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Everything you Need to Know About Sports Gels

Oct 21, 2021


There’s a lot of information out there about sports gels and it can be confusing. There's a huge variety of brands and flavours and the content of them varies as well. Not all gels are created equally.

Here are some tips to consider when you’re buying your gels:

1. Carbohydrate content

  • Carbohydrate content can range from around 20-50g of carbohydrate per gel depending on the brand.
  • You don’t have to consume it all at once

 

2. Type of carbohydrate

  • A lot of gels are made up of maltodextrin (two glucose molecules joined together) which is very easily broken down in the gut and absorbed quickly into the bloodstream.
  • Some products contain maltodextrin and fructose which is a different type of sugar and is absorbed differently across the stomach lining
  • The right one for you depends on your overall nutrition plan

 

3. Is it isotonic or not?

  • Isotonic = the same salt concentration as our cells and our blood
  • Hypertonic = more concentrated
  • Hypotonic = less concentrated
  • If a gel is isotonic, you don’t need to drink water with your gel
  • But you’re likely to still need water regardless as gels on their own are not likely to meet your fluid requirements
  • Can you mix gels with water?
  • You need to consume gels that aren’t isotonic with water to help with absorption across the stomach lining due to the high concentration

 

4. Consistency

  • The consistency of gels ranges from really liquidy to really thick
  • You might like a gel purely based on it’s consistency and texture
  • You can thin out gels with water if you love the flavour but hate the thicker texture

 

5. Flavour

  • Gels have a huge variety of flavours: from berry and lemon and lime to vanilla, salted caramel, and toasted marshmallow
  • Go and try a range of flavours to see what you like best

 

6. Sodium content

  • Varies greatly from extremely low to very high
  • How much you want in your gel depends on your overall nutrition plan as you can get your sodium from other sources

 

7. Cost

  • Ranges from $1-$6 per gel
  • The cost can add quickly when training and testing your nutrition as you’re heading into events
  • Test out one or two individually before investing in a whole box
  • Make sure you enjoy your gels otherwise you’re less likely to consume them

 

How many gels do you need in endurance events?

The number of gels you need is highly dependent on your personalised nutrition plan. Some athletes like to use lots of gels and some only have a couple sprinkled throughout. It is highly individualised, and you shouldn’t blindly follow the cookie-cutter advice on the packets telling you to have one every 20minutes.

Why do gels upset my stomach?
 

1. You may not tolerate the ingredients

  • E.g. it’s the type of carbohydrate doesn’t sit well for you

 
2. The way you’re taking the gels may not work for you

  • You could be taking them all at once and it’s too concentrated without having enough water to help dilute it down in your stomach to digest properly

 

Do you have to use sports gels?

Short answer – no! I'm seeing a real movement away from commercial sports nutrition products at the moment. People are starting to use more real food options when they're exercising

 

Summary

There are a few tips and important things you need to know about sports gels to get started. Gels are not created equally, and it comes down to your personal preference and what fits best with your overall nutrition plan.

To go deeper, listen to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy Podcast Episode 13: Everything you Need to Know About Sports Gels for more!

 

Listen in wherever you listen to your podcasts 🎧


If you're looking for more real food options to fuel your long rides, check out our Fuel Your Adventure Recipe Book!

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