Halloween is almost here again, and that can only mean one thing: candy—and lots of it! For many fit-minded folks this can be a difficult time, as you attempt to summon superhuman willpower to resist the lure of the lollipop. But, alas, many a will has been broken when Halloween ends, but those piles of candy remain.
My Halloween treat for you is that instead of tossing out all that candy, you can do your body a favor by strategically giving in to your sweet tooth. I know, it sounds crazy. But don't worry, it's all in the name of results.
The Fundamentals of Fast-Digesting Carbs
When you talk candy, you're talking carbohydrates—and more specifically, simple ones. Candy carbs have a simple structure and a high glycemic index, which means they make it into your bloodstream and muscles very quickly.
Now, if you're not an active person, ingesting extra carbs just helps you get fat. If you take them during strenuous activity or serious lifting, though, those carbs end up as fuel—not fat.
The relationship between fast-digesting carbs and sports is well known. Athletes often use sports drinks or gels made from simple carbohydrates to get a quick energy boost. These simple carbs provide energy during long bouts of activity like running or cycling, or during endurance sports like football and soccer.
What many people don't realize is that, besides providing quick energy, these easily digested carbs can benefit you in lots of other ways, especially if you do resistance training.
Here's how it works: Your body stores some simple carbs in the form of glycogen. In turn, your muscles use that glycogen as part of a chemical process that creates ATP, which is the energy molecule powering your muscle cells during workouts. A vigorous workout can burn up more than 30 percent of that stored glycogen. You can replenish that supply of glycogen in time for the next day's workout just by eating normal meals, but there are a few reasons you might want to load up on glycogen sooner than that.
Fast Carbs for Bigger Muscles and Better Recovery
The first advantage to refilling your glycogen levels immediately after a workout is that doing so provides your muscles with fuel to promote recovery and boost future workouts.
Another benefit of these easily-digested carbs is that as they rush into your bloodstream, they boost the release of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin is important because it opens channels on the muscle cells that allow that glucose and other nutrients, like amino acids for building muscle protein, to enter the muscle cells for storage or employment. In fact, if you take creatine and carnitine post-workout, as you should, those nutrients will be wasted unless there is enough insulin to help shuttle them inside the muscle cell.
And yet another benefit of those simple carbs is that stored glycogen in muscle pulls water into the muscle cell, increasing its volume (i.e. size). So the more glycogen you can store, the bigger and fuller your muscles will look.
The best way to replenish your glycogen stores is by supplementing with 30-60 grams of high-glycemic carbohydrates. One of the fastest-digesting forms of carbs is dextrose, which is a lot like glucose, the naturally occurring form of sugar in your bloodstream. You can find dextrose in my Post JYM Fast-Digesting Carbs, a powdered carb mix that also includes maltose, maltodextrin, and corn syrup (but not high-fructose corn syrup!).
Fast-Digesting Carb Guidelines
As much as I like to mix my Post JYM Fast-Digesting Carbs into a shake, sometimes I like to eat my carbs. In fact, I've become well-known for being a fan of gummy bears, which are a perfectly acceptable source of dextrose.
With Halloween and its abundance of sweets right around the corner, you may be wondering whether any of these other candies might be as good as gummy bears to do some fast glycogen refilling. If so, you're in luck. Check out the guidelines and list below to learn how some close label reading can help pick out candies that will satisfy your trick-or-treaters—and help you prepare for your next workout.
As I said, the optimal forms of carbohydrates are those comparable to glucose in terms of their glycemic index. When you're looking for candy that meets this criterion, check the label and make sure the first ingredient on the list is one of the following:
- Corn Syrup
Note that regular table sugar, also called sucrose, isn't on the list. Sucrose is considered a simple sugar and digests more rapidly than complex carbs. However, it’s composed of half glucose and half fructose. The problem is the fructose, which is low-glycemic for all the wrong reasons.
Fructose, the naturally occurring sugar in most fruits, as well as agave syrup, and used to make high-fructose corn syrup, is not usable by the body like glucose or dextrose are. So, it first has to go to the liver to get converted eventually (and hopefully into glucose). Or, it can be converted into fat.
The fructose that doesn’t get converted to glucose or fat is the biggest problem of all. One 2016 UCLA study analyzing rats trying to navigate a maze showed a link between high fructose consumption and damaged genes in the brain.  So, avoid candies that list fructose and/or high-fructose corn syrup.
Jim's Trick-or-Treat Cheat Sheet
If you don't want to take the time to research each label as you fight your way down the Halloween candy isle at your local grocery store, just grab a bag or two of one of these candies (or steal them from your kids):
- Haribo gold bears. Of course, gummy bears top my list. I was eating from a big bag of them when I visited the Bodybuilding.com Podcast, for example. Look for brands that list dextrose, glucose, corn syrup, or maltodextrin as the first ingredient.
- Mary Janes
- Jolly Ranchers
- Candy Corn
- Wonka candies: Virtually the entire Wonka line works, including Pixy Stix, Nerds, Fun Dip, Runts, Laffy Taffy, and Sweet Tarts.
This list is by no means exhaustive. If your favorite Halloween candy isn't on it, that doesn't mean it can't be. Just check its ingredients list to see if it belongs.
Treats Are the Trick to Improving Your Results
No, this isn't your permission to eat piles of candy any time you want. Remember: 30-60 grams post-workout—and stick to it! That said, this Halloween, don't cheat yourself out of an opportunity to give in to your urges a little bit.
If you plan on passing out candy, just choose well so you won't have to let those leftovers go to waste. With the right candies and the right timing, you can make your little visitors happy, satisfy your sweet tooth, refill those glycogen stores, and hit it hard at your next workout!
Find more great training and nutrition information at JimStoppani.com.
1. Meng, Q., Ying, Z., Noble, E., Zhao, Y., Agrawal, R., Mikhail, A., ... & Morselli, M. (2016). Systems nutrigenomics reveals brain gene networks linking metabolic and brain disorders. EBioMedicine, 7, 157-166.