Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Honey May Increase Athletic Performance

My BJJ team mates and I, have for several years now, been using honey as a simple carbohydrate supplement prior to and during our matches at tournaments. We never really thought twice about the matter, as it seemed straight forward to us: honey is a simple carbo-hydrate that is natural and comes in an easy to use format. We were able to maintain (or so it seemed) a decent amount of energy throughout the duration of the tournament by taking a few table spoons prior to the first match, with smaller servings in between matches if we need it. Recently, we introduced the magic of the "Honey Bear" to our judo club and had some success with using it during judo competitions (picture above with trophy and the Honey Bear).

Just when we thought that plain ol' honey was all we needed, along came the advice of a "sage" in the BJJ world. The Sage recommended that we use all natural, unpasteurized, unfiltered raw honey instead of the honey bought at the super market which is heat sterilized. The reason being that the raw honey contains all of the amino acids and natural health benefitting properties that are otherwise removed from the heat sterilization process. Okay, Sage... I'm game. Let's give it a try. About a week later I found some raw honey at the local farmer's market that set me back about $9 for a mason jar full of the stuff. The vendor was... passionate about his product, to say the least. He went on and on for about 15 minutes telling me ALL of the health benefits of raw honey, "Cures cancer, stomach ulcers, pollen allergies, it's good for the prostrate, blah, blah, blah." These were some heavy claims, and in my line of work - Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to be believed. So, I abused my work resources and scoured the medical literature databases trying to find support for his claims. I read paper after paper that knocked down the vendor's claims one by one. The only interesting articles that I found were regarding the use of honey as a topical treatment for wounds and possibly as a treatment for staph infections and MRSA. Apparently there is an enzyme in honey that reacts with the water in honey and creates hydrogen peroxide. I'll keep my eye on how that research develops. Bottom line though, there aren't any magic cures in raw honey and it is debateable as to how different it is nutritionally compared to normal heat sterilized honey (which is cheaper, by the way).

The other article I found that was interesting was one in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, where the authors actually compared the use of honey as an athletic supplement during an endurance exercise. The findings were quite promising and supportive of what my team mates and myself have been doing for competitions.

The study had 9 elite cyclists complete 3 randomized 64 km (39.68 miles) time trials and the effects of a low and a high glycemic index (GI) carbohydrate on their performance as compared to a placebo supplement were analyzed. The study was double blind (the cyclists didn't know which supplement they were getting, and the researchers didn't know which cyclist got what supplement until the end of the analysis), where the cyclists ingested either 15g of honey (GI = 35), 15g of dextrose (GI = 100) or a placebo (GI = 0) every 16 km of the time trial. The dextrose group and honey group completed the time trials slightly faster than the placebo group (~128 min 18 seconds compared to 131 min 18 seconds), but these results are not significant. However, the researchers also analyzed the Maximal Power Output of each cyclist in terms of Watts. During the majority of the time trial there were no differences between the 3 groups. However, in the last 16 km leg of the race the dextrose group and honey group produced more watts (power) than the placebo group. These results are indicative of the effects of the carbohydrate supplements and are supportive of the use of a low GI carbohydrate (honey) for an energy source during endurance exercises.

So, on your tournament checklist, add "Honey Bear" to your gear bag. Send me some pics of you, your medal(s) and your honey bear and I'll put them up here. Good luck!

Check out the nutrition data on honey here. Learn more about the Glycemic Index here.


The FightWorks Podcast said...

Hey Jason,

Great article! I have heard of Brazilians using honey this way but to be honest hadn't given it much thought!

Jason Clarke said...

glad that you like it caleb. happy 4th of july, my friend.