Remember when you ran your first marathon or triathlon?
Maybe you relied on water and possibly a sports drink to get you through to the end.
Perhaps now you’re more serious about the sport and want to follow and monitor your diet, nutrition, and mineral levels more closely.
This isn’t uncommon for triathletes, especially those competing at high levels or for those who regularly participate in half and full Ironman races.
Now, that you’ve decided to pay more attention to your nutrient intake, what are your options?
Energy gels are a good option to have when you’re on the course, even if you already use an electrolyte replacement.
You might wonder what are energy gels, how do you use them, and what’s the difference between gels and electrolyte replacements?
In this article, I’ll address those questions in the buyer’s guide section.
And now I’ll be reviewing the top rated products available to you.
Top 5 Energy Gels in 2020
|GU Roctane (Editor’s Choice)||100||25||5||125||32|
|Honey Stinger Classic||120||29||29||50||37|
1. GU Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Gel
It’s easy to use and is formulated to slow down lactic acid from building up. The GU team put a mix of carbohydrates, electrolytes, and caffeine to fight fatigue during your race. Both your mind and muscles will “wake up” after taking an energy gel.
The team at GU recommends taking one packet at least five minutes before a race or training session and every 45 minutes during.
On top of all the benefits of the energy gel, all its ingredients are vegan-friendly. If you’re a vegan triathlete, this might be a brand to check out.
The GU energy gel has these features:
• The gel’s pack is squeeze-able and you can easily use it on the course.
• The formula includes both simple and complex carbohydrates such as histidine and citrates to level up your race performance.
• Histidine helps slow down lactic acid build up in your muscles.
• Nutrients such as potassium citrate, sodium citrate, and citric acid quickly convert carbohydrates into energy for your muscles and mind.
• Leucine, valine, and isoleucine-types of amino acids- help your mind stay focused.
• The gel formula contains an amino acid complex that inhibits the body from breaking down muscle protein tissue during your hardest race and training days.
• Different flavors contain caffeine if you’re looking for an even bigger energy boost on your tough race and training days.
GU highly recommends taking its energy gel on an empty stomach to reap all the benefits of it. However, if you find that the energy gel messes with your stomach, try eating something before. Or, if you don’t like how thick the gel is, wash it down with a sip of water.
If you use the energy gels, practice with them the same way you would use them in a race. If you use a gel before your practice and then 45 minutes into it, time your race accordingly.
The gel has a dual nature: it helps your muscles and your mind during a long race.
This gel is great if you’re a triathlete who gets “hazy” during the race and needs to wake up your mind in the finishing miles.
The caffeine content is very low so if you’re concerned about “crashing” or getting the runs, this might be your solution.
2. HUMA Plus Natural Electrolyte Enhanced Energy Gel
It’s hard to carry everything you need for a race such as your water, sports drink, electrolyte replacement, and energy gel. All those small items start to take up more space and you only have so much room on your bike, race belt, and trisuit pockets.
HUMA tries to simplify your race day set-up and formulated its energy gels so that it can provide both carbohydrates and electrolytes to replace the ones you deplete.
At the base of any HUMA energy gel, you’ll find coconut water, sea salt, and chia seeds. All of these nutrients are great sources of potassium, sodium, and magnesium, which help replace your lost electrolytes.
The chia seeds are powdered in the formula, which helps facilitate the energy increase so you won’t feel a “crash” in the middle of your race or training session.
The formula has a mix of long and short chains of glucose to fructose so that you get the most energy from the carbohydrates.
To top off the gel’s formula, the HUMA team put nine essential amino acids in the gel to give you the most protein of out one gel packet.
Since HUMA uses all natural ingredients, the gel is gluten free and vegan-friendly. You can also count on the gel being easy on your stomach if you’re sensitive to different foods.
Be warned that some flavors have caffeine in it. Not a lot, but it’s still noticeable. Be careful when you choose your flavors if you don’t like caffeine or are sensitive to it.
The box tells you when and how often to use the gels, but experiment with what works best for your body. If this is your first time using the gels, you might want to wash it down with some water. It could prevent stomach aches or cramping.
This gel does more than give you energy, it also helps restore your electrolytes. If you’re trying to simplify your nutrition or are running out of room on your bike, you can use this gel as an electrolyte replacer and energizer.
3. Honey Stinger Classic Energy Gel Sports Nutrition
The Honey Stinger Classic Energy Gel is one of the most versatile energy gels out there. You can “eat” from the package, mix it in your water, make tea with it or even put it on bread. Take it before or during a race, and it will affect you the same way.
