A reader writes: “I have a question about eating cinnamon buns on a regular basis. My cycling group likes to ride 40 to 70 miles at least twice a week. They also like to eat cinnamon buns and have gone so far as to rank the best buns. I wonder, considering the high fat and sugar content of these sweets, is it a good idea from a health standpoint to eat one every time ones goes riding? I know the calories are probably burned off but I wonder about the fat and sugar ingestion and the impact on cardiovascular health as well as health in general. I guess what I am getting at, does massive exercise off-set bad dietary choices? Thanks.
Great question, Tricia,
I assume that you and your riding buddies are in good health. Sports experts say a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is the key to peak athletic performance. Let’s see if cinnamon buns fit into that equation.
Hard-working athletes like yourself need more energy (calories in food) than … me, for example. And cinnamon buns certainly provide ample amounts of your two main sources of fuel — carbohydrates and fat.
Carbohydrates (sugars and starches in foods such as fruit, grains and cinnamon buns) provide more energy per unit of oxygen you breath than fat. When you are sucking for air on long rides, it’s beneficial to use the energy source that requires the least amount of oxygen per calorie, yes? One popular cinnamon bun contains 880 calories and 127 grams of carbohydrates, way more than most of us need at one time. Yet if you are cycling for 2 to 3 hours, you may be burning up 90 grams of carbs (360 calories) each hour. That may be one justification.
Well-trained athletes can also use calories from fat to fuel long rides, especially when your reserves of carbohydrates are depleted. One cinnamon bun contains 37 grams of fat, almost half of that from saturated fat. That’s a lot. Nutrition experts advise us to limit our daily dose of saturated fat to less than 10 percent of our daily calorie expenditure since this type of fat has been linked to inflammation — a condition closely tied to heart disease and diabetes. A cinnamon bun might fit on your fuel-burning cycling days if you don’t load up on other high fat foods such as burgers and milkshakes on the same day. Excess fat may also slow down your athletic performance, say sports experts.
Does massive exercise offset bad dietary choices? Yes and no. Nutrition experts look at your total diet, not one food, to evaluate your nutritional status. If you routinely eat a diet rich in high quality, lean protein foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limit the greasy refined foods most of the time, an occasional high fat sweet treat won’t throw you too far off the track.
Thanks for writing.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.