Food combination dates back to the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda. While Ayurvedic practices are considered pseudoscience, derivative theories of food combinations that have scientific roots can help you stay healthy and feel great throughout your fitness routine. Avoid the worst food combinations and track your macros and you’ll be on the way to lean muscle mass in no time.

In many cases, choosing the right food combinations also makes meals more enjoyable. For example, a common food combination rule is that you shouldn’t double up on carbs. That’s ideal for people on a low-carb diet and it will prevent odd pairings like potatoes and pasta. Picking the right combinations before a workout can lead to less discomfort and better gains.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about food combinations and which ones you should avoid to meet your fitness goals.

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Food Combinations and Macronutrients

Reading about Ayurveda and similar theories that center food combinations, you’ll come across many hard and fast rules about proteins, carbs, and fat. As we go through the worst food combinations, remember that you have to count your macros to give your body enough fuel and protein to build muscle. Even if you’re in a cutting phase, you need at least some carbs, fats, and proteins.

That’s a good rule to follow whenever you consider your diet. No-carb diets like keto can cause problems with your workout routine if you aren’t careful. If weight loss is your main goal, take care that you give your muscles enough energy to get through fat-burning workouts.

How Food Combination Works

One of the guiding principles of food combinations is that the body digests different foods at different speeds. Eating foods that digest at different speeds can block your digestive system and create problems. Some even believe that fast-digesting foods that are stuck in the digestive tract for too long begin to ferment.

Another principle of food combinations is pH levels. The belief is that acidic foods such as sour fruits change the pH level in your digestive tract and cause discomfort. Eating less acidic foods balances out the equation. This is also called the Alkaline Diet.

The truth is that your body is remarkably well-adapted to eat a wide variety of foods without a problem. While some foods may take longer to digest, your body can handle a combination of both. Your body also regulates its pH level with acid and other materials in the stomach and lower intestine on nit’s own.

While these central tenets of food combination pseudoscience aren’t borne out by science, there are plenty of evidence-based food combinations that are beneficial.

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7 Great Food Combinations

Before we get to the worst pre-workout food combinations, let’s take a look at some that you should fit into your diet generally.

1. Iron & Vitamin C

Foods rich in vitamin C help your body absorb a specific kind of iron called haem iron. Adding lemon juice to your iron-rich spinach or other leafy greens will help avoid an iron deficiency and give you more natural energy.

2. Healthy Fats & Vitamins

Certain vitamins – notably, K, E, A, and D – require fats to be absorbed into the body. Find foods with healthy fat such as eggs, avocado, olive oil, nuts, fatty fish, or chia seeds to eat with your vitamins.

Vitamin K comes from leafy greens; E comes from seeds, nuts, and veggies; A comes from fortified cereals, skim milk, and orange or yellow fruits and vegetables; vitamin D can be found in oily fish, egg yolks, and red meat.

3. Combining for Complete Proteins

Some foods have all the amino acids you need. These foods are called complete proteins. Examples include quinoa, soy, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan or you just want to get your complete proteins without the additional fat of meat and dairy products, you can use a few combinations to get a complete protein. Common examples include brown rice and beans, hummus and pita bread, yogurt with almonds, or chili and crackers.

4. Carbohydrates and Protein

You should be eating both regularly, but consuming carbs and protein at the same time will give your body the energy it needs to power through a workout and recover afterward. Luckily, most basic meals feature this combination already. Think about any protein source like steak or chicken and a side dish of potatoes, for example.

Turmeric in a white bowl and black pepper in wooden spoon
Black pepper and turmeric are staples of Indian cuisine.

5. Turmeric & Black Pepper

Black pepper is extremely beneficial to your health. It has antioxidant, antimicrobial, and gastro-protective potential. Turmeric is a great spice whose curcumin content has been used for its medicinal benefits for thousands of years.

Curries are the best way to combine both. Plus, you can get a heap of vegetables involved in the curry for more vitamins.

6. Vitamin D & Calcium

For your body to process and absorb calcium, it has to have plenty of vitamin D available. Vitamin D also has a positive digestive effect, regulating the digestive process.

