Energy gels are carbohydrate gels that provide energy for exercise and promote recovery, commonly used in endurance events such as running, cycling, and triathlons. Energy gels are also referred to as endurance gels, sports gels, nutritional gels, and carbohydrate gels. They come in small, single-serve plastic packets. Each packet has a strip with a small notch at the top that can be peeled off to reveal an opening through which the gel can be consumed.
Sports energy gels emerged in the United Kingdom in 1986 as a "convenient, prewrapped, portable" way to deliver carbohydrates during endurance events. Gels have a gooey texture and are sometimes referred to as "goo" generically. The gel Leppin Squeezy was distributed at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon in 1988. Once considered a "cult product in clear packaging", energy gel products are now marketed in fancy packaging and come in a variety of flavors. The energy gel market grew during the 1990s, as professional athletes began endorsing products. Manufacturers generally encourage the consumption of multiple packets, with water, when participating in endurance events. Individual packets typically cost between 99 cents and $1.29 (as reported by the St. Petersburg Times in 2003).
Once consumed, the carbohydrates found in the gels are absorbed into the blood to supply the body with calories and nutrients to fuel exercise activity by helping to delay muscular fatigue, raise blood sugar levels, and enhance performance. Most energy gels have no fat, fiber, or protein, so they can be digested quickly. They contain mainly sugars and maltodextrins, which make them similar to sports drinks without the water. Since simple carbohydrates slow down gastric emptying and can cause gastrointestinal distress in athletes, there are attempts to create new categories of energy gels made with complex, long chain carbohydrates and/or fat. Spring gel is an example of a gel with low sugar, low glycemic index carbohydrate content with the addition of fat  and Vespapower is an example of a gel made with fat. Some gels, such as e-Gel, also come with added electrolytes. There are also gels with extras such as ginseng and other herbs, amino acids, vitamins, and Coenzyme Q10. Caffeine can be found in some gels as well. Examples of common energy gels are GU, PowerBar Gel, and Clif Shot.
The recommended use of an energy gel is 15 minutes before starting and 30–45 minutes after starting the endurance exercise. The first gel prior to exercise may be skipped in favor of a high carbohydrate snack instead. Energy gels are then to be used every 30–45 minutes during exercise. The notch can be peeled off at the top and an intake of energy gel is recommended to be followed with a drink of water to avoid risk of dehydration. This is especially important for gels with high simple carbohydrate content. These gels create hyperosmolar gastric content which prevents carbohydrate absorption and gastrointestinal distress. For this reason, energy gels with low sugar content are frequently called "hydrogels". The exact intake of the gel varies for every athlete depending on their metabolism, body weight, and fitness level.
- About GU Energy Gel
- Energy gel for running - how to use, ingredients and selection
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- Gallman, Judith M. "Brian Vaughan: GU Guru". Oakland Magazine. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
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- Running Times Magazine: Running Time's Guide to Sports Drinks and Gels
- Carbohydrates for Runners at Runner's World.com
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- Case Study: Utilizing a Low FODMAP Diet to Combat Exercise-Induced Gastrointestinal Symptoms. Lis D, Ahuja KD, Stellingwerff T, Kitic CM, Fell J. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2016 Aug 24:1-17.
- Ultrarunning Magazine: Power in your pocket. August, 2016
- e-Gel Electrolyte Energy Gel
- GU Energy Products
- Powerbar Energy Gel Products
- Clif Bar & Company: Clif Shot