The One "Healthy" Thing to Avoid Before a Workout

Updated 04/19/19
What to Do Before a Workout
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Whether you're a regular at your local gym or like to run a few miles here and there, chances are you have a specific pre-workout routine to get your body primed and ready to go—I know, for example, that I feel my most motivated early in the morning on an empty stomach, and I'll knock back a few arnica capsules to stave off soreness and inflammation before I even begin to break a sweat. But that's just me—some might love to fuel up with a protein shake, while others swear by a pre-gym cup of coffee.

While personal preference is obviously a key factor here, there's also science to back up some of these rituals. You probably already know that stretching and foam-rolling are shown to maximize results (and more importantly, stave off injury). Research shows that caffeine can enhance your mental and physical performance during a workout. But on the flip side, there are a handful of seemingly productive pre-gym habits that could be doing you more harm than good. (Spoiler: Taking something to preempt muscle pain isn't always the best idea.)

Keep reading to see which practices (and foods) to avoid before a workout.

Instead of Advil…

… stretch, use a foam-roller, and maybe pop some Arnica.

A couple of recent studies indicate that taking painkillers to counteract inflammation might ultimately be doing you more harm than good—not only is it taxing on the kidneys, but it can slow muscle regeneration, which ultimately leaves you weaker.

The good news is that you can still prevent muscle soreness pretty effectively by making sure you thoroughly stretch before your workout. Foam-rolling gets deep into your connective issue and tiny muscle fibers, and it also helps boost circulation and reduces bloating. If you're running late for class or are already pretty sore to begin with, some people find that Arnica (a natural anti-inflammatory) is a safer alternative to ibuprofen or Tylenol. (As always, check with your doc before taking any kind of new medication—even if it's OTC and natural.)

Instead of an energy drink…

sip a cup of coffee. (And lots of water.)

While research does show that caffeine can help boost a workout by stimulating your central nervous system, most wellness experts advise against energy drinks as a rule—they tend to be full of sugar and chemicals, which ultimately isn't doing your body any favors. Consider swapping your Red Bull for a cup of coffee instead—it's full of antioxidants, and offers the same blast of energy without any of the weird side effects. (Scientists have even found that it can make you enjoy your workout even more, and make you less susceptible to cravings later in the day.) And you already know this, but we'll say it anyway: Drink plenty of water, too.

Instead of a fruit smoothie…

… opt for a lean, protein-packed snack.

While a smoothie might seem like a perfectly healthy option, it can be a recipe for a sugar crash mid-workout. You'll want to fuel up with something that's less carb-heavy and more balanced in protein and fat—greek yogurt, a handful of trail mix, and eggs are all great options, according to experts.

Instead of a heavy, sweatproof foundation…

… wash your face and layer on a lightweight moisturizer.

As far as we're concerned, a healthy complexion certainly factors into any fitness routine—especially since the wrong approach can lead to stubborn breakouts. If you want to wear foundation, skincare guru Renée Rouleau advises opting for something lightweight and oil-free—and wash your face first. If you're going barefaced, use a toner after cleansing and apply a light moisturizer.

"When you exercise, your skin loses water due to evaporation, leaving it dehydrated," she explains. "Dehydrated skin increases surface lines and causes skin cells to die prematurely, leading to premature aging and the potential for pores to clog." Drinking water doesn't directly hydrate your skin, so a topical product is your best bet. (And please, please, please wash your face after you've finished your workout.)

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