Energy gels, those small pockets of power, have become a staple in the triathlete’s larder. Where once their viscosity reached such extreme levels that it was like squeezing out the remnants of toothpaste and proved equally hard to swallow, nowadays the majority of gels have struck a palatable balance between fluid and solid. That makes them ideal for the run where water might not be to hand, though, as you’ll see, many still benefit from a water chaser.
Exactly when and how many energy gels to consume is highly individual but, broadly speaking, you only need an energy hit when training or racing for more than an hour. Less than that and your glycogen stores, plus the glucose in your blood, should be plentiful enough to cope with the swim, bike and run demands no matter the intensity.
The more you research and read into energy gels, the faster you can spiral into a whirlpool of complexity and confusion. What we would say is that if you’re aiming to consume 60-90g of carbohydrates per hour (read reviews below), account also for the sugar within your drink and not just the sweetness swilling around your gel. Fail to and you’ll ride into gastric distress. Please also keep hold of your empty gel sachets. Too many roads and races are lined with wrinkled, sticky pieces of plastic. Right, sermon over, onto the test…
Is fructose in energy gels and sports drinks bad for you?
£42.00 (for 30)
The rise of gels featuring carb delivery via two or more sugars could leave you thinking SiS are behind the times with their Go gel. Maltodextrin is the sole energy source here, sending 22g of carbs into your bloodstream/body. That’s within a 60ml sachet, which sounds like wastage but that ‘extra’ is down to water, meaning this gel is unmatched when it comes to digestion. We’ve never had stomach issues with the Go Gel, which is presumably down to the water or maltodextrin sugar content having a low osmolality. That means less water is needed to make it isotonic, so it potentially reduces gastric distress. We’d change the artificial sweeteners, although they do heighten the lemon and lime taste.
Verdict: Continues to hover around the front of the nutritional pack 88%
Buy from www.chainreactioncycles.com
£40.99 (for 24)
Core to MaxiNutrition’s FuelMax gel is its Quadcarb blend of four carbs, namely maltodextrin, sucrose, dextrose and fructose. Studies show that adding fructose to simpler sugars raises the potential of ingesting up to 90g carbs per hour over the previously thought optimum of 60g. So you could consume up to four of these per hour as each contains 25g of carbs. Viscosity is low so it flows down easily and the mixed berry taste is particularly pleasant. It also contains 100mg sodium for an electrolyte hit – appreciated in hotter racing climes.
Verdict: A solid gel that’ll appeal to many 78%
Buy from www.boots.com
£35.00 (for 14)
This gel’s unique as it’s the only one to focus on protein delivery rather than glucose. Each 60ml serving gives you 117cals with the majority (80cals) from protein. As such, it’s better used as a supplement when training hard or when glycogen-depleted. There’s also an argument that Ironman athletes will benefit from taking one or two early into the bike to aid recovery. Each gel contains 2g protein derived from leucine, which stimulates muscle synthesis. The ingredients list is complex, hence the cost. As for the taste, the berry flavour is bitter.
Verdict: Great for muscle repair but costly and bitter 80%
Buy from www.vanillabikes.com
£33.60 (for 24)
Each 41g PowerGel has 26.7g of carbs from maltodextrin and fructose. The addition of fructose has been shown to elevate carb ingestion up to 90g per hour. Yet few athletes, especially age-groupers, can tolerate 90g of carbs per hour so experiment in training, gradually building up to this figure over weeks, if not months. The gel also includes 206mg of sodium – a hearty amount if you’re a heavy sweater, but it does add a salty taste to the rather sweet vanilla hit. The ‘Trash Chain’ is an appreciated touch, designed to prevent littering.
Verdict: The original 2:1 gel, now eco-friendly 85%
Buy from www.evanscycles.com
Continue reading our guide to this year's best energy gels (2/2)