How do you use Energy Gels?
Before we get started, what actually are energy gels? Energy gels come in small squeeze sachets and have a jelly-like texture. They consist of simple sugars (like fructose and glucose) and maltodextrin. Some may contain other substances like sodium, potassium and caffeine. Sachets can contain between 18-25g of carbohydrates per sachet.
What do they do?
Energy gels replenish depleted carbohydrate stores after exercise. Energy gels provide a concentrated source of calories and carbohydrates. They are designed to be consumed during long endurance exercises, for example, cycling and long distance running like marathons.
Some studies have shown that consuming 30-60g of carbohydrates during long durations of activities reduces fatigue and improves endurance. 30-60g of carbohydrates would be the equivalent to having 1-2 sachets per hour.
Are they necessary to take?
Energy gels are a convenient way to consume carbohydrates during a long intense endurance exercise lasting more than an hour. If you are consuming energy gels, it is vital to consume water too. It is recommended to drink around 350ml of water with each gel to dilute the solution in your stomach.
Some people dislike the texture, sweetness and intense flavour of energy gels, so it is really down to personal preference and is important to trial energy gels during your practice sessions and not during a competition event, to see if they agree with you.
When to take energy gels, will depend on you and your body. Every athlete is different and every athlete absorbs and digests carbohydrates at a different rate. Some athletes may feel the effect of energy gels within a few minutes while others may not feel the effect up to 15minutes after consuming them. Some athletes love them as they are a convenient carbohydrate loaded packet that gives them a boost of energy while others dislike them because they don't agree with them, so everyone is different!
How many gels should I consume?
This will depend on the sport but, for example, if you are a marathon runner, most runners should try to consume approximately 2-3 gels evenly spaced throughout the race. For example for a 2.5hr marathon, take a gel at 30, 60 and 90mins. However, do not take more than 2 energy gels per hour as this may cause stomach and GI issues.
The downfall with energy gels is that they do not hydrate you so it is important to drink plenty of water with them to again dilute the concentrated carbohydrate solution. Not drinking enough water with the gels can cause stomach discomfort and an upset stomach. This is probably due to the amount of fructose and caffeine in some gels. If the fructose and
caffeine is high, you may experience bloating, cramping, sickness and diarrhea.
Bean, A,. 2017, Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. [S.I]: Bloomsbury Sport