We delve into the fascinating world of energy gels and explore how they can become your secret weapon for boosting endurance in sports like running, cycling, triathlon, and even teams games like football or netball.
These compact packets of concentrated nutrition have become increasingly popular among athletes of all levels for their convenience and performance-enhancing benefits. In this blog, we'll break down the science behind energy gels and provide you with valuable insights on when and how to incorporate them into your training and competition routines.
What are energy gels?
Energy gels, often referred to simply as "gels," are portable, single-serving packets containing around 30g of carbohydrate-rich nutrition designed to provide quick and easily digestible energy during exercise. They come in various flavours and are especially popular among endurance athletes due to their convenience and rapid energy delivery.
The key ingredients in energy gels typically include carbohydrates, electrolytes, and sometimes caffeine. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy and are usually in the form of simple sugars like glucose or maltodextrin. More commonly, energy gels will contain two types of sugars – glucose and fructose, usually in a 1:0.8 ratio – and it is this combination which means we can maximise the absorption of carbohydrates from the gut and into the bloodstream. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium help maintain proper muscle function and hydration, especially during prolonged exercise, and are also found in many gels in varying amounts. Some gels also contain caffeine to provide an extra energy boost and improve focus.
How do energy gels work?
Energy gels work by providing a rapid source of the simple sugars, glucose and fructose, that can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. During exercise, your muscles use glycogen stored in the muscles and liver for energy. As these stores deplete, fatigue sets in. Consuming energy gels provides an alternative source of carbohydrates, meaning that less of the glycogen stored in the liver (and possibly also the muscles) is used as energy, delaying the onset of fatigue and allowing you to sustain your performance.
The carbohydrates in energy gels are specifically formulated for quick absorption without causing digestive distress. This makes them ideal for athletes who need immediate energy without the risk of stomach discomfort.
When should you use energy gels?
Using energy gels for endurance is most effective when timed strategically. Generally, it's recommended to consume a gel every 20-30 minutes during prolonged exercise to maintain energy levels. However, the exact timing may vary depending on factors like your body's needs, exercise intensity, and individual tolerance.
It's crucial to practise with energy gels during training sessions to determine the timing and quantity that works best for you. This way, you can fine-tune your strategy for race day or important competitions.
How do energy gels compare to energy drinks or energy chews?
Energy gels are just one option among several when it comes to fuelling your performance. Energy drinks and energy chews are alternatives worth considering, but they come with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages.
In a recent study published by researchers at Liverpool John Moores University, they compared the effectiveness of energy gels, drinks, and chews to provide a quick source of energy and enhance endurance cycling performance. The study found that energy gels were absorbed and used as an energy source at the same rates as energy chews and drinks, and offered the same benefits to endurance performance.
Overall, they were quick to digest, less likely to cause gastrointestinal distress, and provided a steady release of energy.
While energy drinks and chews have their merits, energy gels have proven to be a reliable choice for many athletes, especially those seeking a practical and easily manageable nutrition solution during their workouts or competitions.
In conclusion, using energy gels for endurance can be a game-changer for athletes looking to maximize their performance. These convenient packets of nutrition offer a scientifically-backed approach to sustaining energy levels and delaying fatigue during sports like running, cycling, triathlon and football.
Experiment with different flavours and timing strategies during your training to discover how energy gels can help you reach your endurance goals. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting your athletic journey, energy gels may be the boost you've been looking for.