Honey is a natural substance formed primarily of carbohydrates (~80%) which also contains a number of other compounds purported to confer health benefits when consumed. Due to its carbohydrate composition (low glycaemic index, mostly fructose and glucose), honey may theoretically exert positive effects when consumed before, during or after exercise. This review therefore appraised research examining the effects of honey consumption in combination with exercise in humans. Online database (PubMed, MEDLINE, SPORTDiscus) searches were performed, yielding 273 results. Following duplicate removal and application of exclusion criteria, nine articles were reviewed. Large methodological differences existed in terms of exercise stimulus, population, and the nutritional interventions examined. All nine studies reported biochemical variables, with four examining the effects of honey on exercise performance, whilst five described perceptual responses. Acute supplementation around a single exercise session appeared to elicit similar performance, perceptual, and immunological responses compared with other carbohydrate sources, although some performance benefit has been observed relative to carbohydrate-free comparators. When consumed over a number of weeks, honey may dampen immunological perturbations arising from exercise and possibly improve markers of bone formation. More well-controlled research is required to better understand the role for honey in a food-first approach to exercise nutrition.
Keywords: antioxidant; carbohydrate; endurance; fructose; glucose; immune function; intermittent exercise.