Honey Before Workout: A Sweet Strategy for Peak Performance?

Sugar gets a bad name, and it’s easy to see why. Most people eat too much sugar, which can have serious health consequences such as obesity and diabetes. However, research suggests that natural sugars, such as those found in organic honey, can make an incredible pre-workout snack. Sugars are an important source of energy for athletes, particularly before exercise. Here, we’ll discuss whether honey can help your body prepare for exercise and how to use it effectively to boost your fitness levels.

Honey before workout: is it effective?

Research suggests honey is an excellent source of energy for athletes. In general, eating before you work out helps your body perform better and prevents muscle damage. Your body needs carbohydrates before exercise to provide the energy to push through an intense workout.

Honey, a natural sweetener rich in vitamins and minerals, comprises glucose and fructose, both types of sugars and carbohydrates. These sugars contribute to honey's nutritional profile. Glucose, with a high glycemic index (GI), swiftly raises blood sugar levels, offering a quick energy surge during workouts. However, its rapid absorption may lead to a subsequent energy slump.

The glycemic index is rated from 0 to 100, with pure glucose ranking highest at 100. Honey's glycemic index ranges from 32 to 85, depending on the plant it’s sourced from. Honey rich in fructose, such as acacia honey, has a lower GI. These low-GI types of honey make a great pre-workout snack. They release energy steadily throughout your workout, keeping you fuelled without an energy crash.

What does honey do before a workout?

Supplementing with honey before a workout has plenty of benefits for gym-goers and sports enthusiasts alike. Let’s look at some of these in more detail.

1. Near-instant energy source

The natural sugars in honey provide a near-instant energy source that takes only 15 minutes for your body to absorb. This helps you feel ready to exercise, boosts your cardio levels during your workout, and allows you to generally perform at your best.

2. Sustained and reliable energy release

Honey, particularly the types with a low GI, provides a sustained and reliable energy release. This keeps you going through your workout, preventing the energy crash you may experience mid-workout after eating other sugary snacks.

3. Improved endurance and performance

Honey’s sustained energy release may lead to improved endurance and performance. When your energy levels are high and stable throughout your workout, you may be able to keep going for longer before your performance starts to decline.

Further research on this is needed as studies have shown mixed results. However, one study showed a clear benefit of improved rehydration with a honey drink for better running performance.

4. Improved focus during exercise

It’s not just our muscles that need a steady supply of glucose — our brains need it, too. When glucose levels drop, we start to feel tired and lose focus. Research shows honey has potential positive impacts on cognitive functioning, particularly when used regularly over a few weeks.

How to use honey for pre-workout

Research suggests consuming honey 30–90 minutes before your workout. You can eat honey on its own, mix it with water, add it to smoothies, or spread it on whole-grain toast.

If you combine honey with other foods to make a larger snack, you should eat this closer to 90 minutes before your workout. This can enhance your energy levels and performance while avoiding potential stomach discomfort.

How much honey should I take before my workout?

Studies suggest 20–70 g of honey pre-workout for best results. The earlier you eat before your workout, the more you need to eat for sustained energy.

Honey vs. caffeine before a workout

Many pre-workout supplements contain caffeine for its stimulating effects. How does it compare to honey?

Caffeine works differently from honey. Its levels peak an hour after consumption and remain high for several hours. While honey provides an energy source for your muscles and brain, caffeine is a stimulant. It increases the activity in your nervous system and brain, energizing you and increasing levels of adrenaline and cortisol in your body.

When you exercise after eating honey, the honey acts as the energy source for your muscles. When you use caffeine instead of honey, you effectively exercise in a fasted state. Your body uses fat stores within your body as an energy source.

You’d think this would lead to greater weight loss over time, but research shows no difference in weight loss between regularly performing fasted or non-fasted workouts. Ultimately, carbs would win if you had to choose between caffeine and carbohydrates (such as honey) because you need them to fuel your movements. However, there’s no need to choose because the two work well together as a homemade pre-workout.

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