How to use Energy Gels correctly

How to use Energy Gels correctly

What are the best energy gels? In this article, we’re going to look in detail at what energy gels are, what they’re used for, and when and how they should be ingested.

As we have seen in previous articles on nutrition and supplementation in endurance sports, energy gels are the complementary and/or necessary supplement (we’ll see each case) to maintain the glycolytic metabolic pathway at full capacity.

However, there are many doubts about their composition, intake time, type of textures that are better for the digestive system… Let’s take a closer look!

What are energy gels?

Generally, they’re a food supplement in gel texture (we’ll see that the textures vary depending on the type of gel and brand), which mainly contain carbohydrates of rapid absorption to provide the necessary energy at key moments of an event, long or short duration training.

There are many brands on the market with different formats of energy gels.

Different textures (denser, gel-like, more watery), different compositions, packaging, flavours etc… these aspects will be used as criteria for choosing one type of gel or another when it comes to introducing it into our training/race plan for the digestive system.

What are they for?

As the name suggests, they provide energy. .

In most cases, fast-absorbing carbohydrates so that the body can make use of them when muscle glycogen stores are depleted.

The ideal scenario is to plan a good nutritional strategy to avoid reaching the point where the muscle glycogen deposits are empty, thus maintaining good levels of blood glucose and muscle glycogen and maintaining exercise intensity.

What are energy gels made of?

Most of them are mainly composed of carbohydrates – glucose, mainly.

However, the evolution of supplementation strategies and brands have been incorporating other types of carbohydrates in order for the body to assimilate them in a better way, as well as to avoid the typical gastro-intestinal discomfort suffered by many athletes due to the excess of glucose and the lack of its assimilation.

In fact, as I explained in the post about How to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort when running, it’s best to choose energy gels whose carb composition is both glucose and fructose, for better assimilation and functioning of the digestive system.

So, when choosing your energy gels you should take this criterion into consideration.

Other gels may also contain other types of carbohydrates such as maltodextrin or palatinose.

Energy gels with caffeine

Many athletes, in both short and long endurance events, take a caffeinated energy gel minutes before the start of the event.

There are also gels with extra caffeine, in order to promote that extra energy at certain moments of the event (bearing in mind the effects of caffeine take about 30 minutes to appear).

When to take a gel

The intake of gels should be planned and orderly.

It will depend on the type of test to be performed, and therefore on the type of main energy substrate in the test.

In events lasting less than an hour

And which are of high intensity and whose main metabolic pathway is glycolytic, the intake can be made minutes before the start of the test and / or 20 minutes before its end as an extra supply of energy.

Gels of very rapid absorption should be ingested.

For races lasting more than 60 minutes

It’s recommended you maintain a minimum intake of 60-80 grams of carb per hour, so, depending on the composition of the gels chosen, 2 or 3 gels per hour should be taken to maintain this ratio.

Bearing in mind that the maximum absorption of glucose is estimated at one gram per hour, and that the absorption of up to 30 grams of fructose per hour by another route of absorption can be added to this (which could reach, if there is good adaptation, about 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour).

How to use an energy gel

Most gels are presented with a texture that is too dense to be easily digested so that the maximum amount of gel can be taken (without leaving more than half of it in the container).

This type of dense gels:

  • Must be ingested with water; or,
  • Diluted in the flask, one or several, to drink and use hydrates throughout the event (cycling, for example).

Other gels have a more watery and liquid texture, as they are already diluted in water and this makes them easier to ingest and assimilate.

These types of gels are perfect for endurance running events.

How you should take an energy gel

Many athletes (cyclists / triathletes) do dissolve several energy gels in their water bottles, making sure to take 1 bottle every hour / 90 minutes.

It’s important to have your supplementation strategy perfectly planned and organised.

How long does it take to kick in?

Generally, especially if they are diluted in water or have a hydrogel texture, absorption is really fast, within a few minutes of ingestion.

what are the best energy gels

Those that also come with caffeine, we know that it takes between 20 – 30 minutes to kick in.

Consumption recommendations

When planning the nutritional strategy for a long training session or a race/competition, and bearing in mind that from 60-80 minutes of duration, 80-90 grams of carb per hour are required, we have to observe the amount of grams of carbohydrates contained in the gels we’re going to use.

Few brands have gels with the recommended amount per hour, so you should take this into account.

For example: if the energy gel you choose has 40 grams of carbohydrates, you should take 2 gels per hour and not one… or you’ll fall short.

This is an aspect that few athletes, except for experienced and professional athletes, take into account.

On the other hand, you have to consider the composition and texture.

My recommendation is tonever try the gels out on the day of the event!.

You have to experiment and taste the gels and their different textures and flavours during your training sessions in order to see which ones are best for you and your digestive system.

Types of gels to choose from on the market

Within the wide range offered by the market, we can choose them according to their size/package or whether they contain more or less carbohydrates.

They range from 25 grams of carbohydrates per gel to 50 grams of carbohydrates per gel.

And there are those with a very dense texture with a unique composition of glucose (I like them the least, because of their difficult absorption, half of the gel remains in the container, and you have to drink them with a lot of water):

  • Gels with a GLUCOSE + FRUCTOSE composition, which are better assimilated.
  • Gels in HYDRO-GEL format: more watery and easier to take during the race, as well as better assimilation.
They can also be found with extra branched amino acids (great for extra long duration tests), with arginine, caffeine…

Which is the best energy gel?

Specifically, I think the best energy gel is the one that works best for you and suits you.

In my case, I’ve tried many different brands, and over the years I’ve chosen the ones that my stomach digests better, that bloat me less and that I assimilate well.

I prefer those with a more liquid texture, with a slightly sweeter taste, as natural a composition as possible and easy to open.

There’s nothing worse than gels that are too big and hard to open

Where to buy energy gels

On our HSN website you can find all the gels we’ve discussed in this article of different brands, textures and composition.

We especially recommend the SportSeries line, which is available as:

Related Entries

  • These are the Best Supplements for Running, according to Science.
  • Everything you need to know about Carbohydrates to take before, during and/or after exercise. Click here.
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About Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio
Sport runs in the blood of Isabel, which she has proven since she was very little up until now. She wants to share that passion with all those who are passionate about sports.
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