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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 sugar sources. Summarized to keep from putting you to sleep, a great deal of detailed information can be found on the web if interested.

Note: For individuals with gluten allergies, do your own research before sampling products. There are more companies creating products that are labeled “Gluten-Free”.  Make sure to read the ingredients list on all products to ensure your health and wellbeing. The following is not an in-depth look at those allergies.

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. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer and ask for the source of their product.) Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide, and a widely used carbohydrate source in these products and is also found in many processed foods. It is easily digestible. It is made by partial hydrolysis of starch and in the US, it is most commonly produced from cornstarch or potato starch.

Glucose (blood sugar) is produced by the liver. Glucose (specifically known as d-glucose) is found in many natural sources and is produced by the body.

Sucrose is table sugar. Sucrose is a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose linked together.

Fructose is a simple sugar (monosaccharide) found in 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, derived by culturing rice starch with enzymes to break down the starches into maltotriose, maltose, and d-glucose(dextrose) sugars.

Honey gets its sweetness from fructose, d-glucose, and sucrose. It is considered to be very easily digestible.

Cane Syrup (sucrose) is derived during the process of turning sugar cane into granulated sugar.

Tapioca Syrup is made from the yucca root. It 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 d-glucose(dextrose) 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 ’70s to early ’80s 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 controversies here as well as conflicting information.

Bottom Line: For a good, quick 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(corn), 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(corn) 100 110mg Sodium 20mg Potassium 20g Medium Vegan, Contains Chia Seeds

Consistency (thick, medium, thin) can vary within brands based on flavor.