When it comes to working out and getting results, we all tend to focus on the actual workout, not so much what we do before (or after).
However, what you do in the hours leading up to your training session can have a profound impact on your workout and can be the difference between a PR-shattering one and one that is utterly mundane.
Here are 7 things NOT to do before your workout if you want to have the best training session possible and get the results you want from your hard efforts in the gym!
Top 7 Things Not To Do Before Your Workout
#1 Eat Too Much Food
Having something to eat that’s rich in carbohydrates and protein can be extremely beneficial before your workout as it supplies your body with the essential nutrients it needs -- protein and carbohydrates -- to dominate your training session.
That being said, while having some food is beneficial, you don’t want to have too much food before your workout.
Large meals, especially those high in fiber and fat, are slow to digest, which means that if you train too close to finishing your meal, the food is still sitting in your GI tract, undigested. This can lead to the unpleasant feeling of food sloshing around your stomach while training, leaving you feeling heavy and sluggish. There’s also the chance for stomach upset and potential vomiting.
As such, if you’re going to eat something before your workout, keep it modest in size and lower in fat and fiber compared to your other meals throughout the day.
#2 Not Eating
While eating too much can definitely slow you down (as well as cause you to hurl during your workout), something just as bad (possibly worse) is not eating anything at all before your workout.
Fasting has become a very trendy protocol in recent years, and while it may benefit those trying to lose weight, if you’re looking to build muscle or improve performance, the last thing you want to do before a workout is avoid eating.
Moreover, not only may training in a fasted state reduce performance and increase the onset of fatigue, it may also increase protein breakdown, which left unchecked can lead to muscle loss and excessive muscle soreness.
All that being said, best practices is to have some type of meal before your workout.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to eat some huge gut-busting meal 15 or 30 minutes before your workout, but you should have something that sticks with you and keeps your energy levels stable during the training session.
A few things to consider in regards to the size of your pre workout meal are how soon you will train after eating and how do you typically respond to certain pre workout foods.
Generally speaking, the farther away your training session is from your pre workout meal, the larger and slower digesting it can be. On the flip side, if you’re training relatively soon after your pre workout meal, you want it to be smaller in size and quicker digesting.
One of our favorite pre workout meals that’s quick to fix and digests quickly is a scoop of 1UP Whey Protein with a scoop or two of Tri-Carb. This simple, high-protein pre workout shake contains everything your muscles need to perform to the max.
If you’re training 90 minutes to 2 hours after your pre workout meal, you may want to go with something more substantial and slower-digesting, like a bowl of proats consisting of a serving of oatmeal, nuts or nut butter, and protein powder.
#3 Not Warming Up
Look, we get it. When you step foot in the gym, you want to get right into the action, clanging and banging some serious weights and getting results.
But, if you’re looking to have the best workout possible while also reducing the chance for injury, you’d be wise to perform a proper warm up before hitting your heavy working sets.
Now, don’t misconstrue this to mean that you need to foam roll for 15 minutes, then do 10 minutes of mobility work, and then another 20-30 minutes of cardio before your first working set.
Bloated warm ups, like those mentioned above, can be just as detrimental to your workout as not warming up at all.
A proper warm should include movements that prep the nervous system, muscles, joints, ligaments, and connective tissue for what’s to come.
So, if you’re going to be performing a push workout containing exercises like bench press, overhead press, push ups, push downs, and dips, then you want to include movements that involve those same muscles.
A basic warm up could involve doing a few light sets of bench press using just the bar, and then slowly progressing up in weight until you hit your working set.
If you want to perform a few minutes of cardio upon entering the gym to increase your core temperature and circulation, that’s perfectly fine, but don’t do it too much as that simply serves to drain your physical and mental reserves.
#4 Performing Excessive Cardio Before Lifting
Building off of the previous point, performing 10-15 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity of cardio is fine if it helps get your body loosened up and mind focused on what you’re about to do.
However, don’t let the cardio get out of hand.
If you want/need to perform cardio, make sure it’s after your resistance training is complete.
The reason for this is that research shows that performing cardio before resistance training can impair performance. More specifically, performing aerobic (cardio) training before lifting was found to:
- Reduce number of reps completed
- Decrease average power and velocity
- Increase ratings of perceived exertion (RPE)
This is due to energy reserves (glycogen) being depleted, and mental fatigue also starts to set in quicker the longer you’re in the gym.
