Updated: Jan 13
Energy gels: Don’t leave home without them. That’s the mindset of many endurance athletes when training or competing. Energy gels are a source of carbohydrates and electrolytes that are consumed during the competition to help athletes go the distance, often shaving valuable seconds or even minutes off finish time. But energy gels are not the only energy-boosting options.
Basically, energy gels are a concentrated, gel form of a sports drink. Energy gels were developed to provide on-the-go energy for athletes during training or competitions lasting longer than an hour. Packaged in squeeze pouches, they’re a convenient, effective way to deliver easily-digestible carbohydrate in order to fuel long-duration performance and prevent the dreaded “bonk”—also known as hitting the wall—the point when muscle glycogen stores deplete and blood sugar drops causing fatigue and resulting in decreased athletic performance.
The first energy gel, GU, hit the sports scene in 1991. The term “gu” is an accurate description of its consistency. Ironically, it rhymes with “ew,” which is the reaction of many who choose to slurp the super-sweet gels. The benefit of a gel consistency is that chewing isn’t required. That may be an important consideration during some forms of intensive activity, such as running a marathon when chewing is often difficult and a potential choking hazard.
Energy gels contain carbohydrates, electrolytes, water, and depending on the brand, other ingredients that may enhance sports performance such as protein and/or caffeine. Carbohydrates include a “quick-acting” simple sugar such as fructose ( fruit sugar) and/or a “long-acting” complex carbohydrates such as maltodextrin or brown rice syrup.
There are several brands of energy gels on the market. The brands vary in texture, flavor options, and added ingredients such as sodium, protein, caffeine, and taurine. Sports nutritionists highly recommend that athletes interested in gels try different brands during training to see which types and amounts are most effective and best tolerated. Stomach distress and diarrhea are common side effects. When using concentrated carbohydrates such as energy gels, it’s easy to under-hydrate. Energy gels must be taken with four to six ounces of fluid.
Although energy gels are a convenient and effective way to refuel en route, foods such as orange slices, honey, raisins, dried figs, and bananas; and candy such as gummy candy, jelly beans, licorice, hard candy, and peppermint patties are equally effective yet less expensive options. If using food, be sure to choose those that provide adequate electrolytes or pair food with a sports drink.
The Taste Test
Using Google to search for “energy gel taste test” yields good information from several athletes who have tried various brands and flavors of energy gels.
However, taste preferences and stomach sensitivity varies widely from person to person. Out of curiosity, I decided to taste several brands. For the sake of a good story and because misery loves company, I dragged my husband into it. Here’s our verdict on the viscous victuals.
Clif Shot, Vanilla
He said: What vanilla cough medicine would taste like if there was such a thing.
She said: Mild vanilla flavor. Reminds me of marshmallows. No aftertaste.
GU, Lemon Sublime
He said: The best by far. Reminds me of Jolly Ranchers.
She said: Pretty good. Smooth, light texture. Tastes like key lime pie. No aftertaste.
Hammer Gel, Raspberry
He said: Tastes like raspberry jam.
She said: Not bad. Tastes like raspberry jam. A bit thick. No aftertaste.
Honey Stinger, Chocolate
He said: Tastes like honey mixed with Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Very rich. It made my stomach feel funny.
She said: The taste wasn’t bad at first, but the overly sweet, cloying aftertaste made me feel slightly sick, like when I ate ice cream for breakfast once. Once!
PowerBar Energy, Strawberry Banana
He said: Too thin. The taste reminds me of baby food.
She said: A little sweet and strong-smelling, but tastes pretty good. No aftertaste.
PowerBar Gel, Double Latte
He said: Tastes like the coffee candy my Grandma used to have around.
She said: Pretty good. I like coffee and caramel flavors, so I like this.
Extra sodium: PowerBar Gel, Crank Sports e-Gel, EFS Liquid Shot, GU Roctane
Added protein: Accel Gel, Hammer Gel, EFS Liquid Shot, GU Roctane, Endless Edge
Added caffeine: GU (most flavors), GU Roctane (most flavors), Clif Shot Gel (mocha, double espresso, chocolate cherry, citrus, strawberry), Carb- BOOM! chocolate cherry, Hammer Gel espresso, PowerBar Gel (double latte, tangerine, chocolate, green apple, strawberry banana), Honey Stinger (gisting, strawberry).
Added taurine: EAS Energy Gel Source: How to Find the Best Sports Foods for Your Diet by Nancy Clark, Active.com
GU’s Nutrient Profile: One package (32 g); Calories: 100; Fat: 0 g; Sodium: 55 mg; Potassium: 45 mg; Total carbohydrates: 25 g; Protein: 0 g; Vitamin C: 100%; Vitamin E: 100%; Calcium: 20 mg