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 best energy 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.
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…
Best energy gels in 2021
SiS Beta Fuel Gel
Beta Fuel’s been around for a while, but only in powder form. The orange gel tested here is made of a newly developed blend of maltodextrin to fructose in a 1:08 ratio, which delivers a hefty 40g of carbs. SiS’s studies identified this split as optimum, increasing the percentage of oxidised carbs from 62% to 74%. We can’t verify that without a lab, but the texture and taste is great, and it digests smoothly. Impressive.
Verdict: Cracking new gel from the energy behemoth that is SiS 87%
Aptonia Energy Gel
The first incarnation of this gel was face-achingly sweet, but, thankfully, the Decathlon-distributed brand has since dropped the butter and toned down the viscosity and sweetness to create a delicious burst of energy. That burst is 23g of carbs (derived from a mix of glucose, fructose and maltodextrin) per 32g gel, which is impressive as, unlike its rivals here, it leaves little volume for water. Despite that, it’s effortlessly consumed, but you might want to complement it with other gels the longer you train to avoid flavour fatigue, and, as always, test before racing. It’s also loaded with vitamins B1, B6, B12, E and zinc, stated as 30% RDA for each, and is a fine price (£2 per hour). Top stuff.
Verdict: Welcomed improvements and great value, 86%
High5 Energy Gel
High5 is known for stirring up credible products at good prices. These work out at around £1.57 each, which isn’t bad, but they’re also around 40p more expensive than a standard High5 gel. So why the price hike? Firstly, is the addition of isomaltulose, which has a lower GI than glucose and is digested more slowly. This stream of sugar avoids blood spikes so you can sustain a higher effort for longer. Without access to a lab that’s hard to assess, but we didn’t experience any stomach problems (23g per 62g sachet leaves plenty of room for water) or bonking. The gel has also been enhanced with 70 ocean minerals for electrolyte top-up, albeit trace amounts. Still, it’s a credible addition. highfive.co.uk
Verdict: Goes down well but not the same value for money, 79%
OTE Lemon and Lime
The viscosity of this lemon and lime gel’s similar to High5, so flows smoothly. It’s also rather tasty thanks to the fruit-juice concentrate, but thanks to the alchemy of food science, that concentrate features lemon and apple rather than lime. Each 56g sachet comprises 20.5g of carbs via fructose and maltodextrin. That’s the lowest on test, which raises the palatability stakes but lowers value for money as, if you’re aiming for a pretty standard 60g carbs per hour, you’ll need three of these (or £4.80). Ease of use is OTE’s byword with two opening options – tear to sip or tear to gulp. Because of its fluid-like status, we always tend to gulp. That’s a personal thing, but worth noting. otesports.co.uk
Verdict: Does a decent job and will appeal to many 78%
SiS’s product range has grown beyond recognition, but it’s the long-standing Go Gel that continues to eclipse it. Like times gone by, the Go Gel delivers 22g of carbs per 60ml serving from maltodextrin with water filling out the remainder. As High5 and OTE’s offerings showed, this easy-flowing composition’s standard these days. But ‘more experienced’ triathletes will remember gels of the past resembling toothpaste. If you had no water chaser, your gums would cling together. SiS’s isotonic option changed all that. As for taste, blackcurrant’s tasty and much nicer than the fruit-salad alternative that we’ve tested before. Value’s good, though you’ll need three per hour (£4.50). scienceinsport.com
Verdict: A timeless classic that still delivers, 85%