So, if your focus is on building/maintaining muscle (which it should be), make sure to perform your resistance training first and then you can follow it up with cardio, if you so choose, afterwards.
#5 Don’t Static Stretch
Warming up properly is an important part of the training process. We’ve already discussed a few ways the warm up process can impair performance -- too much cardio, wasted time with excessive foam rolling, mobility work, etc.
Another way in which warm ups can go away is with static stretching.
We’ve all fallen prey to this pre workout mishap before.
Going back to elementary gym classes where you were taught to hold stretches for some predetermined amount of time before playing a sport, static stretching remains a stalwart component of many individuals' warm up routines.
However, static stretching has been shown to reduce power and strength output during training.[2,3]
Furthermore, stretching a cold muscle can also lead to pulls and strains.
As we mentioned above, warming up is incredibly beneficial for your workout. Stretching can also be helpful, but make sure it’s dynamic stretching, which not only doesn’t hurt performance, but may actually improve it.
Short static stretches can be done after you’re good and warmed up, but ideally they’ll be incorporated into the cool down after your workout is completed.
#6 Don’t Drink Alcohol
This may seem absurdly obvious, but you don’t want to consume alcohol before your workout.
Alcohol is a toxin first and foremost. It also impairs cognitive function, coordination, and motor skills, which reduces your ability to concentrate and execute at a high level during your workouts.
Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect on the body, which can reduce performance, increase feelings of fatigue, and lead to cramping. In other words, everything will feel more challenging than it should be and you’ll perform worse than you typically would.
Drinking also lowers testosterone levels, reduces protein synthesis, and increases protein breakdown, which can lead to excessive muscle soreness and poorer recovery from training.
If you do wish to enjoy a libation or two, keep it away from the peri-workout period (2-4 hours on either side of your workout).
If you’re looking for something to drink before your training session, have a protein shake like we mentioned above, or have a serving of 1UP Pre Workout.
#7 Don’t Take NSAIDs
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and over-the-counter painkillers can be tempting to take before or after your workout, since they reduce pain and inflammation.
However, taking these substances before (or after) your workout can actually reduce the hormetic response to exercise, which means the beneficial adaptation you’re seeking from training (muscle growth, increased power, greater speed, etc.) can be blunted.
NSAIDs block the production of various prostanoids, which are substances known to stimulate satellite cell proliferation and differentiation. Human and animal studies have shown that NSAIDs significant decrease satellite cell activity, further impairing the muscle recovery and growth process.[5,6]
Chronic NSAID use is also known to lead to GI distress in many individuals.
If you’re looking to combat muscle soreness in the post workout period, a better option would be to invest in a premium-quality post workout supplement such as 1UP Pure Rebuild, which contains ingredients that support muscle recovery and growth, such as creatine, betaine, glutamine, and essential amino acids.
- Ratamess, Nicholas A. et al. (October 2016). Acute Resistance Exercise Performance Is Negatively Impacted by Prior Aerobic Endurance Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol. 30 (10).
- Chaabene H, Behm DG, Negra Y, Granacher U. Acute Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power: An Attempt to Clarify Previous Caveats. Front Physiol. 2019 Nov 29;10:1468. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01468. PMID: 31849713; PMCID: PMC6895680.
- Yamaguchi T, Ishii K, Yamanaka M, Yasuda K. Acute effect of static stretching on power output during concentric dynamic constant external resistance leg extension. J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Nov;20(4):804-10. doi: 10.1519/R-18715.1. PMID: 17194246.
- Lilja M, Mandić M, Apró W, Melin M, Olsson K, Rosenborg S, Gustafsson T, Lundberg TR. High doses of anti-inflammatory drugs compromise muscle strength and hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training in young adults. Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2018 Feb;222(2). doi: 10.1111/apha.12948. Epub 2017 Sep 16. PMID: 28834248.
- Bondesen, BA, Mills, ST, Kegley, KM, and Pavlath, GK. The COX-2 pathway is essential during early stages of skeletal muscle regeneration. Am. J. Physiol. , Cell Physiol. 287: 475-483, 2004.
- Krentz, JR, Quest, B, Farthing, JP, Quest, DW, and Chilibeck, PD. The effects of ibuprofen on muscle hypertrophy, strength, and soreness during resistance training. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 33: 470-475, 2008.