Bodybuilding’s Best-Kept Secret? Manuka Honey

Wesley Doyle - Manuka Doctor Guest Author
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Wesley Doyle is a Sussex based health and fitness journalist whose work has appeared in Men’s Health, Runner’s World, Men’s Fitness, Cyclist, Healthy for Men, and The Red Bulletin.

Author views are not our own.

You may have heard about Manuka honey’s reputation for preventing colds and infections. But did you know those same health-boosting properties can support your muscle goals too? It’s a natural alternative to mass-produced sports supplements.  

Think of sports gels and drinks and what probably comes to mind is coloured, sickly sweet concoctions full of artificial ingredients. But there is an all-natural product out there that has the same workout-enhancing properties, with additional muscle-building benefits.

Native to New Zealand, Manuka honey is one of the world’s best-known superfoods. And for good reason: it has unique antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And while the medicinal benefits of Manuka honey are renowned in health circles, what’s becoming more apparent is how it can also support those looking to build their bodies, as well as repair them.

Manuka honey offers a triple-threat of benefits to bodybuilders and those training at high levels: fuel, support and repair. Let’s break it down.

Muscle food

Whether you’re hitting the gym for a heavy session or embarking on an endurance activity such as running or cycling, you need to ensure you have enough fuel to get the job done.

Manuka honey is a carbohydrate and is therefore easily absorbed by your body and, when taken before a workout, can help power you through the session. Unlike the glucose-based products you usually turn to, Manuka honey’s slower-release mechanism means your body is drip-fed energy rather than getting it in all one go, which can cause a spike in your blood sugar. So, you avoid that inevitable crash, resulting in lethargy and a loss of energy. [1] A pre-workout tablespoonful of honey can maintain your blood-sugar levels better than any other carbohydrate option [2].

Natural support

If your training session is going to go beyond the 90-minutes-worth of glycogen your liver can store, then you’re going to need to top up as you exercise. Once again, Manuka honey comes into its own as the natural alternative to energy drinks or gels. Adding a spoonful to your water bottle will create your own isotonic sports drink (and a pinch of salt will make it hypotonic too) which can be sipped throughout the session. [3] This means you’ll be fuelling on the go, while still avoiding those blood-sugar spikes mid-set.


Any form of high-intensity exercise puts stress on the body, which in turn produces free-radicals. These can cause oxidative stress in the body, which among many negative effects can reduce the amount of muscle-building testosterone you have. As Manuka honey is rich in antioxidants [4] it can help fight the damaging effects of free radicals, making sure your body has everything it needs to build muscle mass.

Muscle growth also depends on recovery and a big part of that is getting the correct nutrition to your muscles as quickly as possible post-training. What’s needed is a balance of protein and carbs, which is why whey protein shakes are so popular. But that carb element in many post-workout shakes all too often comes from artificial sugars. Going natural with Manuka honey as your carb source is another easy win. Manuka honey also contains some amino acids, which as any dedicated gym-goer knows, are the building blocks of muscle. Plus, it’s a good option for replenishing the glycogen stores depleted by your labours.

Finally, let’s not forget the taste – something, let’s face it, that sports nutrition products are lacking. No more sugary approximations of fruit flavours, Manuka honey has a medium sweetness with a subtle nutty taste, which will make your post-workout shake a reward rather than another test of your endurance.

Word to the wise: not all Manuka honeys are made equal and there are a lot of bogus brands out there. To ensure you get the full anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, look for a genuine product that meets the strict New Zealand Government Standards. If the label has the gold Tested Certified Manuka symbol on it – like all Manuka Doctor products – then you’ll know it’s the real deal.

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