prone to heartburn or indigestion, exercises involving inverting your body, such as sit-ups, or yoga postures like headstands, can cause the contents of your stomach to plunge toward the esophagus. Highly acidic foods are known to exacerbate this process," Blake further advises.
Coffee, as well as soda, advises Blake, are very acidic and dehydrating, and lack of hydration can lead to decreased performance during workouts. "If you are dehydrated during a workout, you might feel lightheaded, weak, and your stomach will probably cramp up if you are doing cardio. Drink 14-22 oz of water 2-3 hours before a workout, plus an additional 8-10 oz 30 minutes before you begin," adds Blake.
7. Sugary & Processed Foods
According to Shaw, eating foods that are high in refined sugars and processed additives can lead to a lack of efficient energy and fatigue during workouts (the sugar crash is totally real). Plus, usually these baked goods aren't very nutritious, and you need lots of healthy nutrients to power your workouts and muscles as needed.
Instead of lathering a slab of butter on your bagel in the AM (and maybe swap the bagel for a thinner slice, such as whole wheat toast or an English muffin) before a workout, choose something that has a bit of healthy fats and protein, instead. Butter is high in unhealthy fats that can make you sluggish and lead to stomach aches. Great options include nut butter, hummus, olive oil, or avocado.
Over email with Bustle, running coach and personal trainer Susie Lemmer says that dairy can cause adverse reactions in some people, especially in those suffering from digestive conditions and autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn's or IBS. If your stomach doesn't take dairy well, ditch it before hitting the track.
10. Spicy Foods
If you're heading to the gym, swap the tabasco sauce for a more mild condiment. While eating spicy foods can rev the metabolism and boost your health, it is acidic, and it can lead to great inflammation and stomach aches during a workout (which you'll soon regret).
Eating beans can be a great way to add nutrients, protein, fiber, and iron to your diet, and it's a super food for any vegans and vegetarians out there. Unfortunately, it doesn't come without a price; that being gas. Having beans before a workout can lead to indigestion and stomach pain, inflammation, and lots and lots of gas. Let's just say, I wouldn't want to be the person behind you on the elliptical.
If you notice you're having stomach issues during your workout and it's messing with your performance, consider your diet. Are you eating these foods? If so, make some better swaps so you'll get through your gym session sweaty, smiling, and stomach-pain free.
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