Gels, GUs, energy packs….whatever you call them, if you’re a long distance athlete you’re no doubt all-too-familiar with them.They’re sweet and sticky, often thick and messy, and occasionaly, the cause of your undoing. The great news is that there is another way.
I’ve quit gels and you should consider it too. Here’s why:
1. Simple sugars. With the popularity of Good Calories, Bad Calories, Sweet Poison and I Quit Sugar, I don’t think we need to delve into the science again, but I will remind you of this: fructose makes you fat.
As athletes, there is a fine line between fuelling well and remaining lean and fat adapted. Excess fructose will mean that no matter how much training you do, you still have the potential to carry excess body fat, particularly around your mid-section. I’ve covered the steps to becoming fat adapted here and the same should apply to race day.
Tip: avoid all gels containing fructose.
It’s great to see some brands releasing fructose free gels, which certainly means they are a better choice, so please, if you have to purchase gels, at least read the ingredients first.
Note: before all you physiology experts start to argue with me, I’m well aware of GLUT-4 and GLUT-5 transporters and the research that shows enhanced uptake with a combination of sugars (my post-graduate thesis studied exactly this). The point is not to need so much fuel in the first place, and fat adaption will facilitate this. Secondly, too much fructose will cause problem gastrointestinal (GI) issues and become your potential undoing on race day. More on this to come.
2. Energy spikes. Simple sugars do exactly that, they spike your blood sugar. Take one gel and you’ll need another in 30 minutes, I guarantee. And if you don’t take another hit, be ready for a drop in speed, power, energy or an all-out bonk.
A large number of gels on the market these days contain maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate with a far greater absorption rate (15-18%) than that of simple sugars, such as fructose (6-8%). Maltodextrin is rapidly absorbed as glucose, is easily digestible, and is far less likely to cause GI upset. This should be the first ingredient in the gel if you are selecting one.
3. Artificial ingredients. Anything that comes in a box, packet or wrapper stays in there for one reason and one reason only: preservatives. Even some of the better brands out there still contain way too many ingredients for my liking. Remember our golden rule: if it contains more than five ingredients, please put it back on the shelf.
One brand that does appear to be all natural is Vega Sport. The first ingredient, however, is dates and I’m not convinced that the fructose is necessary or suitable for long course athletes.
There are now a couple of additional brands on the market following the natural route, and even using coconut water as one of the carbohydrate sources, but they cost up to $120.00 for a 24 pack. That’s $5/gel. No thank you.
“But if I quit gels, what do I use?”, I hear you ask.
Here’s the solution: Freedom Fuel, my homemade energy gel.
To avoid excess fructose, artificial ingredients and gut trouble in training and on race day, try this natural fuelling alternate. Freedom Fuel is gluten free, refined sugar free, all natural and tastes great!
Ingredients (Serves 1)
- 2 teaspoons rice malt syrup
- 1 teaspoon medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil (available here)
- ¼ cup raspberries
- The juice from ¼ lemon
- A pinch of Himalayan salt
- A dash of hot water
- Blend all ingredients until smooth.
- Pour through a strainer to remove pips. Transfer carefully into a gel flask and seal well.
Please note: this recipe has been updated, so please check you are using the most recent version.
One serve is ~20g of carbohydrates and 5g of fat, so please make multiple serves based on your exercise duration and fuelling requirements. This recipe can also be used like a commercial liquid fuel on the bike. To make a “multi-hour” bottle simply multiply the recipe by the number of serves you require and add enough water to reach your desired consistency and taste. Please trial this in training – remember, nothing new happens on race day.
The advantage on the bike, is that you have more options. I personally advise a combination of liquids and solids, particularly when you are starting out, and my No Bake Energy Bars are a great natural, homemade alternative to the expensive, well-marketed, store-bought sports nutrition.
Another great option on the bike is Generation UCAN‘s SuperStarch (available here). I personally use this on the bike (and Freedom Fuel on the run) in my long course triathlons and experience consistent energy and zero gut troubles. Some of you may be more familiar with Hammer Nutrition‘s Perpetuem, which I believe to be our third best option now I have had sufficient trial and error with both Freedom Fuel and SuperStarch.
Tip: Try Freedom Fuel in your next +90 minute training session.
Note: SuperStarch does have a chalky taste if made too concentrated. I believe the ideal consistency is 2 scoops per 750ml bottle. Add the juice of one lemon and a good pinch of sea salt and it becomes the perfect mixture of fuel and electrolytes. Please ensure you shake your bottle regularly to avoid the powder settling to the bottom.
In summary, there are far better options than relying on gels as your fuelling strategy. If you are not yet convinced, please at least follow the above guidelines when making your selection. The best option is to make your own and Freedom Fuel is a fantastic cheap and efficient recipe I hope you have great success with.
Ready to quit gels but still not sure about your sports nutrition plan? Book a consultation with me here. I’d love to help. Correct fuelling is the cornerstone of your success as an athlete. Go natural and your performance will speak for itself.