There’s more to honey than meets the eye. Dietitian Laura Tilt reveals THREE GREAT BENEFITS for runners.

As one of nature’s most caloriedense foods, honey has been prized as an energy source for over 8,000 years. In fact, as the main source of carbohydrate before the arrival of agriculture, it’s why anthropologists believe our glucose-hungry brains evolved to be as big as they are.

SWEET FACTS

A mixture of two carbohydrates (fructose and glucose), honey contains a similar number of calories and carbohydrate to the sugar you find on your table, but with some added benefits. Because it contains a greater percentage of fructose than sugar (40-55% versus 30% in table sugar), honey has a lower glycaemic index, which means it raises blood sugar more slowly.

Consuming low glycaemic foods before exercise is recommended as a way of dripfeeding your muscle energy. But adding a squeeze of honey to your pre-run porridge isn’t the only way to benefit from this natural sweetener.

KEEP RUNNING FOR LONGER

Rumoured to have fuelled athletes during the early Olympic Games in Greece, honey’s high carbohydrate content makes it an ideal food for powering longer runs.

After discovering that it had a similar carbohydrate profile to commercial sports gels, researchers from the Exercise and Sport Nutrition Lab at the University of

Memphis compared the effects of honey to a carbohydrate gel on performance in a group of trained cyclists. Subjects were asked to consume a placebo, a dextrose gel or 15g of honey every 10 miles during a 40km time trial. Results showed honey was as effective as a dextrose gel in delaying fatigue and speeding time to completion, with no complaints of stomach upset.

SOOTHE INFLAMMATION

As well as powering exercise, honey can actually help your body from a long run.

Last year, researchers from Azad University looked at the benefits of honey supplementation in athletes undergoing intense treadmill training.

Over a period of 10 weeks, half the group was asked to consume a daily dose of 50 grams of honey diluted in 200ml water. Results showed the runners receiving honey had significantly lower levels of inflammation and an increase in protective anti-inflammatory proteins. It’s thought the benefits are down to the flavonoids (plant antioxidants) in honey, which help counterbalance oxidative stress.

BOOST IMMUNITY

A period of intense training can take its toll on immune function, but a daily dose of honey could help fight off infection.

A time-honoured method of treating burns and wounds, honey boasts antibacterial and antiviral properties due to its low moisture content, which makes it difficult for bacteria to take hold.

In one study published in the Journal Pediatrics, two teaspoons of honey before bed helped reduce coughing and improved sleep in children with chest infections. Although controlled studies are yet to prove the theory, it’s also thought a dose of local honey can help to relieve the misery of hay fever by desensitising the body against pollen. Given the low cost of honey and the added benefits for regular runners, it’s well worth a try. Try a spoonful a day starting before the pollen season.

N.B. Honey should not be given to children under 12 months due to botulism risk.