If you’re looking for a new fitness challenge, there’s always one to try on GymTok. One of the more appetising TikTok fitness hacks we’ve spotted involves eating a Rice Krispie treat before working out, which devotees swear has all kinds of benefits. One writer put it to the test…
Pretty much everything advertised on GymTok (TikTok’s main fitness channel) needs to be taken with a pinch of salt… or a dry scoop of protein powder (actually don’t – it’s really dangerous!). But while a lot of what we see on TikTok is insane, some of the fitness trends on the platform are just too tempting to resist.
Which is how I found myself eating a Rice Krispies treat ahead of every workout for two weeks. I wanted to see if the primary school favourite really could offer the “insane pump” TikTok users like ko0maaa promise, who claimed that a pre-workout Rice Krispies cake resulted in a new bodybuilding personal record. He’s not the only one obsessing with the snack: #RiceKrispiePump has over 590,000 views on the app.
I couldn’t resist this challenge. As a junk food aficionado, it could have been designed for me. I grew up in 90s New York when Rice Krispies treats were all the rage; in the UK, I know they were equally ubiquitous as the ultimate cheap, easy and deliciously sugary snack.
They’re still one of my favourites – so much so that I have a giant box of Rice Krispies cereal and bags of marshmallows in my cupboard at all times. The only other ingredient you need for making these bars is butter (you could use vegan marshmallows and butter but the texture might be different. If you can’t be bothered with getting pans sticky, anyone who went to school in the 00s is familiar with the pre-made Rice Krispies Squares, which can be found at most local supermarkets for £1.
Aside from being cheap and delicious, it would never occur to me to attempt a workout after eating a slice of Rice Krispies cake because, well, they’re not exactly healthy. I always feel like I should exercise after eating a hard-boiled egg, or swigging water with electrolytes, not ingesting an intensely sugary snack.
And, as with most sweet things, I find it hard to stop at just one slice which can mean feeling slightly nauseous after (they’re so sickly!). In the name of fitness, however, I decided to set myself a challenge: to eat one slice before every workout to see if they really could make me stronger. So, when I started working out after eating Rice Krispies treats, the results surprised me.
Can eating a Rice Krispies treat actually improve your workout?
As with all experiments, this Rice Krispies cake workout challenge has had its ups and downs.
The worst bit? Eating them daily has opened the floodgates to all of my sugar cravings, something I’ve worked hard to curb over the past several years. I have a mouth full of fillings to remind me that I was once a 20-something who ate Dairy Milk bars for breakfast. Since I started eating Rice Krispies treats every day, I’ve started to crave sugar more than ever.
Now for the good news. I can totally see why this trend has become a TikTok favourite: I felt amazing during my Rice Krispies-fuelled workouts. I would eat a Rice Krispies treat and then try all sorts of cardio and strength exercises and classes, from going HAM on the assault bike to trying barre, pilates and kettlebell workouts.
Over two weeks, I noticed that my output was significantly better, my stamina was higher throughout my workouts (I didn’t get that dip towards the middle-to-end of my session when I normally stop trying because I’m exhausted) and I enjoyed my workouts more than I have in months.
Even better, I lifted heavier weights than I’ve ever managed before, and succeeded in doing more reps and longer holds with them. My workout time doubled on average, which is also helping me feel stronger and fitter. I was more active during the day, too. I did hit the wall a week in, feeling exhausted and sluggish, but the next day, I was back to high levels of energy and motivation.
I also liked that Rice Krispies treats don’t cause bloating, heaviness, tummy pain or cramps, which I think is a bonus as someone who has suffered from food-related exercise pain in the past.
I do wonder if there’s a psychological component at play. I love eating Rice Krispies treats, so surely it’s in my best interest to try harder when I workout after having one so I have an excuse to eat them more? Or am I overthinking this a bit?
Does the high sugar content really matter?
I know what you’re thinking: Rice Krispies cakes are refined sugar bombs. We know that lots of sugar isn’t good for us, and no one would ever advocate downing a bag of Tangfastics (outside of a marathon) before a workout – so surely no nutrition expert worth their salt would back this trend?
As with so many TikTok trends, the evidence for this one has been conflicting, but some dietitians in the US, like Caroline Klinger, have spoken out in favour of the “Rice Krispies pump”.
