Donating Blood: 7 Best and Worst Things to Eat Beforehand

Take a cue from Popeye and get your spinach on.

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It’s no secret that donating blood can take a lot out of you—literally and figuratively. While some fatigue after giving up a couple pints of your blood is inevitable, you can counter some of the effects by priming yourself with nature’s best fatigue-fighter: iron. (Here are all the amazing benefits of iron for your body.)

That’s not the only reason to prioritize your iron intake: lacking adequate amounts of iron in the blood could affect your ability to donate. Your blood undergoes a screening before donation that checks your hemoglobin levels. Sufficient hemoglobin in the blood helps transport oxygen to your body’s tissues. If screenings show your hemoglobin is too low, you will be turned away, according to the American Red Cross.

Eating properly before and after your blood donation will ensure that you have enough hemoglobin to donate and you can prevent excessive fatigue after your good deed. Here’s what to eat (and what to avoid) to beat fatigue after a blood donation.

1. DO eat lean, iron-rich foods.

This one’s a no-brainer. Leading up to your blood donation appointment, enjoy fish (especially oysters), poultry, beans, lentils, tofu, potatoes, cashews, spinach, raisins, and iron-fortified cereals and breads. Find more sources of iron to fight fatigue here.

2. DON’T eat fatty foods.

After donating, your blood will be tested for infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV. Too much fat in the bloodstream can affect the screening. If they are unable to get an accurate reading of your blood, your donation will be discarded. (Yep, that means losing a pint of blood for nada.) Skip burgers, ice cream, fries, and other greasy foods to keep excess fat out of your bloodstream.

3. DO add vitamin C to your meals.

Vitamin C increases your body’s ability to absorb iron. In general, your body does not soak up each ounce of iron available in an oyster or chicken wing; only a fraction is actually absorbed. Combining iron-rich foods with other ingredients high in vitamin C will increase the amount your body can absorb. Tomatoes, papaya, citrus, broccoli, and spinach are all great sources. Here are more top sources of vitamin C.

4. DON’T drink alcohol before or after.

For 24 hours before and after your blood donation, skip your evening glass of red wine.

5. DO drink more water.

The American Red Cross recommends getting an extra 16 ounces of water in the day before and after your donation. (That means 16 ounces more than what you would typically drink for proper hydration. Here’s how much water you need on an average day.)

6. DON’T take aspirin 48 hours before if you’re donating platelets.

Platelets aid in forming clots to stop bleeding when you’re cut or wounded. These little cells have to be used within five days of donation, so they are in constant demand. Aspirin affects the function of the platelets, so you will not be able to donate with aspirin in the bloodstream. (Ibuprofen is just fine.)

7. DO have a healthy snack after donating.

Many blood donation drives will provide snacks, but it’s a good idea to bring your own just in case (especially if you have food allergies or other dietary restrictions). Come prepared with something light and abundant in iron to help you restock your hemoglobins. Trail mix or bars made of nuts and dried fruit (like KIND or Larabars) are great options since both cashews and raisins are good sources of iron.

Beyond what goes in your belly, the other important self-care tip is to rest. Get a good night’s sleep before donating, relax and take it easy as you’re getting the blood drawn, and avoid heavy lifting or intense exercise for at least 24 hours afterwards.