Running a Marathon? Have Honey!

It’s that time of the year again. We look at the sins of the year gone by and decide to start anew. After the gluttony indulgence in the festive season, we all want to detox our bodies and make New Year resolutions to get back to our best selves. We join the running clubs, take up gym memberships and cycle with our buddies. Do you know who else could be your companion this season to fuel your athletic performance further? Nope, it is not some new-fangled health drink or new age superfood. It is your own humble honey. How so? Read on!

Endurance athletes know that food is fuel. Your nutrition impacts how well you perform and how long your energy lasts. It can mean making it to the summit, beating your marathon time or placing in a race. It can also mean losing steam and having sore muscles. Whether you’re on a backpacking trip or in a triathlon, having the right food is essential.

Athletes need a myriad of nutrients to fuel their performance and keep their bodies going. Carbohydrates are the primary compound that muscles use as fuel. There are many different ways endurance athletes can get carbohydrates. And one of these ways is through honey.

Why is honey better than your commercially available energy drink?

honey for athletes


Why would you have honey instead of your favorite fancy energy drink? This is because honey and commercial energy drinks and gels offer very similar amounts of carbohydrate. However, energy drinks and gels can contain artificial preservatives, colorings, and sweeteners, and miss out on honey's vitamin and mineral content. Honey's natural unrefined sugars are easily absorbed by the body. These simple carbohydrates are a great source of energy - in fact, honey was even used by runners in the Olympic Games in ancient Greece as an energy source.

Different types of honey, such as acacia or clover honey, are absorbed at different rates, depending on the balance of the different types of sugars. Fructose is absorbed more slowly and evenly than glucose - perfect for endurance sport. In contrast, honey with a higher glucose content will provide a swift energy boost.

It's easy to use honey as a source of energy for long-distance events - in fact, you can treat it just the same as any other carbohydrate gel, as honey takes a similar time to get from mouth to muscle - around 15 minutes. To maintain the body's glycogen stores in endurance events, most runners require 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour. A tablespoon of honey contains 17g of carbohydrate - so two to three tablespoons every hour should keep your glycogen stores topped up.

You can get the natural carbohydrates from honey before, during or after training. It’s a perfect ingredient to add to your drinks, snacks, meals or just enjoy on its own. It also adds important vitamins, nutrients, and enzymes to your diet, in addition to fuelling your muscles. Honey has a low glycaemic index, which means you won’t experience quick sugar crashes. Plus, it’s sweeter by nature, which means you can use less of it than processed sugar.

How is honey better than your energy bars?

Honey contains the purest form of glucose and fructose to keep your body running at its peak. When looking for a mid-run fuel, you want what is known as simple carbohydrates, or simple sugars, which are broken down quickly by the body and immediately available to be used as energy. If your fuel has too much fat or protein that will slow down the digestion process, which means it will take longer for your body to absorb the energy. Plus, that could lead to stomach troubles.

Honey is actually feeding your brain with enough sugar to keep it happy, which in turn prevents your central nervous system from warning your body that it should slow down. Keep the brain happy, and the body will follow. Combine honey with water, which is easiest on your stomach's gastric intake process, and you have all the nutrition you need to succeed on race day.

Honey contains a greater percentage of fructose than sugar which means it raises blood sugar more slowly. This keeps energy levels more even and its carbohydrate-rich content makes it an ideal food for powering longer runs. Honey’s natural unrefined sugars are quickly and easily absorbed by the body.

Researchers from the University of Memphis discovered honey is one of the most effective forms of carbohydrate to eat just before exercise – containing a similar profile to sports gels. They decided to conduct an experiment to test its performance in a group of endurance cyclists. The cyclists consumed either a sports gel or 15g of honey every 10 miles during a 40km time trial. The results showed the honey was just as effective as the sports gel in preventing fatigue and improving race time. A spectacular result for a 100% natural product versus a product designed specifically for the purpose of boosting athletic performance and often contain artificial preservatives, colorings, and sweeteners.

Honey can also help your body recover from intense exercise like a long-distance run by reducing the inflammation caused by impact. It is believed that the anti-inflammatory benefits are from the flavonoids in honey which is rich in phenolic acids. Flavonoids act as natural antioxidants that help counterbalance the physical stress of exercise.

So now you know the must-have nutrient you need to stock up on your next marathon day or your hiking expedition! Happy Training!