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.
For those athletes with sensitive stomachs, there is some hope however. Sport drinks containing multiple carbohydrate types often result in a smaller amount of carbohydrate remaining in the intestine, and therefore absorption issues seem to be reduced. The leap can be made that energy gels with multiple carbohydrate types (maltodextrin + fructose, e.g.) are also less likely to cause GI distress than gels with a single carbohydrate source.
So if you’re on the fence about trying energy gels because of GI worries…..well, just follow your gut. If you’ve had problems in the past with sports drinks or bars then there’s a chance you may have problems with gels as well, but if eating/drinking during intense activity typically doesn’t bother you, then energy gels should be no problem at all.