The base of Honey Stinger’s energy gels is pure honey along with electrolytes and B-vitamins. It doesn’t matter the flavor, you’ll still get the nutrients and energy from honey’s natural sugars.
Honey is a naturally low glycemic food that can enhance your performance on race day. Essentially, honey provides an enduring energy boost that prevents your sugar levels from dropping. You can also avoid an insulin high and crash with honey.
Since the gels are honey-based, it makes the gels soy free, vegan-friendly, and nut-free. All big allergy categories.
This gel is also a healthier option out there since its main ingredient is honey and doesn’t have a lot of added “fluff” or artificial flavors or colorings. The honey used in the formula is organically sourced.
In order to active the gels, all you need to do is ingest it and the rest will be taken care from there.
While you wait for your race, the gel’s nutrients will steadily flow into your body’s system. You won’t feel anything just yet.
During your race, you won’t feel as fatigued during the last miles. This is because the gels were formulated to last for a long time. Instead of getting a “high” and “crash” from other gels, you’ll sustain your energy from start to finish.
You might need an electrolyte replacement, but you won’t need any more carbohydrates. This gel might simplify your nutrition set-up during the race.
After your race, it’s recommended to use another energy gel; not to keep you awake for the drive home. But, for your muscles. It’s proven that if you eat some carbohydrates and protein after a big race, it helps refuel your muscles and may decrease muscle soreness.
The gels won’t taste just like honey but still taste great and naturally have the nutrients you need to keep yourself going through a long race.
If you fuel properly, you can just take one gel before the race and one after. Some complaints claim that the gels don’t work. You can’t rely solely on the gels for all your energy so having a good meal the night before a race is crucial.
If you can comb through the negative reviews you see elsewhere, this product really is a good option. Especially, if you want to keep things simple during your race and want an all-natural energy gel.
4. Science in Sport Energy Gel
Science in Sport (SIS) created its product as an isotonic energy gel, which helps ensure that the gels are easily digested and is easy on sensitive stomachs.
Every gel is packed with the essential nutrients you’ll need for your highly intensive endurance races.
SIS Go Isotonic Energy Gel is designed to be consumed without water. This helps nutrients rush into your bloodstream and muscles even faster. The SIS Isotonic Energy Gel gives you 22 grams of carbohydrates in a light tasting gel that will be easy on your stomach without decreasing your energy levels.
The SIS Isotonic Energy Gel + Electrolyte is very similar to the “basic” isotonic energy gel. But, this one adds more punch to it gel with its added electrolytes. This might be helpful if you’re competing in warmer weather. You can replace your carbohydrates and electrolytes with one gel and simplify your nutrition.
The SIS Isotonic Energy Gel + Caffeine is just like the “basic” one but with an added boost of caffeine to wake you and your muscles up before a shorter race or workout. This gel is also best to use in the last miles of a long race when your mind starts to go “numb”.
Between the three types of gels SIS offers, they all have these common features:
• No bloating: All the gels are designed to be taken without water, which may reduce bloating that occurs if you over-drink during a race.
• Carbohydrates: Each gel contains 22 grams of carbohydrates that are easily absorbed into your muscles and bloodstream. The rapid release helps “replace” your glycogen levels.
I’d recommend this brand if you can get used to taking an energy gel without water. A lot of negative reviews say that the gels create a chalky after taste or coat their mouths and throats. It might be the way they consumed it and how much water they drank throughout the race.
I’d recommend this brand since it offers three types of gels containing that build on the “base” gel. Each one is more specialized for a different type of workout and race. If you’re looking for one brand to supply you with all your energy gels, this might be your best bet.
5. CLIF Shot Energy Gels
CLIF came back with its new and improved energy gels to help get you through your next race. The gels now have more electrolytes and the gels themselves have a thinner consistency, which might help you ingest the gel.
CLIF has a large range of products and is a well-known and reputable brand and it lives up to it. The brand tries to help not only the athlete but also the environment. It uses real ingredients and even easily disposable wrappers.
CLIF’s shot energy gels have these features:
• The energy gels have electrolytes such as sodium and potassium to help convert the carbohydrates into energy for your muscles.
• All gels are made with organic, all natural ingredients.
• The gels have both caffeinated and non-caffeinated flavors if you need an extra boost.
• The gels are easy to use: open the package and then squeeze the gel into your mouth.
After, drink a little water to help you digest and avoid stomach problems or bloating.
