What's in an energy gel?
Plenty of us consume energy gels both in training and racing, as we strive to get enough carbohydrate (read: energy) into our bodies. But what goes into them and why?
Here we analyse the key ingredients in each saccharine sachet…
A carbohydrate molecule made of short chains of glucose molecules. Maltodextrin is preferred to free glucose because, gram for gram, it’s far less sweet (using pure glucose tends to make for an overly sweet product).
Maltodextrin is also less likely to cause bloating and cramps and, as a bonus, it’s an effective thickening agent, helping to produce the correct consistency.
A simple sugar derived from fruit, which provides sweetness and (in combination with maltodextrin) a 2:1 carbohydrate blend.
Studies show that, compared to glucose- or maltodextrin-only drinks, significantly higher rates of energy absorption can be achieved when consuming a 2:1 blend of glucose and fructose – important during very long events when you need to maximise your energy intake.
Although very concentrated, gels still need to contain some water. The amount of water affects both the taste and consistency. Low-water gels are thicker in consistency and tend to be sweeter.
High-water gels tend to be less sweet and more ‘liquid’, leading to a more refreshing taste. The drawback is that they’re heavier and bulkier per gram of carbohydrate delivered.
A key electrolyte mineral (along with magnesium, calcium, potassium and chloride), sodium is important because it not only aids the uptake of glucose from the intestine, it also stimulates the desire to drink.
This serves to underline the importance of consuming extra fluid along with gels, especially during longer events and in warm conditions.
As well as providing a ‘tangy’ taste (useful for fruit-flavoured gels), citric acid is extremely useful for ensuring that the gel product is sufficiently acidic to inhibit any bacterial growth.
This is important because the liquid nature of gels means they’re much more susceptible to spoilage on the shelf compared to energy bars or powdered drinks.
Vital for making the gel appetising. Natural flavourings from fruit extracts are among those most commonly used, although more exotic flavours (check out the Torq range) are appearing on the market.
(Images: Remy Whiting)
What’s your favourite energy gel and why? Let us know in the comments below!