Energy gels can be a terrific, quick source of energy in the middle of a race or long workout. I personally have trouble chewing anything while I am running, so gels work great for me during training runs or races to help prevent bonking and keep me feeling energized until the end. There are a plethora of different brands and flavors of gels, so what are the differences between them and which brand is best? I have used many different brands and flavors over the years and there are some I like, some I definitely do not. Here are some of my general observations regarding some of the most popular brands of energy gels; the good, bad, sweet, soupy, sticky and sometimes tasty gels.
The first gel on my list was the caramel macchiato flavored Gu Energy Gel. My very first observation was that this packet of Gu had a pretty long list of ingredients, most of which were a variety of chemicals which turned me off to this gel right away. During a long race or run, my stomach might be feeling a bit questionable to begin with, so I don’t really want to dump a bunch of chemicals into it when it’s already under stress. Upon tasting the Gu, the first thing I noticed was that it was pretty thick and a bit hard to swallow. The dense and sticky texture was not appealing to me. When I am breathing heavily in a race, I want a gel that goes down smoothly and is easy to swallow not something thick and sticky. The flavor was very sweet and strong which is not my favorite thing in a gel either. I prefer something with a flavor that is a bit less overpowering.
Next I moved on to the vanilla Hammer Gel. The list of ingredients for this gel was shorter, with less chemicals but a list of amino acids, L-Leucine, L-Alanine, L-Valine and L-Isoleucine all of which stimulate muscle protein synthesis. My first impression when tasting this gel was that it was less thick than the Gu and the vanilla flavor, while noticeable, was not overpowering. This gel went down more easily and the combination of the more mellow flavor and thinner texture was appealing and something I could see myself wanting to use during a race or long endurance event.
Third on my list was the mocha Clif Shot Energy Gel. This package had the shortest list of ingredients so far and many of them were things I recognized like, cane syrup, sea salt, cocoa, et cetera. The package of this gel also has a neat little feature called a “litter leash” to prevent you from dumping the little tops of your gel packets on the ground as you tear them off. However, upon tasting it, this Gel seemed even thicker than the Gu, slightly heavier than the consistency of creamy peanut butter. The flavor again was very sweet, but it tasted more like chocolate and coffee and less like chemicals than the Gu. In spite of this, the very thick texture of this gel makes it completely undesirable to me. I don’t want to have to chew my energy gel, I just want something that goes down smoothly and quickly.
Up next, was the vanilla Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gel. This gel had the shortest list of ingredients and one of the main ingredients was honey which is appealing when looking for something simpler and more natural with less chemicals that could upset your stomach. This gel had a similar consistency to the Hammer Gel, so it definitely went down more easily than the Clif Shot or the Gu. The honey made it relatively sweet which wasn’t a terrible thing, but was a little bit too sweet for my taste. However again, the sweetness did not have a chemical aftertaste so that combined with the more natural ingredients and thinner texture were definite pluses for the Honey Stinger Gel.
Last, but not least on my list was the berry blast PowerGel made by Power Bar. This gel had another long list of ingredients on the packet, but I did like the fact that it contained several berry fruit juices on that list. The first ingredient on the packet was “dual source energy blend.” What is that exactly? It said to see the website to find out more, and so I went to the site, but all I could find was something that said, “Max Energy carbohydrate blend delivers long-lasting energy.” This was more of an advertisement for their special blend rather than real information about what exactly it was, so I moved on to tasting the gel. This gel was definitely the most like a liquid out of all of the gels I sampled. This consistency was great for getting the gel down quickly and easily. It was almost like drinking a little packet of fruit juice. The flavor was relatively strong and sweet and did leave a bit of a chemical after taste, but again the texture was great for quick consumption. One negative of this thin consistency however, is that I could see myself ripping open this packet in haste and spilling half of it on myself due to the thinness of the gel.
So which Gel is best? Well some of that is a matter of preference. Many had similar ingredients and all were slightly over an ounce of gel with approximately 100 calories. My top choice in relation to texture would be the PowerGel, as it went down the easiest, which really works for me when I am truly exerting myself. However, my top choice overall based on flavor and texture would have to be the Hammer Gel. It went down relatively easily with a flavor that was not strong or offensive. My second choice, and maybe the best general choice, would have to be the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gel. It also had a less sticky texture, the most natural ingredients (gluten free for those who need that) and had a more natural taste than the PowerGel, Gu or Cliff Shot.