Guide to using energy gels

They're a key part of many triathletes’ training and race fuelling strategy – we explain what you need to know

Guide to using energy gels in a triathlon

Male or female, young or old, energy gels do the same job as carbohydrate energy drinks because, apart from containing less water, the ingredients are virtually identical.


So long as you have access to extra fluid, they can be used as part of a fuelling strategy in just the same way as carbohydrate drinks.

How many should I take?

Check the ingredients and carbohydrate content of your gels. For standard gels – i.e. containing maltodextrin only and not a 2:1 glucose/fructose formulation – the maximum total amount of carbohydrate the average athlete can absorb is around 60g per hour.

Work out how many sachets an hour provides this amount (for example, 3 x 20g, 4 x 15g) and aim for this as a maximum amount, consuming them evenly across each hour.

How much water do I need?

If you rely on gels only, you must remember to take on board extra fluid, particularly during longer training sessions/races and in warmer conditions.

In race conditions, this is usually not a problem; nearly all races have regular water stations so you can save weight and bulk by consuming your carbohydrate as gels, and topping up with water as and when needed.

If you consume all your carbohydrate in gel form, top up with plain water rather than carbohydrate drink (which would supply surplus carbohydrate). Consume too much carbohydrate and it won’t be absorbed – indeed, it could upset your stomach.

Should I use caffeine gels?

Like caffeinated carbohydrate drinks, energy gels containing caffeine are best used sparingly and towards the later stages of a longer event, when the fatigue-fighting properties of caffeine are most needed.

Most studies suggest that a caffeine dose of 3mg per kilo of body weight (around 200mg for a 70kg triathlete) is effective for fighting fatigue and prolonging endurance. Make sure you don’t exceed this amount.


What energy gels do you swear by? Let us know in the comments!