Sweets the perfect complement to sports

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Participants attend a yoga lesson at Toraya Aoyama confectionery store in Minato Ward, Tokyo, after which yokan bean paste products are offered.

By Sanae Nokura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSweets can be a perfect accompaniment for playing sports and exercising. An increasing number of opportunities allow people to enjoy such pairings, with yoga classes at a shop run by a long-established wagashi traditional Japanese confectionery maker being one example.

As carbohydrates are necessary for recovering from exercise-induced fatigue, sweets makers are focusing on new demands, and some have launched products that can better meet nutritional support needs when playing sports.

Toraya Aoyama, a Japanese sweets shop in Minato Ward, Tokyo, that is run by Toraya Confectionery Co., has been offering yoga classes at 7:30 a.m. every Monday since August. A recent session was attended by seven participants and ran for 45 minutes under the theme “listening to your own breathing.”

After the lesson, two small, palm-sized yokan sweets, or sweetened and jellied bean paste, and a can of azuki red bean tea were offered. Some people enjoyed them at the venue.

One of the participants, a 45-year-old female company employee from Minato Ward, said she took part in the session because she was “interested in such a seemingly unexpected combination of yoga and a traditional Japanese confectionery shop.”

“Yokan having a healthy impression, it’s easier for me to give it a try [after exercising],” she added.

Toraya Aoyama is located near the New National Stadium, an area where many joggers can be seen. The shop opened in July with the aim of encouraging people in sportswear to casually drop in. Shop manager Chieko Kanno, 29, is also a yoga instructor. “We aimed to create a new environment for enjoying yokan,” she said.

Sweets can be eaten not only after sports, but also while exercising or during breaks to get more energy. At some marathon events, “sweets stations” have been set up just like water stations.

The Kanazawa Marathon is among these events, with one of its sweets stations offering 10 local wagashi products. These sweets are cut into bite-size pieces to make it easier for runners to eat them, and tea is also offered further on.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Sports Kastella offers single-slice packets of castella sponge cake to make it easier for people to carry when exercising.

  • Courtesy of Imuraya Co.

    Sports Yo-kan is designed to be easy to push out so that it can be consumed while exercising.

At last year’s event, the organizers prepared about 21,000 portions for about 14,000 runners, all of which were consumed by the end of the day. “We hope participants will feel Kanazawa’s particular wagashi culture,” an official of the organizers’ secretariat said.

Castella, a sponge cake that was imported from Europe and now a specialty of Nagasaki Prefecture, has also been turned into a product for consumption during sports. In September last year, Chidori Castella Honpo in Unzen in the prefecture launched a banana-flavored product called Sports Kastella.

Sports Kastella looks the same as regular castella, but for this product, 20 percent of the superfine sugar ordinarily used to make castella is replaced with a sweetener called palatinose, which is said to be a good durable energy source to eat during exercise because palatinose is digested and absorbed into the body slowly. The new product also features a moist texture.

“It goes well with sports drinks too,” said Kazunori Miyake, head of the maker’s general affairs department. “Toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, we aim to promote an advanced version of Nagasaki’s castella.”

Imuraya Group Co., based in Tsu, sells a product called Sports Yo-kan that also uses palatinose. The company first released an azuki flavor in 2012 and followed that up with a cacao flavor last summer.

“The cacao-flavored product is good for children, who are not used to eating yokan, as well as non-Japanese consumers. It can adequately replace salt lost through sweat as well,” a public relations officer said.

Satoko Shiibashi, a nationally registered dietitian and expert on meals for athletes, said, “The carbohydrates contained in sweets are an energy source during exercise, and are also necessary for recovery from fatigue.”

However, eating a large amount of sweets before exercising or having sweets with too much fat in them even after exercising should be avoided, she added.

“In order to quickly recover from fatigue after doing sports, it is also good to have milk and yogurt, which contain protein, as well as fruit or 100-percent fruit juice, which include vitamins and minerals,” Shiibashi said.

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