Honey as a sports supplement? Sweet!

22 06 2010

As a sports nutritionist, I love the idea of giving my athletes actual food to improve their performance instead of solely relying on an engineered product.  Food is cheaper, more easily available, and usually tastes better!  So what about honey?  Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners, being used since biblical times.  A tablespoon has of honey has 64 calories, while a tablespoon of table sugar has 45 calories.  But honey is composed of more than just sugar.  It has trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. Some claim that these make honey a healthier option than table sugar, but the quantities of these “extras” are minuscule. 

The biggest difference between honey and regular sugar is taste.  Honey is 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar.  The color and flavor of honey differ depending on what flowers the bees pollinate.  There are more than 300 unique kinds of honey in the United States.  In general, lighter colored honeys are mild in flavor, while darker honeys are usually more robust in flavor.

So how can we use honey as a sports nutrition product?  It is well-known that carbohydrate consumption prior to, during and after exercise enhances performance and speeds recovery. Honey is a natural source of readily available carbohydrates, providing 17 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon and may serve as an inexpensive alternative to commercial sports gels. Preliminary data from the University of Memphis Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory suggest that honey is as effective as glucose for carbohydrate replacement during endurance exercise.

If you are interested in trying honey as energy booster, have a tablespoon 15 to 30 minutes before exercising.  If you are training for an endurance event, “honey sticks” are a convenient way to consume honey while exercising.  They can be purchased online or at some natural food stores.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.