Energy Gel Introduction

Many endurance athletes are discovering that energy gels are a better way to receive the carbohydrates needed to sustain their energy levels during endurance activities. Energy gels are easy to use, quick to digest and with great tasting flavors like CarbBoom!'s Vanilla Orange, Apple Cinnamon and Grape Pomegranate, there is no need to compromise on taste.

Energy Gels Overview

What are energy gels?

Energy gels are best described as a hybrid of sports drinks and energy bars. Combining aspects of both, gels are power packed with a super concentrated dose of carbohydrates contained in a palatable and viscous consistency. Because of their quick absorption into the bloodstream, gels are preferred by many athletes since they are quick acting and are not “heavy on the stomach.” Energy gels are less likely to cause gastrointestinal distress which can sometimes be associated with drinks or bars.

The majority of energy gels are sold in 1.1 to 1.9 oz. flexible packets (CarbBoom! Energy Gels® are slightly larger at 1.4oz.). Depending on the brand, gels provide 90 to 110 calories per serving and between 20 to 28 grams of carbohydrates. Each serving of gel provides enough ‘fuel’ to supply about 30-45 minutes of energy during physical activity.

Energy Gel Comparison

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Fats and carbohydrates are the two best sources of energy found in the human body. Fat is the largest source, while carbohydrate stores lag behind significantly. Carbohydrates, however, provide the best and most readily available source of energy for the body during exercise.

A 150 lb. person with 15 percent body fat has a large amount of energy stored as fat. If a person of this size did not ingest any food during exercise and if fat were the only fuel used during exercise, stored fat could support physical activity for almost seven days! If however, we take the same 150 lb. person and if carbohydrates were the only fuel used during moderate exercise, carbohydrate stores would only support physical activity for about two hours.  Unfortunately, fat is not able to support exercise above a very moderate level (>60% VO2max) due to the slowness of fat mobilization and other limiting factors. Since most athletes train at intensities higher than this, a supply of fuel other than fat must be available to the body. This preferred energy source is carbohydrate.

Carbohydrate is found in the body in two main forms, glycogen and glucose. Glycogen is a highly branched molecule made up of multiple glucose units and is stored in muscle and liver cells. Glucose, the body’s preferred energy source, is found in blood. Because we have limited stores of carbohydrates and because carbohydrates are the best energy source during moderate to heavy exercise, it is imperative that carbohydrates be ingested during exercise in order to perform at the highest levels possible.

So how does carbohydrate ingestion improve endurance performance?

During activity lasting longer than 60 minutes, glycogen levels begin to diminish. There is a progressive shift from muscle glycogen over to blood glucose as the body’s primary fuel source. When muscle glycogen levels are low, the consumption of carbohydrate serves to maintain proper levels of blood glucose and delay the onset of fatigue. In addition to this mechanism, carbohydrate ingestion also exerts its benefits at higher intensities of exercise by delaying and/or preventing muscle glycogen depletion (otherwise known as glycogen sparing).

When should energy gels be used and how often should they be consumed?

Energy gels can benefit competitive athletes, recreational athletes, diabetics and anyone else looking for a quick source of energy. They are ideal for sports like triathlons, running, cycling, swimming, tennis, soccer, football….the list goes on and on. In order to gain the performance advantage of carbohydrates, it is recommended that ~30-60 grams be consumed per hour during physical activity. This translates into one to two servings of energy gels during each hour of exercise.

For first time gel users, determining the optimal timing and amount of energy gel to take can be confusing. As a general rule, it is recommended the following ‘dose schedule’ be used as a guide.

For activity lasting less than two hours:

Consume one energy gel 15-30 minutes prior to the start of the activity. Take a second energy gel 45-60 minutes into the activity (during half time of the soccer match, at the three to four mile mark of the half marathon, etc).

For activity lasting more than two hours:

Consume one energy gel 15-30 minutes prior to the start of the activity. Consume one energy gel one hour into the activity. Take subsequent gels every 30-45 minutes for the duration of exercise.

Tips and tricks to remember:

Find an energy gel and a flavor which tastes great to you since you'll be using them successively on sizzling hot, humid days, cold rainy mornings and every kind of weather in between. Look for gels which contain real fruit (like CarbBoom! Enery Gels) rather than just artificial flavorings because it makes sense to consume a gel your taste buds will enjoy as much as your working muscles.

Keep in mind that every athlete is different. You’ll need to experiment to find your body’s optimal regimen for gel intake. Pack energy gels with you on several training sessions and try taking them at different times and in different amounts to determine what system works best for you.

Water, water, water! With any type of exercise it’s very important to stay properly hydrated. Water helps replenish fluids lost from sweating and provides optimal absorption for the carbohydrates. Roughly 8 to 10 ounces of water should be consumed along with each serving of gel. Make sure to have a water bottle or time the consumption of a gel with a water source nearby.

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