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.
What's in an energy gel?
Guide to using energy gels
Is fructose in energy gels and sports drinks bad for you?
How does endurance sport affect your digestive system?
When should you take energy gels?
Energy gels have become a staple in the triathlete’s larder, their culinary convenience meaning you can bike and run to your heart’s content loaded. But when exactly should you use these speed-and-stamina sachets?
It’s a broadly sweeping brush but they’re not really needed unless you’re exercising for over 90mins. That’s based on your glycogen stores being at capacity through a healthy, energising daily nutrition plan, which highlights that supplements like these aren’t maximised unless you’re fuelling proficiently as the norm, not on occasions. That means good-quality carbs, muscle-repairing and rebuilding protein, good fats, and vitamins and minerals.
How many gels should you consume on longer sessions or racing? The ideal is an individualised prescription or, more likely, through trial and error in training. Start with around 50g of carbs an hour (about two gels) and slowly consume more if you can stomach it over time. More calories delays fatigue resulting in a PB. Time for the test…
SiS has cranked up its fuelling portfolio with the acquistion of PhD Nutrition, but at its heart remains the gel range, which accounts for 38% of sales. And we appreciate why as the Go Gel is the original isotonic offering that we’ve fawned over for years. Its high water content shifted an industry churning out toothpaste-thick gels to far more palatable alternatives, elevating enjoyment and reducing stomach issues. Like times gone by, the Go Gel continues to deliver 22g of carbs per 60ml serving from maltodextrin. That might seem archaic but many triathletes cope better with single sugar sources than multi-transporters that feature added fructose. It’s all good. Or it would be, but the fruit salad taste is a touch synthetic. Fruit salad is arguably an unnatural composition anyway, so we’d recommend their berry or lemon and mint flavours instead.
Verdict: A timeless composition but there are more palatable SIS flavours out there, 83%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
MAURTEN GEL 100 CAF 100
Maurten’s USP is down to hydrogel, made from alginate and pectin. The theory is that hydrogel shields the energy composition from the acidic environment of your stomach, which results in smoother transport of carbs to the intestine where the carbs are absorbed and assimilated into the bloodstream and off to working muscles. Not only does this reduce gastro distress, say Maurten, but it ups the amount of carbs you can ingest each hour. Hence, an early product they launched comprised a huge 80g of carbs. This is a much smaller sugar hit, coming in at 25g per 40g sachet. We enjoyed its neutral taste but, more uniquely, its jelly-like texture, sitting halfway between an energy block and a traditional energy gel. As for caffeine, 100mg is a strong hit to start stimulating potential ergogenic benefits. But you can’t ignore that heavy price.
Verdict: a potentially ground-breaking energy gel, but at an eye-opening price 79%
Buy from www.trouva.com
One Pro Nutrition is the baby of former England cricketer Matt Prior. They entered a congested market that, for us, needs a USP beyond the marketing budget. In the case of this gel, it’s the addition of 400mg of branched-chain amino acids. BCAAs are a key activator of the protein known as mTOR, which stimulates muscle protein synthesis. That intimates its recovery potential yet many nutritionists suggest whey protein is more effective than BCAAs at preventing muscle breakdown. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its benefits, it’s just that like so much in the world of sports fuel, the evidence isn’t proven. The main function of the gel, of course, is to deliver energy with each 50g sachet containing 22g carbs from maltodextrin sources. That’s middling calorie-wise. The passionfruit/lime taste is one of the sweetest here but, all in all, it’s not bad.
Verdict: A sweet taste but worth a punt, and the BCAAs might help performance and recovery 76%
Buy from www.sigmasports.com
In the past, we’ve praised Torq’s lemon and drizzle gel as one of the tastiest we’ve ever tested. And their rhubarb and custard beautifully sidesteps what could’ve been a sickly-sweet solution. Its texture is perfect – light enough to flow smoothly, but with enough depth so that it contains 28.8g carbs in each 45g sachet. Carbs come from the trusted 2:1 maltodextrin:fructose mix, those dual sugars requiring separate intestinal transporters, meaning, in theory, you could consume three of these each hour for a 342cal hit. Its compact packaging and the fact water is only the second ingredient listed highlights its hypertonic nature, meaning this is more about energy delivery than hydration. That makes its consumable qualities more impressive as this could’ve been claggy. Also features electrolytes sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Verdict: Another impressive energy-delivering gel from Torq; and a good taste and texture too, 89%
Buy from www.tweekscycles.com
Continue reading our guide to this year's best energy gels (2/2)