Product Review: Energy Gels

photo(12)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.

90% organic

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!

Why I’m Going Bananas for Bananas

bananaThe poor banana.  It gets so much bad press.  High carb! High sugar! Many diets shun the banana.  I get that it’s not the most exotic or exciting fruit.  It might even be considered a little boring, especially with all the pomegranate, acai, mangosteen madness the past few years.  I’ve always been against labeling foods as “super foods” so it’s no wonder that I don’t put bananas lower on the nutrition totem pole than any other fruit (does anyone really eat mangosteen anyway?!)   I admit I also tend to root for the underdog, but the banana really has a lot going for it. Sure it’s not a glamorous fruit, but there is still so much to love.

I have to admit that I too had forgotten about the banana.  I’m not even sure why, but I probably went several years without buying a single one!  It wasn’t on purpose, I was just distracted by other, more thrilling fruits I guess.  I came back to the banana this summer though.   I was trying to up my fruit and veggie intake and also on the lookout for new, easily digested foods to integrate into my pre-workout meals and snacks.  The banana was my perfect solution, and I’ve been buying them weekly ever since.  Below is why I like bananas, and hope you will too!

–          Bananas are portable and easy to eat. There are no messy seeds or juices and no utensils needed, making the banana a great on the go snack.  They are also easy to shove in a bike jersey pocket! (Tip: consider pre-peeling the banana if your bike handling skills aren’t impeccable).

–          Bananas are easily digested and a good source of carbohydrate, making them a great food to consume immediately before and during exercise.  They are a great alternative to gels, bars, and chews for athletes wanting to use real food instead of, or in addition to sport nutrition products. One medium banana provides about 30 grams of carbs, which is comparable to one gel.

–          Bananas are high in nutrition.  Bananas are commonly known for being high potassium, but they are also great sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, and fiber!

–          Bananas are cost effective.  Typically costing less than $1/pound even for the organic kind, bananas aren’t gonna break the bank.  It’s also nice that you can buy just a few at a time so that you don’t have to worry about them going bad before you get around to eating them.

–          Bananas may help with weight management.  Bananas are high in resistant starch, a type of fiber that is not easily digested and is thought to promote feeling satiated and  improve glycemic control (aka stabilize blood sugars).  Some studies have linked diets high in resistant starch to lower body weight, but the jury is still out so don’t over do it with your banana intake.  Eat your bananas uncooked to get the full benefits of resistant starch.

–          Banana’s are super versatile and make an awesome addition to all sorts of meals and snacks:

  • Breakfast: slice up a banana and add it to your morning cereal or oatmeal
  • Snacks: add sliced bananas to Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, or top a slice of whole wheat toast with banana and your favorite nut butter (that is also one of my go to pre-race breakfasts!)
  • Lunch: make a wrap with 1 whole wheat wrap, peanut or almond butter, sliced banana, and a drizzle of honey for the perfect on the go lunch
  • Dinner: spice up a traditional Hawaiian pizza by adding sliced banana
  • Post workout: make a recovery smoothie by blending 8 oz low fat chocolate milk with 1 frozen banana.
  • Dessert: slice a banana and fill the inside with a tablespoon or two of chocolate chips or bits of dark chocolate. Pop in the oven until the chocolate melts. Bonus points if you have  a campfire to make this over!

So you see, really bananas are an athlete’s best friend.  Eat up!