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?
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.
How does endurance sport affect your digestive system?
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…
Hats off to Mule for creating a sachet that shouldn’t see users litter on the roadside. Instead, this is a refillable 37g gel that you can top up with Mule’s Refill Bottle, which is £14.99 for 444g – or around £1.25 per refill. The lid can be opened with one hand.
Mule’s natural ethos is reflected in the minimal recipe list of agave syrup, brown rice syrup, lemon juice, guarana, pink Himalayan salt crystals and ginger. Brown rice has a high GI of 95 compared to 15 for agave, ensuring a good mix of fast- and slow-releasing carbs for a 28g total per refill. The lemon flavour provides a citrus hit followed by warming ginger and mild bitterness of guarana.
Verdict: Top marks for taste and ethical ideology 87%
Buy from www.carethy.co.uk
OTE’s gel (and all their energy products) is stamped with feeding guidance; and each gel provides 20-30mins of energy. Ease of use stretches to two openings – either ‘tear here to gulp’ or ‘tear here to sip’. We’ve mentioned in the past that it’s a neat idea, albeit the sip option is a touch narrow to rip accurately at speed. Each 56g gel delivers 20.5g of carbs in maltodextrin:fructose form. That’s a relatively low carb percentage compared to the volume of gel, highlighting that; a) there’s a high water content with a taste akin to a mild cordial and; b) it’s one of the largest sachets on test. It means taking up too much space in your rear pocket for our liking. otesports.co.uk
Verdict: competent gel requiring sachet refinement 75%
Buy from www.vanillabikes.com
SiS’s recent innovations include the Go Immune Gel range to boost your defences when immunity’s suppressed during high-intensity training. This is the traditional Go Gel, containing 22g of carbs per 60ml serving. There are no airs or graces when it comes to carb composition, with its source coming from maltodextrin. That might seem old school but many triathletes cope better with single sugar sources or don’t race for a duration where multi-transporters come into their own. We’ve always enjoyed the isotonic composition of Go Gels and, usually, the taste. But we’re not sure about chocolate, especially in the summer when you’re after something fruitier.
Verdict: still relevant, but we’re not fans of choc 81%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
We’re fans of Secret Training, the brainchild of SiS founder Tim Lawson, and you know their gel’s ingredients list is well-thought out, supported by independent studies and to quantities that stimulate performance. To that end, Lawson’s introduction of sticky rice starch is novel and provides a slow-releasing stream of sugar. It’s accompanied by two further simple sugars – maltodextrin and fructose. Each 60ml serving delivers 22g of carbs, highlighting its isotonic appeal. So contents and texture are all good. What’s less impressive is the taste, which is synthetic and is more reminiscent of lavender than watermelon. secret-training.com
Verdict: impressive formula and texture let down by taste 73%
Buy from www.vanillabikes.com
Continue reading our guide to this year's best energy gels (2/2)