Comparison of Energy Gels

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Energy gels are a useful component of many endurance runner's training and racing. In marathon distance racing, energy gels can make an important difference - When to eat Energy Gels in the Marathon.

1 Special Thanks

I'd like to thank Chris at the University Run For Your Life store for his help with this article. Chris has talked to many runners about their experiences with different Gels and his help was the inspiration for this article. Chris was even able to provide me with some samples of Honey Stinger that he does not normally stock.

2 Overview

This table is ordered by ease of digestion.

Name Calories Carbs Sugar Protein Sodium Potasium Caffeine Ease of digestion

(higher is better)

Recommended for
Hammer Gel 90 23g 2g trace 20mg 0mg 0mg/25mg/50mg 5 Sensitive Stomachs
Gu 100 25g 5g 0g 50mg 40mg 0mg/25mg/50mg 4 General Use
Gu Roctane 100 25g 5g 1.7g 125mg 55mg 0mg/35mg 4 Rich Marathoners
Clif Shot (new formula) 100 24g 12g 0g 90mg 50mg 0mg/25mg/50mg/100mg 4 A Gu Alternative
PowerBar Gel 110 27g 10g 0g 200mg 20mg 0mg/25mg/50mg 3 Those needing extra electrolytes
Accel Gel 100 20g 13g 5g 115mg 30mg 0mg/20mg 2 Improved Recovery and Ultradistances
Honey Stinger 120 29g 29g 0g 50mg 85mg 0mg 0 Not Recommended
Chocolate #9 70 15g 13g 1g 75mg Unknown 0mg 0 Not Generally Recommended

3 Hammer Gel

Hammer is noteworthy as one of the easiest to digest gels. It is nearly all Maltodextrin dissolved in a greater volume of fluid than other gels. The lack of sugars and electrolytes makes this far easier on the digestive system, and is recommended for runners who have issues with other types of gel.

4 Gu

For marathon distance racing, I prefer Gu over all other gels I've tried. It contains only 5g of fructose, with the rest of the calories coming from the more easily digested Maltodextrin. I find that Gu can be consumed without any extra water as long as it is taken a bit at a time and mixed with saliva. Some of the flavors can be a little strong, but the 'plain' Gu has a light cola flavor.

5 Gu Roctane

This is an expensive variant on Gu, and I've not noticed any difference when using it. The amount of amino acids that are added is quite small (1.7g) and the benefits do not seem to justify the cost, which is roughly double the cost of standard Gu. On the other hand, if you are paying hundreds of dollars for a race entry (or even more with travel), even a slight edge may be worth it. If you take 8 gels in a 4-hour marathon, that only adds $8-10 to the cost of the race. Of course, you'll need to practice with Roctane in your training, so you'll have to factor that cost in as well.

6 Clif Shot (new formula)

The new formula Clif Shot uses Maltodextrin like other Gels and is remarkably similar to Gu though it has slightly more sugar making it a little more difficult to digest. The previous formula used brown rice syrup that I found harder to digest and left a bitter aftertaste – nasty stuff.

7 PowerBar Gel

This gel is noteworthy because of its higher sodium content that may help alleviate Hyponatremia and Cramps. I found the flavor stronger than Hammer, Gu or Cliff, but still quite pleasant. You may need to drink some water near the time you take PowerBar Gel due to the extra electrolytes.

8 Accel Gel

I like the 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio of Accel Gel, and I often use it in ultramarthon races. There is more sugar than I would like at 13g and the thin consistency makes it harder to eat slowly and mix with saliva.

9 Honey Stinger

Honey contains only simple sugars rather than the Maltodextrin that other Gels use. This makes this gel much harder to digest than other Gels, and much sweater. This is the only Gel I've tried that has given me digestive problems when taken slowly. I also found the sweetness overpowering and unpleasant, though the honey aftertaste was quite pleasant. I would not recommend Honey Stinger Gels.

10 #9 Chocolate

The only ingredients in this gel are Agave and Cocoa, and Agave is predominantly fructose (55% fructose to 20% glucose). This fructose is slow to be absorbed and can be difficult to digest, making it a poor choice for most runners. The only runners that this gel would be suitable for would be those that suffer from a blood sugar drop after taking more conventional gels. The Agave makes this gel intensely sweet, which I did not like.