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On Fitness
The fruits of these honey bees' labor may improve your workouts.
A Carb Buzz
Honey bucks a trend by offering possible benefits for exercisers

THE WAY many people talk about their diets nowadays, "carbs" sounds like the eighth deadly sin.

Never mind that most people don't mean it when they say, "I'm not eating any carbs." Actually, they're usually consuming plenty of carbohydrates, in the form of vegetables, but avoiding sweet and starchy ones such as desserts and bread.

All along, most nutrition experts have tried to keep us off the anti-carb bandwagon and get us to understand that carbohydrates are one of our bodies' main fuels, especially during exercise.

One previously disparaged carbohydrate has even been gaining — or regaining — stature.

Photo Honey once was lumped with sugar as a simple carbohydrate that provides empty calories and promotes the domino effect of hypoglycemia: quickly digested carbohydrates cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, which prompts the pancreas to secrete too much insulin in an attempt to bring the blood sugar to a normal level, which makes the blood sugar drop too low, which can lead to poor performance, dizziness, fatigue, or worse.

But recent research has shown honey might be a simple, effective and inexpensive carbohydrate alternative to sports drinks and bars.

Three of the studies were done by Dr. Richard Kreider, now chair of the Dept. of Health, Human Performance & Recreation at Baylor University.

The first trial gave 71 subjects one of seven carbohydrate gels. Honey was found to not induce hypoglycemia, producing only a mild increase in blood sugar and insulin, about the same as a popular commercial carb-gel product and less than dextrose/glucose or maltodextrin. Kreider said honey actually is a blend of natural sugars and thus takes longer to digest than, say, table sugar. He said this study suggested honey could "operate as a 'time-released' muscle fuel for exercising muscles."

The second study gave protein shakes with different sweeteners to 39 women and men after intense weight training. The honey-sweetened shake was the only one to sustain blood sugar over two hours, suggesting to Kreider that honey is a good carbohydrate source to replenish muscles after a workout.
Fitness Notebook
Fitness news you can use
Exercise helps knee pain
A study of more than 700 women and men over 45 with knee pain found that those who exercised their legs using elastic bands, 20 to 30 minutes a day, showed marked improvement over two years compared with those who took a mineral supplement and those who received monthly advice by telephone on managing osteoarthritis. Only about half the exercisers stayed with the program to the end, however.
Whole grains and diabetes
High-fiber, whole-grain foods help reduce the risk of diabetes, according to an analysis of data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, in which more than 50,000 men completed regular dietary questionnaires for 12 years. Men who averaged 3.2 servings of whole grains had a 42 percent lower risk of developing diabetes compared with men who averaged half a serving a day. Researchers think the high fiber content helps control blood insulin levels. Whole grains also are a good source of magnesium, which helps insulin and blood-sugar control.
Most surprising was the third study. Nine competitive cyclists received honey, glucose or a calorie-free placebo for each of three weeks, then rode a simulated 40-mile time trial. With both honey and dextrose, the cyclists significantly increased power and speed over those who had the placebo. This, said Kreider, "convinced us that honey can improve endurance-exercise capacity."

Kreider doesn't contend that honey is better than other carbohydrates, but is perhaps just as good — and can be significantly cheaper.

Athletes probably need more than what they'd get in those little restaurant packets, he said; about 2 tablespoons or 2 to 3 grams will do. Honey Acres of Ashippun, Wisc. (800-558-7745) has recently come up with 1 1/4 ounce, 100-calorie packets of pure honey for 50 cents each ($15 for a box of 30). EN-R-G Foods of Steamboat Springs, Colo., offers Gold, Mint and "Ginsting" flavors of Honey Stinger single-serving packs, which have honey along with sodium, potassium and B vitamins. They're $1.39 each or $28.80 for a case of 24 (; 866-GO-HONEY).

But Kreider also is interested in possible honey uses by diabetics or people on low-glycemic diets. Honey has a moderate glycemic index, which Kreider measured at 43 on a scale that has white bread at 100. Another study, last year at the University of Illinois, found that in lab tests on human blood, honey slowed the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs, the so-called "bad" cholesterol), a process that leads to atherosclerosis, the "hardening of the arteries" that can bring on heart attack or cardiac arrest.

The caveat is that calories, as always, still count when you're watching your weight. Which, I guess, takes us back to numbers six and seven of those deadly sins:

Gluttony and sloth.

Molly Martin is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. She can be reached at 206-464-8243, or P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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