Comparison of Energy Gels

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My supply of gels

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

1 Overview

This table is ordered by ease of digestion.

Name Calories Carbs Sugar Protein Fat Sodium Potassium Caffeine Ease of digestion
(higher is better)
Recommended for
Hammer Gel 90 23g 2g trace 0g 20mg 0mg 0mg/25mg/50mg 10 Sensitive Stomachs
Vi Endurance 100 23g 6g 0g 1g 10mg 15mg 10mg 10 Sensitive Stomachs
Gu 100 25g 5g 0g 0g (chocolate has 2g) 50mg 40mg 0mg/25mg/50mg 8 General Use
Gu (Peanut Butter) 100 20g 5g 1g 1.5g 65mg 60mg 0mg 8 A less sweet Gu
Gu Roctane 100 25g 5g 1.7g 0g 125mg 55mg 0mg/35mg 8 Those looking for every advantage
Clif Shot (new formula) 100 24g 12g 0g 0g (chocolate has 1.5g) 90mg 50mg 0mg/25mg/50mg/100mg 7 A Gu Alternative
PowerBar Gel 110 27g 10g 0g 0g (chocolate has 1.5g) 200mg 20mg 0mg/25mg/50mg 6 Those needing extra electrolytes
Accel Gel 100 20g 13g 5g 0g 115mg 30mg 0mg/20mg 4 Improved Recovery and Ultradistances
Honey Stinger 120 29g 29g 0g 0g 50mg 85mg 0mg/32mg 2 Not Recommended
Chocolate #9 70 15g 13g 1g 1g 75mg Unknown 0mg 2 Not Generally Recommended
2nd Surge 90 18g 13g 3g 0g 115mg 15mg 100mg 0 Not Recommended

2 Hammer Gel

Hammer Gel 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 low level 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. Note that the lack of Fructose limits the maximum absorption, so use Hammer only if Gu is difficult to digest.

3 Vi Endurance

Like Hammer above, Vi Endurance is easy to digest. It has a little fat in the form of Medium Chain Triglycerides, as well as some Taurine, which I think are good things, but probably the amount is not significant enough to make much of a difference. There is a little caffeine, intended to increase the carbohydrate absorption rather than to improve performance. I found the Vi Endurance very easy on the stomach and a worthy alternative to Hammer Gel, though it's only from the manufacturer and so it a little more pricy ($1.64 with shipping.)

4 Gu

For marathon distance racing, I prefer Gu over all other gels I've tried. It contains 5g of Fructose, with the rest of the calories coming from the 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 (Peanut Butter)

The peanut butter flavored Gu is different enough to justify its own section. The peanut butter flavor is far less sweet than the regular Gu flavors, but if you like peanut butter it can be a lot more palatable. It also substitutes a little bit of fat and protein for the carbohydrate, as well as having a tiny bit more sodium and potassium. I find this flavor digests particularly well and I'd recommend trying get if you're a fan of peanut butter. Obviously, if you hate peanut butter or you have a peanut allergy this is not going to work for you.

6 Gu Roctane

Roctane is a more expensive variant on Gu, though the price has reduced significantly since its introduction. The main difference is the addition of 1.7g of amino acids, which may help slightly. I've not noticed any difference when using it, but if you like Gu and are looking for even a slight advantage, it may be worthwhile. If you are paying hundreds of dollars for a race entry and travel, then the extra cost is minor. If you take 8 gels in a 4-hour marathon, Roctane only adds $4-5 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.

7 Clif Shot (new formula)

The new formula Clif Shot uses Maltodextrin like other Gels and is similar to Gu. However, it has slightly more sugar making it a little more difficult to digest.

8 PowerBar Gel

PowerBar 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.

9 Accel Gel

I like the 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio of Accel Gel, and I often use it in ultramarathon 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.

10 Honey Stinger

Honey contains only simple sugars rather than the Maltodextrin that other Gels use. This makes Honey Stinger much harder to digest than other Gels, and much sweeter. This is the one of the few Gels 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 nice. I would not recommend Honey Stinger Gels.

11 #9 Chocolate

The only ingredients in this #9 are Agave and Cocoa, and Agave is predominantly fructose (55% fructose to 20% glucose). This amount of 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 (intra-exercise rebound hypoglycemia). My research suggests this is a rare condition. The Agave makes this gel intensely sweet, which I did not like.

12 2nd Surge

The ingredients in 2nd Surge are rather grim, with Agave providing Fructose and Brown Rice Syrup providing glucose (as disaccharides and trisaccharides). While this may sound better than simply using all sugar, it's chemically not an improvement, especially as Brown Rice Syrup has a bitter aftertaste and unfortunately may contain arsenic. I found that 2nd surge was overly sweet, with a slightly bitter undertones and rather gritty in texture. 2nd Surge has a higher dose of Caffeine than most gels. It's unlikely that you'd want to take a 2nd surge every 30 minutes, but if you did, you'd have 800mg of Caffeine during a four hour marathon, which is rather high. (For a 150 pound/75Kg person, that would be nearly 11mg/Kg, far more than seems prudent.) The ratio of carbohydrate to protein can have some benefits, but it's a 6:1 ratio, rather than 4:1 which the manufacturer claims is ideal in their Accel Gel. Overall, there seems nothing to recommend these gels.

13 Vespa Gel

Main article: Vespa Gel

Vespa Gels claims to improve endurance performance by improving fat burning rather than providing fuel like other gels. The science does not seem to back this up, and they are remarkably expensive ($6.75 each).