When Should Athletes Eat Honey to Maximize Performance?
When you're training, how you fuel your body can be just as important as your workout routine. Find out when and how to eat honey to reach your fitness goals.
The idea of supporting your workouts with carbohydrates isn't new. Every athlete has heard of carb-loading. Whether you love carbs or hate them, the baseline fact is that carbs give the body energy to burn.
The British Nutrition Foundation puts it very succinctly:
The main role of carbohydrates in physical activity is to provide energy. For athletes, if their diet does not contain enough carbohydrate, it is likely that their performance and recovery will be impaired, as carbohydrate is the key fuel for the brain and for muscles during exercise.
When Is Honey the Best Carbohydrate Choice?
Not all carbohydrates are created equal, and not all carbohydrates fuel your body in the same way.
Complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal, brown rice, and other whole grains, release their energy slowly over the course of hours. This makes them invaluable for pre-endurance fueling and sustained energy throughout your day.
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Simple sugars, like pure honey, flood your system with immediate energy on demand. This is the type of carbs found in energy gels and sports drinks, made to quickly replace the fuel you're burning during exercise.
A double-blind study with endurance cyclists at the University of Memphis showed that honey is just as effective as these custom-designed (and priced) sports products.
Even better, pure honey is all-natural and carries trace minerals and antioxidants. These trace elements, plus honey's unique blend of sugar types, place it lower on the glycemic index than processed sugars. This results in a steadier energy supply without the following crash.
Timing is everything with simple sugars. Here are the right times and ways to get a performance boost from honey.
Fuel Up Before Your Workout (or Race)
Experts recommend eating 300-400g of carbohydrates 3-4 hours before a race. This is what fuels your tank for the work ahead and prepares your body to compete.
The body can store carbohydrates [...] and use these stores as a source of fuel for physical activity. These glycogen stores are limited, so for those training at a high level, it is important to be fully fuelled at the start of any exercise.
~ British Nutrition Foundation
Pre-workout carbs should be mostly complex, with simple carbs as a small compliment. Oatmeal with chia seeds, fruit, and honey is one of the best before-workout breakfast options. The oatmeal gives you long-term energy, while the pure honey tops up your glycogen stores and saves the rest for when it's needed.
Stay Energized During Your Race (or Workout)
Athletes burn through a lot of energy.
If you are doing high intensity training for long periods and your glycogen stores are not sufficient you may feel tired, lack energy and not be able to perform at your best. So, regular intake of carbohydrate-rich foods can be important in this case to keep stores topped up.
~ British Nutrition Foundation
Reports from the British Journal of Sports Medicine recommend athletes take in 30-60 grams of simple carbs for every hour of activity (0.7g/kg of body weight). That's around three tablespoons of honey for a 150-pound person.
Honey can be eaten straight like a gel or mixed into water like a sports drink. As mentioned above, studies show honey's merits compared to processed sports products. It hits your system faster than most other products, due to its unique blend of natural sugars.
Honey is made of both fructose and glucose, which use slightly different pathways to get carbs into your system. This means the energy gets to your muscles almost immediately, energizing you to power through that mid-race slump and stay strong to the finish line.
During exercise, your body uses up glycogen reserves and breaks down muscle proteins. It's important to take in all the necessary building blocks for your body to rebuild and strengthen these systems. This means a balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
Consuming 0.5–0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight within 30 minutes after training results in proper glycogen resynthesis.
Then, repeat a similar intake two hours later. This replenishes glycogen stores throughout the body, building a solid foundation for your next workout.
Recovery starts the moment exertion ends, and the faster you can support it, the better you'll feel and perform. Post-workout muscle soreness and fatigue are both minimized by proper nutrient intake.
Honey is an ideal part of this post-workout refueling because of its blend of natural sugars. The same fast absorption method that makes it a powerful mid-race boost, means that it gets straight to work during recovery.
Honey also sits lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar, which means that its fast absorption doesn't trigger the big hypoglycemic swing that could happen with sugar or corn syrup products.
The best post-workout meal is a blend of beneficial nutrients:
Simple carbs, to kick-start immediate glycogen re-supply
Complex carbs, to continue supplying glycogen for the next few hours
Protein, to support muscle re-building
The American Council on Exercise recommends a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein after a workout. A serving of Greek yogurt with berries, bananas, and honey is a perfect way to reach all your dietary needs. Or, whip up a smoothie including some protein powder or nut butter and a tablespoon of honey.
So, is honey good for cycling and running? Yes! Used strategically around your workout, honey can boost your performance and your recovery.
Make pure honey a part of your balanced diet and workout routine for maximum energy.
Important Note: Always remember to check your labels, because many grocery "honey" brands incorporate corn syrup and other additives that reduce honey's effectiveness and mess with its glycemic profile. Make sure you're always using pure honey to get the most benefit.
For more healthy tips and fun facts, check out these other posts:
Sweet Stix: Energy-Packed Hiking Food for the Trail (or workout)
How to Replenish Your energy with Natural Honey Teas
Kale Coconut Water Workout Smoothie
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