The results of research presented today at the annual Experimental Biology meetings in San Diego, California may sweeten the appeal of honey to athletes. "During the past three decades, carbohydrate 'sports gels' have become a popular means of providing energy to athletes," said Dr. Richard Kreider of the University of Memphis Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory, and the lead investigator of the study. "We found honey to be one of the most effective forms of carbohydrate gels to ingest just prior to exercise. This could translate into greater endurance during a workout or a race." As part of a three-phase clinical trial, honey is being studied against other forms of carbohydrate gels when ingested just prior to or during exercise. The trials are sponsored by the National Honey Board, which develops research and consumer information programs to increase the demand for honey, and are being performed in collaboration with IMAGINutrition of Aptos, CA. "Honey appears to be a carbohydrate source that is relatively mild in its effects upon blood sugar compared to other carbohydrate sources," added Dr. Kreider. The lower 'glycemic index' profile of honey is an important consideration for sports enthusiasts because when ingested just prior to exercise, higher glycemic index carbohydrates (like dextrose, maltodextrin or sucrose) may promote fatigue more quickly due to the corresponding release of insulin and faster muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate source) utilization.
In the first phase of these trials, blood glucose, insulin concentration, glycemic index and the insulin response index were determined in seventy-one study subjects. After an eight-hour fast, the subjects were given one of seven gel packets. The packets contained either dextrose, sucrose, fructose, maltodextrin, honey, PowerGel (a commercially available gel product) or a similarly flavored placebo. "One of the issues during exercise is the timing of carbohydrate ingestion just prior to exertion," Dr. Kreider stated. "Although simple and complex carbohydrates are a popular means of energy replacement, less is known about the use of honey to boost exercise performance. The glycemic index of foods refers to how quickly and how high 'blood sugar' (glucose) increases in comparison to pure glucose. The insulin response index is a measure of how much insulin is released by the pancreas in order to 'process' the sugar just consumed."
In addition to the research presented today, future studies will examine the effects of honey in comparison to different types of carbohydrate gels prior to weightlifting exercise. These studies, focusing on the effect on glucose, insulin and markers of protein breakdown, are now in review for other scientific conferences scheduled later this year. The research team is currently reviewing data from their most recent study examining the impact of the ingestion of honey on endurance athletes exercising to exhaustion. These results should be available by December 2000.