Energy Gels – What are they all about?

Gels are quite a simple science in many ways. You want to run long. Your body can [allegedly] cope with somewhere around 17 miles before it runs out of juice but you want to go further. Gels might just be what you need.

What are they?
Energy gels are a liquid food supplement, often predominantly sugar or glucose with added minerals or even caffeine, which are usually supplied in plastic pouches with a tear off top. There are probably as many different gels available as there are energy drinks nowadays and they come in an equally diverse range of flavours too.

Why gel?
Gels offer a quick hit of carbohydrate energy in a convenient and easily digestable form. Your body has it’s own fuel tank, full of glycogen (held in your muscles) from which it draws the energy to keep you running. When the tank is empty, that’s it, call the AA, or the St Johns Ambulance guys in our case :-)
Gels offer you a way of ‘topping up the tank’ as you go along, keeping that fuel gauge from hitting the red for as long as possible AKA the point at which ‘the wheels fall off’ as many runners put it!

Types of gel? Really?
Well, yes actually. There are fast acting gels and slow release gels. Be sure you know what you’re buying. The key is in the proportion of carbohydrate that is made up of sugars rather than anything else. Let me explain. The carbohydrate content of quick hit gels are made mainly of sugars. You can find this information on the dietary information table on the back. It will say ‘Carbohydrate 26g’ or something around that and below that ‘of which Sugars 23g’ indicating the gel has a high sugar content and will be fast acting. On the other hand if you find 26g carbs and say 8g of which are sugars, you’ve probably got yourself a gel which will take somewhat longer to release into your system.

Why is this important to me?
Well, are you a distance runner or a short sprinter? If you’re running distance you need slow release energy to keep you moving along. A quick hit of sugars will make you feel good and give you a short burst of energy, but you’ll then run out of steam and believe me, you’ll notice the sudden crash as your body has to suddenly switch to glycogen stores. For this reason and especially if you’re planning to gel in a marathon, you need slower release gels. But you need to know how to use them properly…

How/when do I use them?
First things first, make sure you’ve tried them out before you use them in an event. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people chug a gel and promptly bring it back up because it doesn’t agree with them. Be careful, some of them taste revolting, others are perfectly palatable. And when I say test them before a race, I mean in anger, in a run. Your palate changes immensely when you’re running. A roast dinner tastes great on a Sunday afternoon, but I’m not sure my body would find the taste quite so pleasant when I’m 20 miles into a marathon and feeling ropey. Second and just as important, know your gel. Do you need to take it with water? Some, like the SiS ones have a high water content and so don’t need a bottle of water to hand, though weight this up against the idea of carrying that convenient water an inconvenient twenty-odd miles of course! Others like the Lucozade Sport ones are gloopy syrup and absolutely need water to activate them in your stomach. Otherwise it’s just syrup sitting on the bottom of your stomach doing nothing because it can’t be absorbed.

Which gels?
Well, this section could only ever be personal opinion and taste, you may have a different idea, but here’s what I like…and don’t!

The Good (in my opinion):
Lucozade Sport Energy Gel – Orange – Very syrupy but if you can stomach them, they give a very good slow release of energy, I swear by them!
Isostar Pro Energy Gel – Lemon – Not bad tasting for a fast release energy gel, but beware, they offer a quick hit of energy, not a sustained flow.
Multipower Multicarbo Energy Gel – Various flavours, some with caffeine too – Similar to the Lucozade version and very palatable in my view.

The not so good (in my opinion):
SiS Go Gel – Blackcurrant – These gels have added water so you don’t need to grab yourself a bottle of water in order to take them. I personally find the taste unpalatable though. YMMV.
High5 Energy Gel – Citrus Burst – The blurb says these are made up of 15% fruit juice, which sounds good, but they still don’t taste very nice at all. Once again, unpalatable for me, but you may find them ok.

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