Published on February 5, 2016
What’s in Your Energy Gel?
The energy gel – love it or loathe it, most runners end up using them. But have you ever stopped to consider what’s actually in them? Or indeed how they stack up against each other in the energy department? RunningMonkey looked at six popular and widely available gels in order to get under the bonnet and see what makes them tick…
The six we had on test were High5 Energy Gel (Citrus), SiS GO Isotonic Energy Gel (Orange), Hüma Chia Energy Gel (Strawberry), GU Energy Gel (Caramel Macchiato), MuleBare Kicks Energy Gel (Apple Strudel) and 33Shake Chia Energy Gel.
The flavour option of an energy gel can make a slight difference to nutritional values with some brands, so note the ones we have on test as listed above. Also note that the SiS gel is marketed as isotonic energy gel (there’s a dash of sodium chloride) so the primary ingredient, by weight, is water making it the heaviest on test at 60g. Conversely the 33Shake gel is actually sold as a dry mix for diluting to taste so comes in light at a slender 21g – as the best option is to mix them from a hydration pack, water bottle, or at a CP we have used their shipping weight in our side-by-side comparisons.
High5 Energy Gel: Glucose, Water, Maltodextrin, Fruit Juice (Lemon, Lime), Acidity Regulator (Tri Sodium Citrate), Sea Salt, Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate), Natural Flavouring
SiS GO Isotonic Energy Gel: Water, Maltodextrin (from Maize) Gelling Agents (Gellan Gum, Xanthan Gum), Natural Flavouring, Acidity Regulators (Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate), Preservatives (Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate), Sweetener (Acesulfame K), Sodium Chloride, Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid)
Hüma Chia Energy Gel: Strawberry Puree, Evaporated Cane Juice, Brown Rice Syrup, Filtered Water, Milled Chia Seeds, Strawberry Concentrate, Sea Salt, Citric Acid
GU Energy Gel: Maltodextrin, Water, Fructose, Leucine, Natural Flavors, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, Green Tea (Leaf) Extract (Contains Caffeine), Citric Acid, Calcium Carbonate, Valine, Sea Salt, Gellan Gum, Isoleucine, Sunflower Oil, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Potassium Sorbate (Preservative)
MuleBare Kicks Energy Gel: Organic Agave Nectar, Organic Apple Juice Concentrate 30%, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Natural Cinnamon Flavour, Pink Himalayan Crystal Salt
33Shake Chia Energy Gel: Chia Seeds, Coconut Palm Sugar, Organic Madagascan Vanilla, Himalayan Pink Salt
Where’s the sugar?
There are plenty of names for sugar – maltose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, sucrose; if it ends in ‘-ose’ then read ‘sugar’.
There are also plenty of other ingredients you’ll find in energy gels (and other food of course) that are, in all-but-name, sugar. Evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, apple juice concentrate, carob syrup, barley malt…
Sugar, in one form or another, is generally what puts the energy into energy gel; so don’t necessarily think ‘evil’ in this instance. On the other hand not all sugars are created equal, so if you really care about what you’re putting into your body take note of what your favourite gel contains and do your homework. It’s too much of a hot potato (hey, a great source of carbohydrate!) for RunningMonkey to get into here but there’s further information at the ever-excellent nerdfitness.com
Personally we stay clear of Maltodextrin – an artificial sugar often created from corn or rice – but would definitely champion the likes of coconut palm sugar or raw honey.
As you’ll have worked out from the names two of the gels on test contain chia, so what’s the big deal here? Chia (salvia hispanica) is a flowering plant in the mint family and if you’ve read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, then you’ll already know all about it and it’s use by the legendary Tarahumara runners.
In fact the Hüma energy gel takes its name from the middle part of the tribes name.
The health benefits of chia appear substantial, everything from reducing food cravings to aiding hydration and lowering blood pressure; they’re also a rich source of Omega-3. Their application for running seems obvious with 486kcal per 100g from 42g of carbs, plus 34g of dietary fibre and high levels of calcium, magnesium and iron. If you haven’t tried adding chia to your running regime then either Hüma or 33Shake are a good place to start.
Bang for your buck…
Although various running gels offer other benefits (see for example the extensive specialist SiS range) what most of us are looking for is the fuel to get us through the run. So how do our six contenders stack up against each other in the energy department?
First let’s look at the per-gel comparison. The shipped gel sizes are: High5 Energy Gel (40g), SiS GO Isotonic Energy Gel (60ml), Hüma Chia Energy Gel (44g), GU Energy Gel (32g), MuleBare Kicks Energy Gel (37g) and 33Shake Chia Energy Gel (21g).
For a more direct comparison here are the values per-100g – but, again, note that the 33Shake Chia Energy Gel needs to be diluted for use.
Carbohydrates and carbs from sugar
Finally, then how many carbs are each gel offering and how much of that is made up of sugar…
So, which energy gel is best?
The short answer is: whichever one works best for you. Whilst some of our candidates are clearly more stripped back in terms of ingredients (just compare 33Shake or Hüma to the utterly-laden GU) the bottom line is that unless you can personally stomach a gel it’s not going to do you much good. Flavour (natural or artificial) can go a long way towards determining whether you can get a gel down – and keep it down – on the run, so that’s likely to be a factor in your choice. So too is consistency, so whilst we personally really rate 33Shake others may find its slightly ‘bitty’ consistency less to their liking.
Mixing things up a little on the run by picking and mixing between brands and flavours is almost certainly the way to go. And, as always, the advice is not to try anything new on race day.
Cost and purchase
High5 Energy Gel – RRP £19.80 for 20, available from wiggle.co.uk
SiS GO Isotonic Energy Gel – RRP £41.99 for 30, available from wiggle.co.uk
Hüma Chia Energy Gel – RRP £1.63 each, available from luckyvitamin.com
GU Energy Gel – RRP £38.40 for 24, available from wiggle.co.uk
MuleBare Kicks Energy Gel – RRP £38 for 24, available from mulebar.com
33Shake Chia Energy Gel – RRP £1.99 each, available from 33shake.com
You can read all of RunningMonkey’s nutrition reviews – including reviews of all of these brands – here.