Can Manuka Honey be incorporated into my training regimen.
All honeys are incredibly dense sources of energy. In fact, the bees are so focussed on maximising the amount of energy that can be stored in the hive that they thicken the Honey beyond what can be achieved with normal sugar. This ‘super- saturated’ sugar solution is one way that Honey acts as an antibiotic. Because the honey is so dehydrated, it sucks moisture out of most pathogens that make contact with it.
Does this also make honey the original energy Gel?
In fact, Honey was used by athletes in the ancient Greek Olympics as a fuel and has some interesting research supporting its efficacy for modern athletes as well. To understand some of this science we first need to understand that there are different types of sugars; the most common being Glucose, Fructose and Sucrose (table sugar). As an example Honey is 40% fructose and 30% glucose with the remainder made up of water, pollen and minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Corn syrup, in contrast, is 100% fructose and common table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
Glucose is less sweet than Fructose and has a more immediate impact on your blood sugar as the glucose can be absorbed directly into your cells (with the help of insulin) while Fructose is converted to Glucose in your liver. Most energy Gels are made up of Glucose and Fructose at a ratio of 2x Glucose to 1x Fructose. This is because the body’s energy transport system deals with both sugars differently and can only cope with so much sugar at a time. As a good rule of thumb, 60g of carbohydrates per hour is the maximum that your stomach should be asked to deal with. Stomach cramps, bloating or nausea can be the result of either getting the mix of Glucose to Fructose wrong or overloading the Stomach with too many carbs for it to handle. By the way, 60g is a heck of a lot of carbs! A recommended intake for low-intensity exercise is 3-5g/kg/day. So 60g in an hour may be up to a third of most peoples recommended carbohydrate intake in an entire day!
This is why most commercial energy gels come in 30g serving and if you were to take on more than 2 in an hour during exercise it probably wouldn’t end well. If you're not taking on any exercise longer than 1hour it's probably not even necessary to supplement your energy system with Gels during exercise at all. If you were to make your own energy gels with honey, you would certainly benefit from the added minerals and antioxidants that are naturally present and would probably enjoy the taste more but as far as optimising the amount of sugar that can be absorbed within an hour, you might have to look for some of the more highly processed options out there.
Are performance energy Gels for me?
Well, a good place to start might be to assess just how important it is to maximise the amount of sugar your body can intake during exercise vs getting all of the other macro elements of your training right. For stomach performance, getting your diet right before exercise has a massive impact on how your stomach can process and transport energy throughout your body while under stress. Too much fibre, fat and carbohydrates can limit your stomach's ability to function during exercise while too little can result in reduced performance and chronic under-fueling can have significant detrimental effects especially in younger athletes (ref). During exercise, blood is being diverted away from the stomach and intestines to other parts of the body, by ensuring you are well hydrated you can increase your blood volume and support better gut function. Another very interesting area of exercise physiology and stomach health is its inter-relationship with your mental state. Most can relate to moments before competition when we have been feeling nervous and can’t keep our foods down. This intuition seems to have some scientific support suggesting that we may be able to influence our stomach performance through practicing mindfulness techniques but also improve our mental health through improved stomach health.
How can I incorporate Manuka Honey into my training regime?
If at the elite level and performing high intensity exercise for long durations (i.e 2-4 hours), then our suggestion would be to seek out some of the energy gels in the market. Take a close look at the Glucose/Fructose ratios that these have and ensure that you incorporate these into a performance diet supported by a sport nutritionist.
For the rest of us. We think that Honey can totally make sense and that it can actually offer a number of extra benefits without some of the risks that come from highly specialised energy gels. If you were to take two 30g packs of Manuka Honey on a run of 2 hours then you would be providing your body with about 50% of the maximum energy intake that most people can handle. So long as you have eaten well 3-4 hours prior to the event and are hydrating throughout your exercise you should have sufficient fuel to perform with less risk of gut complaints. Manuka Honey can also be a tasty addition to a post-workout smoothie or snack, providing important carbohydrates needed to replace what is used up during exercise and allowing the body to recover more quickly. Finally, many athletes also find that immune support is particularly important when they are reaching the peak phase of a training program in preparation for an event. These tough training blocks are so crucial to success and can be undermined by a nasty virus or bacterial infection when the body is tired and the natural immune system is under stress.