As the temperatures begin to cool and leaves change colors, spooky season arrives. But just like the scary movies or frightening costumes, some of us feel uneasy with the influx of delicious, sugary sweets at this time of year.
But how much of an impact does candy really have on our performance as athletes?
Breaking Down Carbs
As athletes, our bodies need carbohydrates. As published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, at rest and low exercise levels, our bodies rely on fat storage as our main source of energy fuel. As we increase our exercise intensity level, our bodies convert those carbohydrate stores into energy.
Making sure we have enough carbohydrates in our bodies is vital to ensuring we are adequately fueling ourselves for day-to-day training.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars. The most common are fructose (found in fruits), galactose (from lactose in dairy products), sucrose (also known as table sugar), and glucose.
Our bodies can only absorb glucose. These other kinds of sugars are converted into glucose to be used as fuel by the body.
A study from the Polytechnic University of Madrid advises that athletes try to incorporate sucrose into our fuel, as it consists of both fructose and glucose. This will allow us to maintain and increase muscle glycogen deposits, which are a major limiting factor of prolonged exercise performance.
Now, with all the science out of the way, how does Halloween Candy fit into the conversation?
An Unexpected Workout Snack
Sucrose is a key ingredient in most candies. Because of this, candy can be an effective way to boost our bodies energy during exercise, especially if we are endurance athletes. It is common for distance runners to pack energy gels or a handful of gummy bears for their long runs.
Many athletes reach for candy as a pick-me up because of their ‘hollow’ nature. Candy does not usually have fiber, fats, or many other nutrients, so they are a good quick release source of energy.
For exercise lasting over an hour, The Gatorate Sports Science Institute recommends consuming between 30g-90g of carbs in per hour of exercise.
It’s All About Balance
This isn’t to suggest we should be eating candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner just because it is Halloween. But candy itself is not inherently bad.
Sugar is so heavily vilified in our society that many times, even as athletes, we feel the need to stay away from it. Are there more nutrient dense foods we can consume than candy? Yes. Does that mean we shouldn’t eat any candy, even if we enjoy it? No. In fact, there is a time and a place where candy can actually be beneficial to our performance.
At the end of the day, a handful of Sour Patch Kids, or a bar of chocolate here or there will not affect our performance – but restricting our fuel can. For example, if we were to eat a bag of candy, feel guilty, and then decide to only eat something light, like a salad, for dinner, we may not eat enough to fuel our bodies for the next day of training.
Instead, we should see how candy can add to our fuel, rather than take away from it. Food is more than just fuel, it is also a source of connection and enjoyment. Making sure we are eating enough, with enough variety, and enjoying the process is key to maintaining a healthy relationship with all food.
If you find it difficult to find that balance, talking to one of our VIS Expert dietitians or sport psychologists may help to guide you in the right direction.