Fitness Tips

TikTokers Are Boosting Their Workouts With Sour Candy. But Does the Science Back Them Up?

Photo: Getty Images/nensuria
One of the latest fitness hacks on TikTok is one you might not expect: Eating sour candy before a workout for extra energy. Creators are taking videos of themselves doing this at the gym, and people are loving watching them do it. “Sour candy gym” has over 804 million views on the platform.

I mean, you don’t have to tell me twice to eat some Sour Punch Straws before my hot girl walk. But as with any TikTok trend, it’s a good idea to check in with the experts. Does science actually back up the effectiveness of this, or is it another case of unreliable sources sharing quick fixes?

According to Rachel Trotta, a certified personal trainer, popping some sour candy in your mouth before a workout does have benefits. “In terms of sports nutrition, this trend is absolutely valid,” she says. But it's not a new trend, she points out. "Candies like gummy bears have been longtime staples of distance athletes.”

The truth is that sour candy is straight-up scientific. “While it sounds like a fun concept, eating sour candy to improve a workout is nothing more than a modern twist on basic science,” says Kylene Bogden, MS, RDN, a dietitian for Pureboost, a co-founder of FWDfuel, and a leader in functional sports nutrition.

The science behind a candy boost

So how exactly can candy improve your workout? As you may have already heard, carbohydrates—or sugar—are a great source of energy for our bodies. “Our body will store carbs as glycogen in the muscle to use as energy during our workouts,” explains Alex Larson, MS, RDN, LD, a Minnesota-based sports dietitian who specializes in working with endurance athletes. “However, when glycogen stores become depleted, our strength and energy will wane. Taking in a fast source of energy, such as sugar from candy, will offer the needed boost to continue to crush your workout.”

While eating a piece of candy isn’t vital to a solid workout, it can certainly help. “This will support our body’s physiological response to training, leading to adaptations in both cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems that support [an] overall increase in strength and stamina,” Larson says. Trotta adds it’s most helpful for workouts that are higher in intensity or longer in duration.

You may find those responses surprising. Don’t we hear from advertisements, the media, and “almond moms” (or anyone who's fallen prey to diet culture) that candy is “bad”?

“The reason it seems so novel and counterintuitive on social media is that sugar and exercise seem like they should be on opposite teams for your health goals—but in reality, they aren’t,” Trotta says. “Your body needs glucose for fuel, and even though wellness culture typically demonizes sugar, it is incredibly effective fuel for exercise.” And of course, moralizing food is always unhelpful, and may lead to disordered eating patterns.

Here's how to get the best results out of your Sour Patch snack

When to eat the candy—and how much to eat—depends on the type of workout you’re doing. Overall, though, you want to have a snack of simple carbs—like candy or PopTarts—and eat it around 15 to 45 minutes before you get moving, according to Larson. As far as the amount, “a good starting point would be 20 to 40 grams of carbs,” she notes. (For context, 12 Sour Patch Kids have 27 grams of carbs.)

The type of candy also matters, but only to a certain extent. “The reason sour candy in particular has gotten attention is that it is practically fat-free, which means that the sugar can be rapidly converted into glucose for energy without fat (or protein) content to slow it down,” Trotta explains. In other words, she says, chocolate isn’t as effective as pre-workout fuel.

Ultimately, choose what’s accessible to you and what your body is craving. “Candy is easy and affordable,” Larson says. Trotta adds that expensive pre-workout supplements are pretty much just sugar, anyway, despite the fact they're branded as “healthier.”

However, know that if you have sugar sensitivities, this approach probably isn’t the right one for you. “The only time I would say to be very cautious is if you are someone who suffers from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar),” Bogden warns. “The quick spike and crash may lead your workout to suffer.”

Other foods that can help you prep for a workout

If you’re not in the mood for sour candy, there are other foods that can get the job done. “Of course, you can use an economical ‘whole food’ like a banana to energize yourself before a workout (and this is what I advise many of my clients to do),” Trotta says.

Bogden adds that eating a carb-rich meal—such as oatmeal or a rice-based power bowl—about two to three hours before your workout is another good idea. After your workout, Larson recommends refueling with carbohydrates to reload glycogen and protein to repair and rebuild muscles.

While it’s best to be cautious with fitness and food advice you hear on TikTok, in this case, you’ve got a green light to munch on those Sour Skittles. “Sometimes, TikTok helps to bring visibility to rock-solid sports nutrition by challenging the black-and-white thinking of diet culture,” Trotta says. “It’s helpful to remember that nutrition is all about context, and a hard workout or serious training run requires that we rethink our nutrition needs, whether or not we use candy to fuel.”

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