Carbs. You love them but the dieting industry tells you to hate them. Especially simple, fast absorbing sugars like candy. But what if I told you that there is a movement now to promote having candy? Especially after a workout. Right now, there is a fad encouraging people to have candy such as gummy bears and Pixi Stix immediately after a workout. But doesn’t sugar make you fat?
Sugar can make you fat, in excess. By that I mean in excess calories. It goes beyond that though. It’s a common misconception that sugar is “bad”, but let’s not demonize foods. Let’s focus on the gummy bears for now.
Not all carbs or sugars are created equal. Different carbs and sugars can raise your blood sugar at varying levels. This is known as the Glycemic Index, a measurement that ranks food on a scale from 0-100. The foods with a higher index value raise blood sugar faster than foods with lower glycemic index values do.
The food with a high glycemic index are quickly absorbed and digested, causing blood sugar to rise faster than low glycemic foods. Usually foods rich in fiber, protein, or fat are low glycemic foods. For example, low-fat yogurt has a glycemic index (or GI) of 14, while your average ice cream has a GI of 61. Alternatively, from the starch/grain foods, whole wheat bread ranks in at 71, while white bread has a GI of 100.
The glycemic index is not perfect though. A food’s glycemic index ranking is only accurate when it is consumed on an empty stomach and is not eaten with any other type of food. So, while ice cream has a GI of 61, if you eat a lean protein, salad, and broccoli right beforehand, the glycemic index of the meal will be lower than if you ate the ice cream alone.
An alternative to glycemic index is the glycemic load (or GL). Glycemic load is a formula that accounts for misleading glycemic index. This helps when you have high density foods, take watermelon for example. The glycemic index for watermelon is 80 (a high GI), but per serving (100 grams), a glycemic load is only 5. The carb content of the actual serving is multiplied by the glycemic index, and that number is then divided by 100.
For reference, a glycemic load of 10 or less is considered low, between 11 and 19 is moderate, and a glycemic load of higher than 20 is considered high.
Your beloved gummy bears come in with a glycemic index of 94, for reference. So on a scale of 0-100, it ranks pretty high. Gummy bears are sweetened with ingredients like dextrose and corn syrup, both which have a high glycemic index, more so than fructose (found naturally in fruits, honey, etc.). Fructose is almost exclusively broken down by the liver, where it is converted into energy or stored as glycogen.
Ok, so you understand what glycemic index is, and the GI of gummy bears. You’re probably asking yourself: what does that have to do with my workouts?
Glycogen is stored in the muscles, and is the fuel source you utilize during workouts, especially in aerobic exercise. Your workouts are fueled by glycogen (the storage form of glucose) to give energy during the toughest parts of your workouts. Post workout, it is important to replenish these stores to help your muscles recover and avoid cannibalizing themselves. Replenishing glycogen preserves muscles and accelerates recovery.
The best time to replenish glycogen is within 2 hours post workout. Depending on the length of exercise and which muscle fibers are involved, it can take between 22 hours- 4 days to completely restore your glycogen supply. The best way to maximize your muscle glycogen replenishment is to consume simple carbs as soon after exercise as possible, preferably within an hour. Hence, gummy bears!
Along with replenishing the glycogen you used during your workout, high glycemic carbs like gummy bears also quickly increase your insulin levels. When your insulin level increases, other nutrients like amino acids, creatine, and protein are better aided in entering directly into the bloodstream. Research done by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends taking protein, creatine, and BCAAs after your workouts, so giving your body the extra boost to help utilize them only makes sense!
Eating gummy bears after every workout is not for everyone. People who retain fat in their midsection may want to avoid spiking insulin levels, and rather try to have balanced levels throughout the day by eating low-moderate glycemic index foods.
And let’s be honest. Some of us cannot control ourselves. While some may be able to eat a handful of those delicious gummies after every workout, for some it can lead down a bad path of all around eating junk. If you can stick to a relatively balanced diet and still consume those gummies, go for it! But if you are the type of person always searching for different excuses to eat nutritionally sparse foods, or always seeking diet hacks, this may not be the right option for you.
In general, having a balanced diet is key to achieving your long-term health and fitness goals. While having your daily dose of gummy bears sounds ideal, you should keep in mind where you will be getting your other “treats” from, and how they will affect you in the long run. And don’t forget to account for the calories in those gummy bears (if you’re not an intuitive eater, that is), because they quickly add up, and can take a good portion of your daily intake calories away from other nutrient dense foods that you could be consuming.