• Clif patented its Liter Leash for all its gels so that there’s less litter after the race. CLIF designed its tear tab to stay attached to the gel packet after you’ve used it.
• Some flavors contain caffeine for an extra kick near the end of a race to wake your mind up.
If you’re unsure which flavor or flavors you like, the variety pack is a good way to get started. You can experiment with which flavors you like better and if you want one with caffeine to give you an extra boost.
Energy Gels – Buyer’s Guide
How Your Body Fuels Its Muscles
Let’s start with a break-down of what happens when you do a triathlon.
Your muscles need fat and carbohydrates to keep you going whenever you move and will need high levels of those nutrients when you’re competing.
Fat is a big source of fuel for your muscles, but it is slowly “distributed” into energy pockets, which makes it an unreliable if you need to push it on the course.
Because of fat’s nature, your muscles heavily rely on carbohydrates when you want and need to go faster on the course.
The problem is that your body can only store a limited amount of carbs in your muscles.
This means that unless you’re a professional triathlete, you’ll run out of carbs well before you cross the finish line.
What are Energy Gels and How Do They Work
Energy gels help make up for the limited “space” your body has for carbohydrates.
Unlike electrolyte replacements, energy gels are specifically designed to give you more carbohydrates when your “storage” levels start to deplete.
The gels are made of simple sugars and carbohydrates. The sugars first go into your bloodstream to give you a boost of energy. The sugars are then absorbed into your hard-working muscles and different organs.
The carbohydrates come in the simple sugars otherwise it would taste horrible and you won’t want to take another energy gel after.
Unfortunately, the energy gels aren’t a 1 to 1 ratio to replace your lost carbohydrates, but they do help give you a small boost. And, you might have to use other nutrition on the course.
Why Do Triathletes Need Energy Gels?
Remember, our bodies rely solely on the carbohydrates already stored in our bloodstream and muscles.
Our bodies start to deplete the carbohydrate and glycogen levels as soon as we start the race if not sooner from the pre-race adrenaline.
When our muscles use more of the stored glycogen, it takes more away from the brain.
The gels will give you a “wake up” and make you more alert the course. It also helps give your muscles a little push when you’re really feeling fatigued.
Since gels are not a 1 to 1 ratio to replenish your lost carbs, calories, and sugar levels, timing, and intake levels are very important.
When Should You Use an Energy Gel?
Let me be clear before I start, timing when and how many energy gels you take is a personal decision. It’s based on a multitude of factors such as your body weight, what you already ate, and how fast your body processes those nutrients.
Some people can feel an energy gel’s effects in five minutes and others fifteen.
How fast the energy gels effect you are heavily dependent on how well your stomach can handle the gels.
Some bodies close the digestive system while you’re running and others just slow down. Get to know your body so you won’t throw up the energy gels on the course.
Therefore, it’s highly recommended to take the energy gels before the start of a race. This might be easier on your digestive system and be more pleasant for you.
How Frequently Should You Use an Energy Gel?
Again, this is a personal decision since it depends on your digestive system. Keep in mind your GI track might stop or slow down during a triathlon.
Try experimenting with taking an energy gel every 45-60 minutes to start. You might want to wait closer to 60 minutes if you have a sensitive stomach.
You don’t want to overload your system with sugars since it is first converted into glucose and then pumped into your bloodstream. If your sugar content is too high then you could experience a crash.
You can train your body to get used to the gels. That means using them during practice as you would for a race. You’ll body will learn and you might have fewer mishaps on race day!
What do Energy Gels Taste Like?
Energy gels come in a variety of flavors and it depends on the brand. Your taste buds are different from mine so I can’t make any recommendations on flavors.
You can expect energy gels to be primarily water-based, but the consistency varies from sticky and thick to thin with lots of flavors.
Experiment with a couple of different brands and flavors to figure out what works best for you.
Other Tips for Energy Gels
If your stomach has problems with the gels and you still want to use it, there are solutions for this. Instead of ingesting the entire gel, try breaking it up throughout the race.
To help the gels get through your digestive tract, take them with water, not a sports drink. The water helps the gels get through the digestive tract and the glucose will enter your bloodstream faster.
If you drink a sports drink with an energy gel, you run the risk of ingesting too many simple sugars are once. You might experience a high and then a crash early in the race.
When and how often you take an energy gel depends on the brand and nutrient levels in it. Some can last you half-way through the race and others you have to take more periodically. It also depends on how much your stomach can handle as well. Be sure to read the label and practice, practice, and practice!