You’re done with a workout and you have the choice of biting into a ripe, juicy nectarine or squishing through a mouthful of Gummy Bears…face it, some days you just want the bears. No shame. No judgement. In fact, it’s perfectly fine… but only for that moment of time when your body is craving those easily digestible carbs to restore its fuel. Then, all that gooey goodness goes back in the pantry until next time.
The American Heart Association guidelines for maximum added sugar consumption per day are 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women. However, the average American adult consumes about 77 grams per day (yikes!) often resulting in obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other health issues, especially if exercise is not part of the daily routine. But, when ingested at the right time, such as post-workout in this case, sweets, especially dextrose- or corn syrup-based ones, facilitate recovery and are convenient to carry around. They also hit the spot for long distance sports like cycling and running to keep athletes fueled throughout the event.
High glycemic index carbs like the sugar in candy are essential after a moderate workout (90 minutes or less) because they are taken immediately into your bloodstream where they signal your pancreas to release insulin. The insulin reacts with the muscle cells enabling the storage of glucose and other nutrients like amino acids as fuel for future exertion by the body. The candy should be combined with protein, like nuts or unsweetened nut butters in a 2:1 ratio of candy to protein and consumed within 30 minutes after the workout.
So, if you decide to set aside the nectarine for tomorrow, what are some of the most popular options in candy land for refueling? As we mentioned, gummy treats, a concoction of sugar, glucose syrup, starch, flavoring, food coloring, citric acid, and gelatin, seem to top the list as both convenient and satisfying. Another fitness center favorite is Pixie Stix, with much of the same ingredients as gummy candy, only in powdered form. Jelly beans, now in a seemingly endless amount of flavors, are a fun fuel fix, as well. Skittles are a tangy option, but, just for the record, there are better ways to “eat the rainbow”. You also can justify snacking on sugary cereals such as Froot Loops, Rice Krispies or Applejacks.
The amount of Gummy Bears (or candy of choice) you should consume depends on the intensity and type of workout. In general, you might want to start with 0.5 to 1.0 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight and see where that takes you. A workout that is under two hours requires 60 grams of carbs or less. A serving size of Gummy Bears is 15 pieces equaling 40 grams of carbs, which would be appropriate for a moderate workout. One Pixie Stix straw is only 2.1 grams of carbs, so you will need plenty of those. About 13 Sweet Tarts will do the trick as will a handful of Skittles, about one and a half ounces.
Just know, all these candies will do the trick and aid recovery, but remember, the candies of today are different from the candies we may have grown up on. Today, they may be replete with artificial additives, synthetic sweeteners and gmo’s. All of these become part of you over time, so choose your candies wisely and make them the exception, not the rule!
There seems to be some debate about whether chocolate is good after a workout. It does have the sugar, but it also contains fat, so it may take longer for the glucose to be absorbed, thereby slowing down your recovery. But, on the upside, cocoa has antioxidants as well as epicatechin, a nutrient that is known to widen blood vessels to increase blood flow. A good compromise is to hit the stores around Halloween and stock up on those mini chocolate candy bars. Low fat chocolate milk, on the other hand, gets a big thumbs up for a post-workout assist. The milk adds the protein and the chocolate kicks in the carbs (sugar). The key here is to keep it low fat. The same goes for ice cream if that’s your go-to sweet.
When it comes to properly restoring your fuel, post workout, not all sweets are not created equal. Doughnuts, cookies, cake and pastries contain a lot of fat and can slow down the absorption of nutrients… which these foods have little of to begin with. Your body will recover but not as well as it would with healthier carbs and protein like fruits and nuts, and, when the craving hits, candy.
Now that you know you can eat candy guilt-free after your workout, keep in mind that the same is not true prior to exercise. Consuming simple carbs will cause a spike in blood sugar that, at the very least, will degrade your performance and can lead to fatigue, dizziness and hypoglycemia. Better to aim for low glycemic index carbs from whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Other goods choices, particularly for a morning workout, are oatmeal and nut butters combined with fruits like blueberries or bananas. But keep that candy handy for when you need it most.