Tuna, salmon, swordfish, and sardines are great sources. Combine them with kale, okra, spinach, fortified bread, or dairy products including soy and rice alternatives. Some brands of orange juice are fortified with both vitamin D and calcium so you can get the benefits of both with a simple drink.

7. Healthy Fats & Carbs

Maybe you never jumped on the avocado toast bandwagon, but you should consider it. The fat in the avocado helps delay the digestion of the carbs in the bread so you can use the carbs for energy over a longer period. Olive oil and whole wheat pasta is another great combination.

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10 Worst Pre-Workout Food Combinations

Whether you’re trying to shred fat, build muscle, or just maintain where you’re at, the following terrible food combinations will impede your goals.

1. Eggs & Fried Meat

We all love bacon and eggs in the morning, but while well-sourced eggs and bacon can be great source of healthy fats, consuming them before a workout can be a recipe for disaster. The same rule applies to meat-heavy omelets.

2. Fruit & Anything Else

Watermelon and cantaloupe are great snacks on a hot summer day but eating fruit with other foods might have side effects like indigestion. Melons and fruits digest very quickly, much faster than other foods. Many people recommend only eating fruit on an empty stomach, but there’s no science to support this.

The fiber in fruit can delay the release of food from the stomach, potentially leaving you feeling bloated. On the other hand, some people find that it helps them feel full for longer, which can be helpful in the cutting phase. If it gives you indigestion, better to skip food combinations with fruit.

Banana milkshake in a glass
Combining milk and bananas can cause a sugar crash that lowers energy levels.

3. Banana & Milk

Milkshakes are a great way to get important dietary supplements, but milk-based shakes with bananas sit heavy on your stomach, which can kill your energy levels during a workout. Luckily, there are many ways to change this recipe up so you can still get the potassium and flavor of bananas with your dietary supplements.

Consider using plant-based milk instead. You can also replace all or part of the milkshake with water. Add cinnamon or nutmeg to help everything digest faster.

Another good option is to make Golden Milk, which is just a blend of hot milk and turmeric at its most basic. This Ayurvedic classic is not only comforting and delicious, but it also has some proven health advantages such as reducing inflammation, preventing diseases, and lowering blood sugar levels.

4. Beans & Cheese

Apologies to Mexican food lovers out there, but this is one of the worst food combos. It causes bloating, gas, and potentially indigestion. All of these spell doom for a workout. Some folks might be able to handle it, but starchy beans and animal fat in the cheese take a while for your digestive system to break down and may feel heavy on the stomach.

Opt for plant-based cheese alternatives or try hummus with tahini instead. Best of all, just pile the beans over some leafy greens and add an olive oil vinaigrette.

5. Tomatoes & Pasta

We’re not trying to single out different world cuisines here, but the acidity of tomatoes breaks down the enzymes in starchy pasta before your body can absorb it. Now, there are some ways you can alter the tomatoes to make them less acidic. The sugar in tomato paste cancels out the acidity of tomatoes, for example.

Pesto is a nice alternative, although it usually contains lots of fatty cheese. Try lightly frying garlic and chili flakes in olive oil and using that as a simple dressing to get the full benefit of the enzymes in pasta.

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6. Bread & Jam

The carbs in bread and the sugar in jam will overload your system with sugar. Your blood sugar level will skyrocket. You’ll get an energy boost, especially if you drink coffee with your toast, but that energy will be short-lived and you’ll likely crash a short time later.

There are plenty of other spreads you can enjoy with your toast. Vegan vegetable spreads are the best for you and much healthier than, say, spreadable cheese, which is usually high in sodium as well. Peanut butter is also a nice choice, but don’t make it your regular breakfast.

Roasted chicken breast roll stuffed with chicken and pork meat with mashed potatoes
Having potatoes with meat can interfere with its digestion process.

7. Meat & Potatoes

Protein needs more stomach acid to fully digest, especially when it’s from animal sources. Eating starchy carbs like potatoes or even bread can slow down your digestion, making you feel bloated. It also delays that protein on its way to absorption, meaning your body won’t have it as quickly for the workout or the later recovery.

