Sports gels are a great way to get a fast-acting dose of needed carbohydrates and electrolytes (sugars and salts) to keep an endurance athlete fueled during activities lasting more than an hour.
Your body needs about 100 calories every 45 minutes or so to continue on a long run.
Simple sugars will help you with short bursts of energy, while complex sugars will help sustain you over longer miles. Salts need to be replenished as you sweat them out to keep the levels of your body fluids constant.
Ever stare at the vast array of sports gels and wonder what to choose? Here is a comparison study of the different brands of sports gels sold at Big Peach. For purposes of consistency, chocolate was used as the test case wherever possible. Calories, sugars and salts can vary within brands based on flavor. Some gels contain caffeine, so be sure to read the label if you are overly sensitive.
First, let’s demystify the different the sugar sources. Summarized to keep from putting you to sleep, a great deal of detailed information can be found on the web if interested.
Maltodextrin is the most widely used sugar source in these products, and is also found in many processed foods. It is easily digestible, and in the US, it is most commonly produced from cornstarch or potato starch. (In Europe, it is usually made from barley or wheat. So if you have gluten issues, be careful with this ingredient. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer and ask for the source of their product.) Maltodextrin is considered a polysaccharide, or complex carbohydrate. (Hammer Gel has “Long Chain Maltodextrin” on their label. By definition, all maltodextrin is long chain.)
Dextrose/Sucrose two names for the same monosaccharide. It is the main sugar that the body manufactures.
Fructose is a simple sugar (monosaccharide) found if fruits and some root vegetables. Too much fructose can cause gastrointestinal distress in some people. The amount in a typical gel is not enough to cause worry.
Brown Rice Syrup is considered to be a relatively healthy sweetener (polysaccharide), derived by culturing rice with enzymes to break down the starches. Like maltodextrin, it is broken down to maltose and glucose.
Honey gets its sweetness from sucrose and fructose. It is considered to be very easily digestible.
Cane Syrup (sucrose) is derived during the process of turning sugar cane into granulated sugar. It is a monosaccharide.
Tapioca Syrup is made from the yucca root. This monosaccharide is often used as a substitute for corn syrup, and acts as a thickening agent in many foods
For all types of controversy, there is High Fructose Corn Syrup. It is derived from cornstarch, and usually is a combination of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent sucrose. The corn syrup is treated with an enzyme that converts glucose to fructose, which results in a sweeter product. It is almost impossible to find soft drinks, baked goods, and other processed foods without HFCS. It started showing up in US foods in the late 70’s to early 80’s when there was an overly abundant corn crop. It is very cheap to produce, and has a very long shelf life, so the food manufacturers love it. Studies correlate the increase in obesity in this country with the introduction of HFCS to the food supply. There’s a lot of controversy here as well as conflicting information.
Bottom Line: For a good, quickly source of energy, there is no reason to hesitate to reach for one of the items listed in the following chart.
|Gel||Sugar Source(s)||Calories||Electrolytes||Total Carbs||Texture||Comments|
|Gu||Maltodextrin, Fructose||100||55mg Sodium 45mg Potassium||20g||Thick||The original|
|Gu Roctane||Maltodextrin, Fructose||100||125mg Sodium 55mg Potassium||25g||Medium||Special Amino Acid Formula|
|Power Gel||Maltodextrin, Fructose||120||200mg Sodium 40mg Potassium||28g||Thick||Can be found in some grocery stores|
|E-Gel||Maltodextrin, Fructose (Strawberry- Vanilla Slam)||150||230mg Sodium 85mg Potassium||37g||Medium||Larger Portion Means Higher Price/less frequency of use|
|Clif Shot||Maltodextrin||100||40mg Sodium 60mg Potassium Minimal Magnesium||25g||Medium||90% Organic Ingredients|
|Accel Gel||Dextrose, Maltodextrin, High Fructose Corn Syrup||100||100mg Sodium 50mg Potassium||20g||Medium to Thin||5g Protein/Higher Price|
|Hammer Gel||Maltodextrin, Fructose||90||40mg Sodium Minimal Potassium||23g||Thin||Available in large bottles/Kosher|
|Honey Stinger||Honey, Maltodextrin||120||40mg Sodium 105mg Potassium||29g||Medium||B Complex Vitamins|
|Sport Beans||Cane Syrup, Fruit Juice, Fruit Puree||100||80mg Sodium 40mg Potassium||24g||Chewy||Jelly Beans/Kosher|
|Hüma||Fruit Puree, Evaporated Cane Juice, Brown Rice Syrup||100||110mg Sodium 20mg Potassium||20g||Medium||Gluten Free, Vegan, Contains Chia Seeds|
Consistency (thick, medium, thin) can vary within brands based on flavor.