The body uses glycogen as it’s primary fuel source during exercise. Compared to proteins and fats, carbohydrates are broken down most easily by the stomach, and should therefore be the predominant (or only) fuel consumed during exercise. The type, intensity and duration of exercise, in addition to your own metabolism and other factors will determine what fuel types are most appropriate.
Energy gels are a convenient and space-efficient way to carry fuel with you during training or events, and are a great option for a vast majority of individuals during exercise from 1hr to multi-day events. They are readily absorbed by the body, easy to carry and easy to consume on the go, even during high-intensity exercise. Depending on the specific carbohydrates they contain, gels will provide either a short burst or more sustained energy – or a combination.
Energy gels pack a punch – offering approximately 20-25g of carbohydrates and a small amount of electrolytes per gel. Some gels (eg. GU Roctane) also offer additional protein fuel by means of amino acids. Protein is intended for longer duration events or training for increased endurance. Similarly the amount of caffeine contained in different gels can vary significantly, and range from 0mg to 80mg. Research has shown that caffeine increases performance capabilities. However, everyone responds differently (and not everyone in a positive way), so keep this in mind when trialing products containing caffeine.
Those training for longer events will often use other energy fuels in addition to gels, to add variety, with popular choices including energy bars and bananas. Flavour fatigue is another issue for some athletes, so thankfully energy gels are available in an endless range of flavours. Particularly for longer duration exercise, it can be beneficial to use a variety of flavours to increase palatability. As a rough guideline, it is recommended to take 1 gel prior to commencing exercise, and then every 30-45min during exercise. These recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt, because everyone responds differently to energy intake during exercise. You will need to consider your intake of other fuel sources including electrolytes, and practice this to find a strategy that suits you.
Pushys offers fantastic pricing on a great range of nutrition brands, including numerous different energy gels. If you’ve never used energy gels before, it’s definitely worth trying a variety of options during your training to find those that provide the best fuel for you, and support your exercise and nutritional goals.
– By Emily Donker – Pushys sponsored athlete