Let’s flashback to the 2008 Beijing Olympics – Usain Bolt, the fastest man of all time, took the world by storm as he crossed the finish line first again and again. In 2008, the charismatic Jamaican sprinter won three gold medals in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4×100-meter. That year Bolt also broke the world record for the 100-meter race, clocking in at and incredible 9.69 seconds.
You might remember his spectacular finishes as he left competitors in the dust and crossed the finish line first again and again. He left spectators in awe with his speed and grace. You might think that such an incredible athlete must have a spotless diet as well. But, not exactly. Do you know what Usain Bolt ate during the 2008 Olympics?
Chicken nuggets. McDonalds chicken nuggets.
And not just a couple, not just every once in a while, and not just on cheat day. Usain Bolt “reportedly ate 100 chicken nuggets a day while out competing in China as well as French fries and apple pies.” (1)
Obviously, eating 100 chicken nuggets a day isn’t the healthiest diet. But, if you are using the amount of energy an Olympic sprinter uses, well, it might work. And since he won 3 gold medals, we can’t really criticize his diet, right?
That being said, a 100 chicken-nugget-a-day diet is not recommended. After all, the food we eat is the fuel for our bodies that keeps us running and gives us energy to make it through the day. But how does your body turn food into fuel?
Here’s a basic run-down of how it works. All of the food you eat, as soon as it enters your mouth, begins the process of being broken down. Throughout the process, as food travels through the digestive system, it’s converted into glucose.
Glucose is the main type of sugar in the blood and it’s the main source of energy for the body’s cells (2). The glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the cells, where it is transformed into ATP, which fuels all the cells in your body.
Any extra glucose is stored for later, as fat. And when you skip a meal or don’t eat enough, your cells then convert the fat back into ATP to give your body’s cells energy. (3)
So… if all food is converted into sugar…why don’t we just eat straight sugar? Could your favorite candy become your new fuel?
Almost all long-distance runners use some sort of fuel on race day. After all, when you are running a marathon (or really any run lasting longer than 1 hour) it’s a good idea to refuel your body while you are running. Most people choose energy gels or other energy chews. But what about candy?
Lauren Keating from Runner Click says that “it is recommended that runners consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour when running 60 minutes or longer. Put simply, runners can absolutely use candy as a fuel source during a run since they are replenishing their sugar sources.” (4)
But don’t go crazy just yet – keep mind that everyone’s stomach is different, and don’t ever try something new on race day. Always test out a few things well ahead of the big day to find out what works best for you.
Before grabbing your running shoes and your favorite candy and running out the door, it’s important to keep in mind that candy isn’t just pure sugar. Candy also has a bunch of other ingredients that could affect your stomach and have negative affects on your run.
Keating suggests sticking to candy that’s free from fiber and fat. She says that “Jelly Beans, Smarties, Gummy Bears, Sour Patch Kids, Jolly Ranchers, and Peeps” are all good options.
While eating a couple gummy bears might help you replenish your energy stores and finish your run, is candy really the best option? After all, it is candy.
One recent study suggests that eating candy that’s high in fructose corn syrup has some long-term risks. The study showed that the participants that drank beverages with high fructose corn syrup were the worst in terms of long-term negative effects. “Researchers were surprised to see the combination of fructose and glucose, which is found in high fructose corn syrup, appeared to be worse than fructose alone.” (5)
So, make sure to read the label and check what’s in your favorite candy. If it’s high fructose corn syrup, be careful. It’s best to stick to a balanced diet to make sure you give your body all the nutrients it needs.
And as you know, extreme amounts of anything – whether it’s chicken nuggets, gummy bears, or chocolate – isn’t the best for your body.
Using your favorite candy as fuel is okay, but as always, moderation is key.
Exercise and fitness are only half of the health battle – the other half is nutrition. Fueling your body with the right nutrients makes working out easier and more enjoyable. And even if you do work out more than 2 hours a day, you still need those fruits and veggies!