Eating Habits That Undermine Your Workouts

by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD January 31, 2019 3 min read

 woman looking at food label

You have been making it to the gym regularly, which is an amazing feat. Congrats! You want to get the most out of your workouts because who has time to waste? But you might be unknowingly sabotaging all your efforts at the gym with what you are eating. After all, good nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest workout saboteurs.

1. Alcohol. Yes, we all love a glass of wine or a beer from time to time. But alcohol is the enemy of a good workout. Ever tried to exercise while hung over? You probably didn’t feel all that great. Not to mention, being hungover kills any motivation you might have had to exercise. But even if you don’t drink enough to cause a hangover, alcohol is a toxin that increases inflammation and dehydrates you. This makes it really hard for your muscles to work their best. When you drink, your body focuses on clearing out the alcohol instead of building muscle or helping you lose weight. Alcohol is also high in empty calories and slows down your metabolism, making weight loss even harder.

2. Eating Too Much. You worked out and now you have a free pass to eat whatever you want, right? Not at all, unfortunately. Exercise doesn’t actually burn all that many calories, at least not enough to counterbalance what you could consume in the same period of time. So even if you work out, you still have to watch what you eat if you want to manage your weight.

A great way to learn how many calories you need to eat is to use a calorie tracker and log your food. Many trackers allow you to also input exercise so you can develop a better understanding of how much exercise it takes to counteract your treats.

3. Sugar. One study found that added sugars consumed by American adults increased by more than 30%, from 228 calories per day in 1977 to 300 calories in 2009-2010. This is a problem for our waistlines because sugar is full of empty calories and triggers hormonal issues that lead to inflammation. When your body is inflamed, it tends to hold on to extra weight and gives you all sorts of aches and pains that make working out harder.

While you may not think you eat too much sugar, you may be surprised at how much is hidden in processed foods. Even if it doesn’t taste sweet, your food could still be loaded with sugar. The easiest way to avoid sugar is to limit your consumption of processed and packaged foods. Focus instead on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you do eat packaged foods, become a sugar detective: Check nutrition labels for corn syrup, glucose, invert sugar, lactose and fructose. If you see any of these words on the package, look for another brand or option with less or no sugar. 

4. Nuts. Nuts are loaded with fiber and healthy fats. Due to their healthy reputation, you might be tempted to make them your go-to snack. But they are also very high in calories. And while nuts are fine to snack on, you should limit your portions. There are about 200 calories in ¼ cup of almonds (about a handful). Grabbing handful after handful can really add up quickly. So if you want to eat nuts without gaining weight, simply portion them out. 

A healthy diet and an effective workout complement one another. If you want to see results, whether it’s to lose weight or gain muscle mass, your diet has to be dialed in. Ideally, to support a good workout you want a diet based on whole foods in their most natural form. These foods won’t trigger inflammation or dehydration and will give you the energy you need for tough training sessions.

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