As our attention to exercise, health and wellness increases, so does the volume of corresponding products available on the market. While long-distance runners and athletes once had to make do with just sports drinks and power bars, today they can choose from hundreds of products designed to enhance their performance. Enter the mysterious world of energy gels.
Popular in the world of long-distance athletes, energy gels provide a concentrated source of — you guessed it — energy. Although training and recovery beverages have long been popular, energy gels are a newer product in this area, and brands include GU, Clif Bar and Gatorade, among others.
Most commonly sold in single serving pouches, energy gels are primarily made from maltodextrin. This food additive is a carb that provides your muscles with energy — fast. Most gels also contain some type of sugar, water and added flavorings. The exact nutrient profile varies by gel and can include caffeine, protein and various amino acids that can help improve performance. Ginger remains a common ingredient in many gels, prized for its ability to calm the stomach.
Recently, Clif Bar introduced a new product called Energy Food. Although these pastes provide similar nutrients to energy gels, they contain no maltodextrin and instead are made from real food, such as carrots, tomatoes and more.
Carbohydrates serve as our primary fuel source during exercise, and our performance drops when we start running low. Energy gels deliver a concentrated, gooey source of carbs to our muscles just when they need it most, according to Competitor.com. Because of their form, gels tend to be more easily digestible and faster acting than other energy-inducing foods, such as raisins.
Chances are, there’s an energy gel for you. Flavors include every from blackberry, mandarin orange and lemon to peanut butter and chocolate. If you want something savory though, check out Clif Bar’s new Energy Foods. Offerings include sweet potato, pizza and banana beet, and all are made from real ingredients instead of additives.
Although anyone can buy energy gels, you should really only use them if you’re a long distance athlete — hence their popularity with marathoners, says Runner's World. Energy gels are not recommended if you’re undergoing less than 60 minutes of exercise and should usually be consumed just before or early in the workout routine.