Substitute the potatoes with leafy greens or other green vegetables. If you’re slow-cooking the meat, brussels sprouts are the perfect side dish. Of course, this bad food combination also makes sandwiches a no-no unless you opt for vegetarian options.

8. Tuna & Mayonnaise

Tuna is a great fish with many nutritional benefits, but if you combine it with mayonnaise you could be adding too much fat to the equation and put your digestive system under too much pressure. That might sound like bad news for tuna salad lovers, but there are plenty of olive-oil based tuna salad recipes that don’t require mayonnaise.

If you are making tuna salad, consider eating it on a bed of lettuce or on whole-wheat crackers rather than bread to cut out some unneeded carbs. If you want the carbs for energy or you’re bulking up, turn your tuna into a more formidable meal by mixing it with olive oil and pouring it over pasta.

9. Cereal With Milk & Orange Juice

The acidity of the orange juice breaks down some of the enzymes in the cereals and prevents your body from getting the full nutritional benefits. Unlike some of the other combinations on this list, the orange juice and cereal combination isn’t going to be difficult for some people for whom the orange juice & milk is already a bad combo.

Combining these two things not only creates a bizarre flavor but it can also cause your body to produce lots of mucus, which can interfere with other digestive processes and cause discomfort.

10. Coffee or Tea & Iron-Rich Foods

Certain chemicals and acids in coffee and tea bind with iron molecules and prevent the body from absorbing them. If you’re low on iron, this can also exacerbate the jitters you get from the caffeine in the coffee. Finishing your meal with one of these hot beverages could put you on the path to anemia.

If you can’t give up the coffee or tea completely, try to drink it an hour or more before your meals. That way, it won’t interfere with iron absorption. Red meat, breakfast cereals, beans, and nuts are examples of foods with high iron content that you shouldn’t eat with coffee.

Health Benefits of Healthy Food Combinations

Ayurvedic practitioners and diet plans organized around the Ayurveda principles have many theories about fermentation and digestion speed that are simply not true. However, there are plenty of valid benefits to avoiding the 10 food combinations we mentioned above.

For example, one study found that people with a lower intake of red meat, organ meat, and dairy products were less likely than people who consumed more nuts, fish, poultry, and leaf green vegetables to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

Beyond that extreme, following the rules of food combining that are backed by scientific research also ensures your body will be in the best possible shape for challenging workouts and have the nutrients it needs to repair damaged muscle afterward.

Bloating and indigestion caused by poor food combinations will discourage you from working out. While they won’t poison you or wreck strength gains directly, they can crush your motivation and stop you from working out as hard as you otherwise would.

How to Include Food Combining in Your Diet

If you have a fitness routine, you should also have a diet plan to match it. Even if you’re only maintaining, eating right is incredibly important for staying fit. The ten food combinations in this guide aren’t the only things you should avoid, but you can work around them if you plan your diet carefully enough.

The essential rules of macronutrients apply here. The combination of bacon and eggs, for example, is already bad for your macros and calorie count so you can avoid it or use alternatives for that reason.

It might be difficult to work around the vegetable and healthy fat pairings, but if you buy the right ingredients and plan your meals ahead of time, you’ll find everything to be much easier. You can also use strategic cheat days when you’re resting and letting your muscles recover to indulge in the occasional bad-but-delicious food combination.

Lastly, there are additional bad combos that are so apparent we left them out. If you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, alcohol and anything else are a bad combination. It’s bad for calories and it also has lots of carbs. Plus, bloating is a common side effect of beer consumption.

Other alcoholic beverages like wine have lots of sugar. Even healthier options like gin can cause serious health problems if overused, so it’s best to leave them out as much as possible if you’re trying to get healthy.

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Most food combination theories aren’t rooted in science, but there are some evidence-based food combinations you can avoid to feel better and have the energy and nutrients you need to achieve your health and fitness goals. Avoid the combinations in this guide and use some of the healthy combinations to eat right and feel better throughout your fitness journey.

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