“Rice Krispies are an awesome source right before a workout because they hit your stomach, they get digested really quickly, they enter your bloodstream, and boom, you have carbs to power your workout. This is why as sports dietitians, we recommend cereal as a pre-workout snack,” Klinger says in a video post.
But other nutritionists are less convinced, although they do agree that the body needs carbohydrates to fuel a workout and recover afterwards. Complex carbs take longer to digest but give us longer-lasting energy, while simple carbs like cereals and sweets can give us that instant energy hit.
“We need to remember that the Rice Krispies snack isn’t some sort of miracle drug,” explains Holly-Rose Durham, a registered nutrition coach and recipe developer for UK fitness app Shreddy. “While there is some logic to it, you need to focus on a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet throughout the day. Rice Krispies shouldn’t be a replacement for meals, nor should they be relied on for nutrients.”
Any way you cut them, Rice Krispies treats are processed foods high in refined sugar that offer limited nutritional value. “Simple sugars can cause blood sugar to drop even further once the initial energy boost wears off; this is going to leave you feeling groggy, lethargic and can decrease overall performance,” Durham says.
According to Durham, the “gold standard” of pre-workout nutrition is a bowl of berries with Greek yoghurt, which has vitamins, minerals and protein, and should give you both quick-release and longer-lasting energy for your training session.
When you’re on the go and need a pre-workout snack, you can always do what trainer (and creator of The Lottie Method) Lottie-Daisy does: “My go-to snack is a banana (but not just before, give enough time for it to digest). It’s substantial, easy to digest and gives me a good amount of carbs to fuel me and give me the power for my workout,” she tells Stylist, noting that if you’re hungry ahead of a workout, you should eat something rather than ignoring the urge. “A car cannot run without petrol and it’s exactly the same for our bodies; we need the fuel.”
But you can make these treats healthier, says wellness expert Penny Weston, founder of Made. Instead of marshmallows, try mixing nut butter and maple syrup; use puffed brown rice instead of the already-sweetened Rice Krispies cereal.
She explains: “Adding in a protein such as a nut butter makes it a better choice of snack because protein has many beneficial properties; it helps you to feel fuller for longer, consequently helping to prevent overeating. It’s also essential for building muscles and so eating it before a workout can help to maintain your muscle mass and promote muscle growth.”
How to choose the perfect pre-exercise snack for each workout
While TikTok trends are often anecdotal rather than rooted in fact and science, one thing that experts tend to agree on is that depending on what kind of workout you’re doing, you may want to eat different kinds of food beforehand.
“Different types of exercise will require different types and amounts of energy. For a high-intensity cardio or strength session, the Rice Krispies snack could be beneficial and help you power through. However, for someone taking a casual bike ride or yoga class, you probably won’t need a pre-workout snack if your last meal was within the last two or three hours,” says Durham.
What you eat after a workout can be just as critical, too, since you’re looking to refuel exhausted muscles. Lottie-Daisy favours a nutritious meal rather than a post-workout snack, or a protein shake when on the go.
“My top tip, which I also apply to myself, is listening to my body, being in tune with my body. Creating a happy, healthy balance with my nutrition and exercise creates the perfect equilibrium for me. Everything in moderation,” she says.
So if I’m craving those Rice Krispies treats on occasion – workout or no workout – I’ll go for it. After two weeks of eating them every day, however, a bowl of yoghurt and berries ahead of my next weights session sounds pretty good…
Try this healthy pre-workout fudge recipe
Made’s Penny Weston’s go-to plant-based, pre-workout snack is a super-quick fudge. It’s packed with protein and healthy fats, as well as readily available energy from maple syrup.
Four ingredient no-bake peanut butter fudge
- 1 cup peanut butter
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- ¼ cup almond flour
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- Handful of chocolate chips (optional)
- Mix the peanut butter, coconut oil, almond flour and maple syrup. Add the chocolate chips if you want.
- Pour into a lined loaf tin, smooth on top and freeze for 1-2 hours.
- Cut into squares and put back in the freezer and store in there (just take squares out as and when you need a snack).
For more healthy recipes, nutrition tips and workout ideas, visit the Strong Women Training Club.
Images: Getty/author’s own