Can Eating Candy Before a Workout Be … Healthy?Reading Time: 3 minutes
The Secret to Having Extra Energy During Your Workout Doesn’t Seem Like it Should Work, Fitness influencers are reaching for sweets before hitting the gym. Here’s what experts say about it., Should you eat candy before a workout?
This is Explainer, a column that answers questions we all have (or should have).
Every week, there seems to be a new fitness supplement on the market, claiming to help you pack on muscle or run your fastest mile.
Now fitness influencers are drawing attention to an inexpensive pre-workout snack hiding in an unlikely place: the candy aisle. They’re claiming that sugary treats like gummy worms and Sour Strips give them a boost of energy for their sweat sessions.
Eating candy before a workout might seem counterintuitive. Why consume processed, caloric foods in the name of health? Well, health isn’t so black-and-white. Eating candy, especially sugary candy, before a workout can have benefits, depending on the type of exercise you’re doing, says Rachel Trotta, a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist who has been coaching clients for almost a decade.
Although you don’t really need to reach for a Twizzler to get through a yin yoga class, candy can help boost performance during intense workouts, like high-intensity interval training or endurance exercise that lasts for more than 45 minutes at a sustained, moderately difficult pace, Trotta says. ‘Sugar can be part of a healthy lifestyle,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t have to be off-limits.’
The candy trend may be new to TikTok, but athletes have been using sugary pre-workout snacks, supplements, and even candy to boost their performance for years. NFL star Marshawn Lynch eats Skittles before and during games, and many distance runners use workout aids like Jelly Belly Sport Beans to safely get through long treks.
Your body needs carbohydrates to fuel and recover from workouts. After you eat a carbohydrate, your body turns it into blood glucose, a key energy source.
There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Complex carbs appear in whole grains, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, and legumes. They take longer to digest. Simple carbs appear in fruit as well as refined products like baked goods and candy. Your body digests these carbs quickly, particularly when there isn’t other stuff like protein and fiber in whatever you’re eating. Candy works as a workout aid because it gives your body a quick spurt of glucose to use as a resource. ‘It’s instantly available,’ says Ariane Hundt, a clinical nutritionist and fitness expert.
Your body does have fuel it can tap into during a workout. Its energy storage includes fat, blood glucose, and glycogen, a form of glucose your body stores in your liver and muscles. Intense exercise over a long period of time can be especially taxing on this storage. The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that people consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour for long, intense workouts. That’s why marathon runners replenish their glucose levels with sugary gummies throughout their exercise. But for most people, that might look like a small snack before a HIIT class.
Unfortunately for sweet tooths, it’s important to acknowledge some of the trade-offs of eating candy pre-workout. For one, it should be enjoyed in moderation. A generally nutritious diet is ‘also important for supporting your exercise on a regular basis,’ says Carol Ewing Gerber, a registered clinical exercise physiologist and professor at Columbia University.
Candy also has a high glycemic index, meaning that it causes higher spikes in blood sugar than, say, a piece of whole-grain bread does. After the initial high, sugar could cause you to crash and burn, says Gerber. ‘It can lead to spikes in your glucose levels in your blood, and the body works really hard to get rid of it,’ she says. ‘Sometimes it overshoots and then it will actually tank, which will make you feel less energetic.’
One very small study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport did find that male cyclists that ate foods lower on the glycemic index scale 45 minutes before a workout maintained better performance than did counterparts who consumed high-glycemic fuel.
But there’s really no harm in trying out eating candy before a workout to see if it works for you. ‘Let’s say you’re going for a sprint workout and your goal is to get faster. By all means, have that sugar before,’ says Hundt.
Trotta recommends starting with a snack that has around 30 grams of sugar, like a single serving of Sour Patch Kids. Eat it 15 to 30 minutes before intense exercise, and see if it gives you a boost.
There’s another way that consuming candy before a workout can be beneficial, says Trotta: It helps people gain a new perspective on nutrition and challenge preconceived notions about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. ‘It’s a fun and creative way to break the barriers between these two categories,’ she says, ‘and just see food as food.’
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