How do the leading energy gels compare with one another? Listed below is a detailed comparison of all the current energy gels either produced in the US and/or readily available in the US. Yes, other gels do exist: Leppin Squeezy, Enervit Sport Gel, ZipFit as examples, but since these are made overseas and aren’t easy to find domestically, they have been omitted from the list.
Gel Carbohydrates in More Detail
Whether simple or complex, all carbohydrates in energy gels are sugars. The most basic form of carbohydrate is a simple sugar, which is categorized as either a monosaccharide (translation means ‘one sugar’) or a disaccharide (two sugars bonded together). Simple sugars are the building blocks of complex carbohydrates. Link three to ten together and you get an oligosaccharide (literally meaning ‘a few sugars’) while more than ten sugars joined together are called polysaccharides (or ‘many sugars’).
Some of the most common questions asked by athletes is ‘When should I take the first gel during my X event (X being marathon, triathlon, adventure race, etc)’? Followed by… ‘How often should I be taking gels during the event’? The answers depend primarily on the duration of exercise, but are also affected by intensity and whether you’re starting the event in a fed or fasted state. A brief outline is shown in Table 6.
Energy gels sometimes get a bad rap when it comes to the topic of gastrointestinal (GI) distress and exercise. Unfortunately, this myth is largely exaggerated. Energy gels have not been shown to cause any more cramping or stomach problems than sport drinks or energy bars. The simple fact is that some athletes unfortunately have a harder time digesting carbohydrates during intense exercise than others, and those that do experience GI problems with gels ALSO have a history of experiencing GI problems with carbohydrate in liquid or solid forms.
Listed below are all the ingredients found labeled on the packets of the 18 commercial energy gels discussed on the Energy Gel Comparisons page.
The world’s first energy gel, Leppin Squeezy®, was introduced in the mid 1980’s and was co-developed by Dr. Tim Noakes, an exercise physiology professor in Cape Town, South Africa and Bruce Fordyce, 9 time winner of the Comrades Ultra Marathon. It took several more years for the next commercial energy gel to emerge (Gu® Energy Gel, 1991) but because of its popularity and strong market presence, Gu has become as synonymous with energy gels as Kleenex® has with tissues, at least here in the US. Since this time, numerous other energy gel companies have entered the market but the total number of gel manufacturers (currently 18 in the US) is still very small in comparison to the number of energy bar and sport drink companies in existence.
Gels should be consumed with water, but what is the ideal amount?
Before addressing this topic I think it’s vital to make an important distinction between energy replacement and rehydration. Energy gels were NOT designed to keep athletes hydrated, which is a discrete difference between a gel and a sports drink. Sports drinks were initially developed with the dual purpose of providing hydration AND energy. Years of research has shown that in order to achieve optimal water absorption and steady blood glucose levels during exercise a drink should ideally contain a carbohydrate concentration of 6-8%. Almost every sport drink you’ll find on the market contains carbohydrate solutions in this range.