I’ve admitted this before, but I feel like a kid in a candy store when I go to the sports nutrition section of REI. I guess it’s because I’m a sports dietitian and an athlete, but I find all of the product options exciting and interesting. Gels, bars, waffles, chews, beans, powders…there is so much to try, I just can’t wait for my next run or ride to test out something new (and maybe better than what I’m already doing). I can, however, see how it might be completely overwhelming for someone not as much of a sports nutrition nerd as me. So let’s break it down, starting with energy gels. Gels are one of my personal favorite sports nutrition products because of their ease and digestibility. They are easy to carry and easy to digest. If you prefer real food during exercise and it works with your stomach great, but if not gels might just be your best bet. Below is a product comparison of four of the most popular energy gel brands on the market . Each obviously varies slightly by flavor. The descriptions below are based on my favorite flavors of each brand, which are noted under the product column.
|Product||Price (varies by retailer)||Nutrition Breakdown and Ingredients (per gel)||Taste and Texture(5 = paste, 1= water)||Overall Rating(5= awesome, 1= awful)|
|Clif Shot (CS) Citrus||$1.25 per gel (at REI)$29.99 for 24 pack (on Clif Bar website)||100 calories24 grams carb90 mg sodium
0, 25, 50 mg caffeine options
Made with maltrodextrin and cane syrup.
|3.5- CS is a thicker texture than HS and PG and about equal with Gu.I find it too thick to swallow if I am exercising intensely (like mountain running) but use it on less intense runs and rides. The taste is great! Citrus tastes like Mountain Dew.||4- Clif Shot is one of my favorite products despite the slightly thick consistency. It seems to digest well and it has a decent amount of sodium compared to HS and Gu.|
| Gu (Cu) Peanut Butter
|$1.35 per gel (at REI)$31.50 for 24 pack(on Gu website)||100 calories20 grams carb65 mg sodium
0, 20, 40 mg caffeine options
Peanut butter flavor has 1.5 gram fat and 1 gram protein
Made with maltordextrin and fructose.
|4- The peanut butter flavor is thicker than the others, but Gu is generally more thick than PG or HS.I find the peanut butter Gu too thick to use when I’m running, but love it when I’m cycling. The taste is great- peanut buttery and slightly sweet!||4- Although I love the flavor the peanut butter gel is super thick and it’s hard to get all of it out of the package without using your teeth.|
|Honey Stinger (HS) Fruit Smoothie||$1.35 per gel$1.39 per gel (organic)$32.40 per 24 pack
$33.36 per 24 pack (organic) (on Honey Stinger website)
|100 calories23 gram carb50 mg sodium
0 or 31 mg caffeine options
Made with tapioca syrup and honey.
|3- HS has a thinner texture than Gu or CS but thicker than PG. I like all of the fruit flavors.||4- Great taste and texture but less caffeine options and less sodium than the others.|
| Power Gel (PG) Tangerine
|$1.25 per gel (at REI)$30.00 for 24 pack(on PowerBar website)||110 calories27 grams carb200 mg sodium
0, 25, 50 gram caffeine options
Made with maltodextrin and fructose.
|2- PG is significantly more watery than the other brands. That’s why it’s my go to for trail runs.||4-I like that PG has more sodium than the others since I believe sodium is critical for endurance exercise. The consistency makes it easy to get down during intense exercise.|
|Winners:||Prices are pretty comparable per gel. If you want to break it down to price per gram of carbohydrate Power Gel wins.||-Each gel has 2 or more carbohydrate sources in it, which is good as this has been shown to improve carbohydrate uptake and utilization in working muscles.-Honey Stinger and Clif are more organic if that is a concern.-Power Gel has more sodium which is good if you are a heavy sweater.||Each brand has flavors that I think taste good. The texture is more of a preference thing. I like the texture of PG best but the flavors of the others slightly better.||Who am I kidding, I like them all! My overall winner is PowerGel though due to best price, more sodium, and good texture for strenuous exercise. That being said, it’s important to experiment and find what works best for you!|
Thank you for the break down! I have a question though. Im new to ultra running (past 2 years) and while training for my first 50mi I switched gels. PowerBar was my favorite but in the really long miles it caused stomach issues and they seriously made me almost shit my pants from all the sugar. Bad stomach cramps, etc. I switched to CarbBoom but find that I hit a sugar low pretty quick since there is only about 3g sugar per gel.
Is there a good way to make sure I am getting the sugar I need? I try to monitor but Im just not sure how much I should be getting per hour (or whatever the suggestion is). Or should I try alternating gels…high sugar with low sugar. I haven’t tried that too much but still unsure if that will upset my stomach on long runs/races. Thank you! and love your blog!
The general recommendation for grams of carbohydrate per hour during exercise is 0.7 grams/Kg body weight (about 0.32 grams carb/lb body weight). So for a 135 pound athlete, for example, that would be about 42 grams of carbohydrate per hour, which is just under 2 typical gels. Everyone is different though, some people will need more and others will be able to get by with less. It’s important to experiment and see what works best for you. In ultras it is really hard to meet your nutrient needs through gels alone without getting GI issues. I would try experimenting with real food, and even some savory foods to try and balance out the sugar. You could try small amounts of pretzels, boiled potatoes, even bananas. Also think about trying Generation UCAN which is supposed to help your body better utilize it’s own fats during exercise and minimize GI distress.
Here is the link to my review of Generation UCAN
thank you for the advice! I definitely don’t try to do the ultras with just gels but I also suck at practicing with the real food. Race nutrition has always been the hard part for me. I will do some more experimenting and try to see what plan works best for me. Trial and error is definitely the hardest part…bc when you error, oh boy! haha. THanks again