Yes, You Can Totally Use Halloween Candy as Pre-Workout Fuel — Here's How
Over the past few years, it seems people have increasingly realized the importance of properly fueling up before intense workouts. Whether you're gearing up for strength training or high-intensity interval training, the idea is that you have energy from food readily available in your body so it can be used to help you perform your workout.
That said, what you do fuel up on before exercising can depend on the type of workout you're doing and your personal preference. While some folks may focus on having supplements or specialized shakes, others may like to nosh on a carbohydrate-heavy snack before working up a sweat. Well, it appears there's another pre-workout hack that you can try and many people may not even realize it's an option: candy. (See: Gluten-Free Candy Options You Already Know and Love)
It's weird but true. In fact, eating a little bit of sugary candy before you exercise can give you the extra boost you need to totally crush your workout, says Rachelle Reed, Ph.D., senior director of health and research at fitness company Orangetheory. Reed admits that candy is often villainized but says that it can play a role in helping you fuel up for your workout.
"When it comes to exercise, what we know from research is that fueling the right way before and after a workout session is important," says Reed. "Your body has the capacity to use several different types of fuel during exercise, but a lot depends on intensity."
For lower intensity workouts (think: walking), where you might be doing 50 percent or so of your maximum capacity, Reed says that your body usually relies on its stored fat for energy. If you know you're going to be doing a lighter workout, such as a short jog or leisurely bike ride, a pre-workout snack — candy or otherwise — isn't really needed, she says. (Related: Genius Pre-Workout and Post-Workout Vegetarian Snacks)
But, candy comes into play as you get into more intense workouts, such as HIIT, indoor cycling classes, and endurance runs. As the intensity increases, your body relies more on carbohydrates as a fuel source, and candy can be part of that, says Reed.
Here's what you need to know about using candy as pre-workout fuel.
Why Candy Works as a Pre-workout Snack
Most people associate carbohydrates with grains, but sugar is also a carbohydrate. Carbs can generally be broken into two camps: Complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates (aka simple sugars). The carbohydrates you eat are broken down by your digestive system into glucose, the form of sugar that your body uses for fuel. Simple carbs — including the ones found in candy — are digested more quickly and absorbed faster in your body than complex carbs, explains Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S., co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab, Promix Nutrition, and ARENA.
That leads us back to using carbs in general as pre-workout fuel. When you eat carbs, the glucose that they're broken down into is either quickly used for energy or are stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles for use later. While you're working out, your body can grab that glycogen to use as energy to power your muscles. That's why, "if you're looking for quick energy in higher intensity workouts, sugar can be a great source," says Matheny. This is also why you might see endurance athletes consume candy or gummies for fuel during longer runs or cycling rides; those simple sugars can be digested quickly and turned straight into energy. (Related: 10 'Junk Foods' That Actually Boost Your Workout)
In general, Matheny says that having a small amount of candy, such as a fun-size bag of M&Ms (Buy It, $20, amazon.com), Sour Patch Kids (Buy It, $8, amazon.com) or Nerds (Buy It, $12, amazon.com), about 15 minutes before your workout should help deliver a decent amount of energy to your body when you need it most.
The boost you'll get from this "varies based on whether you're eating it with other things," says Matheny. If you eat sugar or candy by itself, it will digest quickly in your body, he explains. But, if it's combined with fats, protein, or fiber (for instance, if you opt for a Snickers chocolate bar, which contains a little protein and fat), it will digest more slowly. (See: Vegan Candy to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth Without Upsetting Your Stomach)
Overall, though, having a sugary candy about 15 minutes before you plan to start sweating should help you feel a little more power when it's go-time, says Matheny.
Are There Any Downsides to Eating Candy Before a Workout?
If you're planning to use extra Halloween candy as pre-workout snack and you know you'll be going pretty hard in the exercise department each time you do, you're likely fine to do this, says Matheny. Still, both he and Reed caution against overdoing it, suggesting you stick with a small portion. Eating too much pre-workout can upset your stomach or make you feel sluggish, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The best scenario, according to Matheny, is if you're planning a challenging afternoon workout and haven't eaten since lunch, or you need a little boost before your morning exercise but don't want to eat a full meal first. So, have a small bag of candy beforehand. "Look at the label," says Matheny. "For the average person, 15 to 20 grams of sugar is a good amount. That will give you a nice boost and burn more than you're putting in."
And, of course, if you're going to try this workout hack, enjoy it. "Yes, food is for fuel and our bodies need fuel, but you can have fun, too," says Reed.