Trainer and nutritionist Albert Matheny is known for encouraging his clients to chow down on giant cookies pre- or mid-session. Really. And not raw, sugar-free, vegan cookies concocted from mashed dates, either. Proper cookies. Packed with chocolate chips and spoonful upon spoonful of the white stuff we’ve been led to believe is the milk of Satan. Yes, I’m talking about refined sugar.
So what’s going on? Well, according to Matheny, “The worst thing you can do is come into a workout and have low blood sugar.” Your muscles need sugar to power you through a workout. There are natural sources of unrefined sugars of course, but eat, say, a banana, and the fibre will slow down the sugar’s release into your bloodstream (which, of course, is usually a good thing). Eat a cookie, doughnut or chocolate bar, though, and sugar is released into your bloodstream almost instantly, ready to be used as fuel.
So if you eat, say, a 200-calorie cookie 10-15 minutes before a run or weight training session, “it is going to give you energy to burn more than that calorie-wise during your workout and build lean muscle, which is the ultimate goal if you’re trying to lose weight,” promises Matheny. Yes, sugar could actually help you lose weight.
But what about the well-publicised health issues associated with the white stuff? As long as you’re burning it all off during your workout, you don’t need to worry, Matheny insists. But don’t celebrate just yet. Others warn that you may not require a pre-workout sugar boost – or be able to burn it off. Metabolic rate, eating patterns and workout intensity all have key parts to play in the equation. If your metabolism is relatively slow and/or you eat regular snacks and meals, additional sugar may be unnecessary. And the rationale only applies to high intensity workouts which last longer than 20 minutes, according to Matheny. Weight training and most group exercise classes count, but a walk around the park or restorative yoga session does not.
If you’re not the ‘feel the burn’ type, though, don’t despair. Fitness professional Amy Clover claims that eating the occasional cookie can boost the metabolism, propelling dieters on low-calorie diets off weight loss plateaus. Why? Because the odd ‘cheat day’ allows you to prove to your body that you’re not starving (something it is primed to fight at all costs – particularly to the cost of your metabolic rate). It also stops you obsessing over what you “can’t” have, thus reducing the temptation to scoff the whole packet when you do succumb.
Follow the 80/20 or 90/10 principle, Clover recommends (i.e. eat healthily 80-90% of the time and 10-20% of your weekly diet can be treat-based). “Your moderation might be 90%. It might be 80%. It might be a day a week of cookie madness. Just don’t make it a cookie week and throw away everything you’ve worked so hard for,” she implores.