While I may not have much first-hand experience in long distance running, many of the beekeepers we work with around the world are keen athletes. Several of them have shared their secret to getting the best out of a run – raw honey. If you’re a runner, I admire your discipline and the way you compile strategies to stretch yourself to improve your personal best. So I delved a bit deeper into why raw honey can be a runner’s best friend.
When you are expending a lot of energy and you need to pay attention to your food intake and physical output. When it comes to running long distances, like the 26.2 miles (42 km) required to complete the London Marathon, the more natural you can keep your eating plan the better. Studies like the one from the University of Memphis Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory state that raw honey is one of the most effective forms of carbohydrate to eat before exercise. Similar studies have found that it is a great natural supplement for energy and endurance as it performs on a par with glucose (the sugar in most commercial energy drinks and gels). Raw honey gives you energy with the added benefits of vitamins and minerals and no additives or artificial preservatives.
Since the ancient Olympic Games in Athens, raw honey has been used to put a spring in the step of many a long distance runner. Research has shown that the rich carbohydrate content of raw honey can enable a runner to go the distance. Raw honey has a lower glycaemic index and so raises blood sugar slowly and helps keep energy levels on an even keel to combat fatigue. Raw honey contains polyphenols which help reduce oxidative stress in the cells as a result of extreme exercise and taken on its own or mixed with water can enhance a runners performance.
A good source of protein, carbohydrate and a little fat is recommended to sustain a runner for the weeks or months training and on race day. Raw honey is made up of two carbohydrates (fructose and glucose). Porridge with a couple of spoonfuls of raw honey and a handful of chia seeds is an ideal pre-run breakfast. Always go for low glycaemic foods like sweet potato, oats, whole foods and good quality pasta. All raw honey (i.e. not heat treated or micro-filtered) contains around 17-18 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon, so a few of these should supply an average athlete with an hour’s worth of fuel. When you are hitting the proverbial wall, when you feel so tired, the legs are like jelly and the breathing heavy take a hit of raw honey and see how your body revives.
Intensive training can hit your immune function hard, but a daily dose of raw honey can help stave off infection and keep colds or bugs at bay. I write a lot about the proven health benefits of raw honey and when it comes to runners benefit from the B vitamins for energy and antioxidant powers to boost cells. If you are a sufferer of hay fever and if affects you when running outdoors a small tea spoon of raw honey each day (and the pollen found within it) can act as a deterrent, test it carefully and see how your body reacts.
After a long distance run or workout when you are feeling the burn in your muscles, raw honey can help with recovery and reduce inflammation. Researchers from Azad University looked at athletes undergoing intense treadmill training. Over a period of 10 weeks, half the volunteers consumed 50 grams of raw honey diluted in 200ml water daily, while the other half consumed a placebo. Results showed the runners drinking the honey water had lower levels of inflammation and higher numbers of protective anti-inflammatory proteins. The benefits are down to the flavonoids, the antioxidants in raw honey, which help counterbalance the physical stress of exercise.
Let’s not forget the amazing properties of propolis for runners. Propolis is a natural by-product of bees, a red or brown resin composed of beeswax, saliva and sap collected from plants. It is absolutely ram packed with antioxidants. These are especially beneficial to athletes as they can protect them from overheating. According to the Journal of Food Science, the active ingredient in propolis known as caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) triggers a variety of biological activities. Overheating is one of the main factors causing fatigue and dehydration during prolonged periods of exercise in the heat. The best way to take propolis is through a tincture 1 or 2 drops or in propolis capsules. We sell both at Balqees.
Despite their promises, most sports drinks are a cocktail of sugar or chemical sweeteners, artificial colours and little else. Ironically they are not a very healthy thing to put in your body, and some runners find they can irritate the gut. It’s easy to make your own natural drink to replenish those lost electrolytes and ingest energy-giving carbohydrate:
Take 500 ml of water (about a pint), juice of 1 orange, juice of a lemon, 3-4 tablespoons of raw honey and 1/4 teaspoon of salt (I recommend a really good sea salt or pink Himalayan). Mix well to combine.
If you are making your own little natural packs, power packs of raw honey I call them, make them easy to consume whilst on the run. It might take a fraction more effort but at least you know it’s all good and natural. You can pour the raw honey into the corner of a small sandwich bag and tie the top securely or buy a gel flask (GU and Hydrapack are two brands). One tablespoon of raw honey provides around 17 grams of carbohydrate, which means two to three of these per hour during a long run should stop your legs from feeling like lead. Test out how much is your optimum intake over your practice runs.
It’s not advisable to introduce something new diet wise on the day of the big race so try things out and see what works best for you in terms of food and ingredients. Here are some additional raw honey combinations to give you an added push:
Runners who have caffeine an hour before an 8 mile run improved their times by an average of 23.8 seconds, according to a study in the Journal of Sports Science. Read more about the benefits of adding raw honey to your coffee, adding a drop of sweetness and reaping the added benefits of this combination.
I love chia seeds. I throw them into my smoothies which I down on a daily basis. They come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. For the indigenous people of Central America and Mexico they have been an important part of their diets for thousands of years. These seeds were often referred to as “the running food”. Chia seeds and water were mixed to maintain energy levels and stay hydrated during conquests. According to history, the Tarahumara people (those who run fast) were known to run 200 miles over 2 days to get from one settlement to the next. Whether pre or post-race, here are some delicious chia seed smoothie ideas.
I was reading about long distance runner Scott Jurek, who ran 2000 miles across the Appalachian Mountains in 46 days. He eats lots of nut butter as a good source of protein and it gives a slow release of energy. It is supposed to act as a building block for muscle growth and recovery too. It’s delicious and effective combined with energy- boosting raw honey. I recommend our Raw Honey High Peaks from the Black Beech trees of New Zealand, it not only tastes amazing, it’s really good for you too.
So whether you are setting out on a 5km fun run or ultra-marathon, best of luck. Do consider raw honey as part of your training plan – and let us know how you get on in the comments.
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