What are actually energy gels?
Energy gels are carbohydrate-rich, jelly-like supplements that come in small squeezy sachets. They are designed to be consumed on the move during endurance exercise. Many athletes and bodybuilders appreciate their convenience. However, you should also be aware of alternative ways of fuelling on the go.
What are the main ingredients of energy gels?
They consist almost entirely of simple sugars (such as fructose and glucose) and maltodextrin (a carbohydrate derived from corn starch, consisting of 4-20 glucose units). Some brands also contain sodium, potassium and, sometimes, caffeine. Most contain between 18 and 25 g of carbohydrate per sachet.
What do they do?
Gels provide a concentrated source of calories and carbohydrate and are designed to be consumed during intense endurance exercise lasting longer than an hour. They provide energy for exercise and promote recovery.
Research & scientific support
Studies show that consuming 30-60 g of carbohydrate per hour during prolonged exercise delays fatigue and improves endurance. This translates into 1-2 sachets per hour. A 2007 study from Napier University, Edinburgh, showed that gels have a similar effect on blood sugar levels and performance as sports drinks (Patterson & Gray, 2007). Soccer players who consumed an energy gel (with water) immediately before and during high intensity interval training increased their endurance by 45% compared with a placebo.
Benefits & downsides
On the plus side, gels provide a convenient way of consuming carbohydrate during intense endurance exercise lasting longer than an hour. Their small size means that they can easily be stashed in pockets, opened with ease when running, for example, and consumed quickly in the manner of knocking back a “shot”. They provide around 18—25 g of rapidly-absorbed carbohydrate, which should fuel between 30 and 60 minutes of exercise. The scientific consensus is to consume 30—60 g of carbohydrate per hour during prolonged exercise in order to delay fatigue and improve endurance (Rodriquez et. al., 2009).
On the downside, some people dislike their texture, sweetness and intensity of flavour — it’s really down to personal preference. Gels don’t provide hydration so you should drink plenty of water at the same time. A handy rule of thumb would be to follow one sachet with 500 ml of water consumed over 60 minutes, or half a gel sachet followed by 250 ml of water over 30 minutes. If you don’t drink enough, you could end up with stomach ache as the gel sits in their stomach. Drinking plenty of water effectively dilutes the gel, allowing the carbohydrate to be absorbed quickly into the bloodstream.
Real food alternatives
Summary and final verdict about energy gels
Energy gels are carbohydrate gels that provide energy for exercise and promote recovery. They are commonly used in endurance events such as running, cycling, and triathlons. During running, your body’s primary fuel source is carbohydrate, stored in the muscles as glycogen. However, you can only store a limited amount, so on longer races you may need to replenish-energy gels are designed to do just this.
When you consume a gel, most of the glucose will go directly to your blood, as your stomach takes time to digest it. As a result, you will “feel” more energized as your brain responds to glucose in the blood. In other words, gels will often “wake you up” in a very noticeable way. You can also use them during and after intense weight training programme. Energy gels are also referred to as endurance gels, sports gels, nutritional gels, and carbohydrate gels. They come in small, single-serve plastic packets.