Whether you are a marathoner, a Soul Cycle fanatic or weekend warrior, your workout is only as good as the fuel you put in your body. Good nutrition gives you the energy to fuel your workout as well as replenish energy stores post-exercise. Since carbs are the major source of fuel, this is one time when sugar can be your friend! Read on to hear about an all-natural energy booster that may surprise you – pure maple syrup.
Sugar fuels muscles
You may be thinking maple syrup is sugar, how can that be good? Bingo! Sugar is what fuels your muscles before, during and after your workout. This is especially important for people engaging in long cardio sessions of an hour or more. All foods that contain carbohydrates will eventually turn into sugar (or glucose) in your blood. This includes complex carbs like oatmeal, bread, fruit, pasta and simple carbs like brown sugar, honey and maple syrup. And yes, while we want to limit added sugars in general, a little fast acting sugar can actually be a good thing prior to, during and after exercise. The quicker it gets broken down, the quicker it provides fuel. But some simple sugars are healthier than others.
Nutritional benefits of maple syrup
When you hear the word maple syrup, you may be conjuring up images of pancakes loaded with butter and pancake syrup. But that’s not the maple syrup I am talking about! FYI – most U.S. pancake syrup brands don’t contain any pure maple syrup and rely on high fructose corn syrup as the primary source of sweetener. Make sure you check the label to get 100% pure maple syrup. Here are some pure maple syrup facts:
– 100% natural and unprocessed
– Contains beneficial vitamins and minerals, including manganese, riboflavin, zinc and potassium. Manganese and zinc are that two minerals vital for muscle recovery. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance and assists with normal muscle function. The more intense your workout, the more you need to replace the electrolytes your body loses through sweat
– Contains 54 different antioxidant compounds. Antioxidants protect our cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals from intense physical exercise
Compare maple syrup to other simple sugars
Fit Maple Campaign
I am an avid cyclist and am a strong proponent of consuming adequate carbs before, during and after workouts. I’m also a fan of natural versus processed foods. So when I was contacted by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers to be a spokesperson for the Fit Maple Campaign, I readily agreed! Keep in mind that in general, I recommend limiting added sugars. However, athletes do need carbs (including simple sugars) for fuel.
Fuel your workouts
For those of you engaging in long training sessions or races (60 minutes or more), there is nothing worse than “bonking” or hitting the wall. This is when your body literally runs out of energy. Eating the right kinds of foods at the right time can prevent this from happening. Of course, the specific recommendations will depend upon the individual, but here are some general sports nutrition tips:
Before your workout. Plan ahead and eat 60-90 minutes before your workout. The goal is to include foods that are high in carbs, moderate in protein and low in fat and fiber. This is not the time to have a bowl of All Bran cereal or a cheese omelet!
After your workout, your body needs carbs to replenish glycogen helps your body’s ability to recover by replenishing used glycogen stores.
*note if you are a recreational exerciser and/or are exercising for less than 60 minutes, you can easily meet your carbs needs with a healthy balanced diet. Weight trainers will want to focus on a little more on protein – more on this in an upcoming post!
My personal “Fit Maple” tips
1. On the weekends, I like to go on long bike rides of 50 mile or more. I know I need to consume a fairly large amount of carbs prior to my ride, yet am not that hungry in the morning. I’ve found adding some maple syrup to oatmeal or to a yogurt/banana mixture adds flavor and much needed carbs. A tablespoon of pure maple syrup can pack in 15 grams of carbs.
2. You need to start consuming carbs soon after a long cardio workout to maximize glycogen storage, yet you may not be that hungry (endurance exercise can initially decrease hunger in some people) I often like to make a smoothie with fruit, yogurt and a little maple syrup. Check out this link for recipes, including smoothies and maple squares.
Bottom line, neither The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers nor myself are suggesting you consume large quantities of any sweetener. But endurance athletes are a special breed in that they need to pay special attention to consuming adequate carbs, especially the time surrounding their workout. And for the general public, if you are looking for an all natural sweetener that actually contains some healthful compound, try pure maple syrup because of the range of healthful compounds. But remember, I recommend all added sugars in moderation, especially if you watching your weight, a couch potato, have diabetes or pre-diabetes, high triglyercides or are insulin resistant … or feel that a small amount of sugar “sets you off”!