Gels – Fuel or Fool?

As I’ve not been able to run I’ve at least been able to read about running and do a little research.  I’ve been eatily pretty healthily lately, plant based and non processed but it occurred to me that the energy gels and bars I use while on long runs are maybe not all they seem.  Why do I use them? Cheap, convenient and so does everyone else would appear to be my reasons. I know I need to fuel during longer runs so it makes sense right? These products are designed for athletes by sports scientists right?  So who do these sports scientists work for?  I’ve never paid one directly so they work for the companies selling the gels right?  So I would say they have a vested interest perhaps not in lying but embellishing the truth to increase sales?

I’m very wary when it comes to corporations, experience and just having open eyes is enough to tell me that the bottom line is profit for the shareholders. When it comes to running they couldn’t care about what actually happens to you but rather how much of their product they can get you to consume. Of coure its not just running products it’s endemic in virtually everything we buy. Never forget the bottom line is profit in the vast majority of cases (there are ethically run businesses of course)

Sooo energy gels – top ingedient is maltodextrin – Take a look at the ingedient list on Gu’s page  – What is it?

From wikipedia (Yes I know it’s not fact therefore but come on it’s close)

“Maltodextrin is used as an inexpensive additive to thicken food products such as infant formula. It is also used as a filler in sugar substitutes and other products”

So it’s essentially a sugar substitute and here’s the interesting bit – It’s not included as a sugar in the ingredient breakdown – sports nutrition companies label it as a carbohydrate

“Maltodextrin is a corn-derived oligosaccharide source of carbohydrates, and it is commonly added to commercial ready-made protein shakes and other products. Oligosaccharides contain between three and 20 linked sugars, but they qualify as complex carbohydrates. Some products include maltodextrin as a sweetener because it is not technically a sugar, allowing companies to call their products “sugar-free.”

Nice work guys!

So as I see it in order to drive profits we have a cheap as chips sugar subsitute being the main ingredient in energy gels and being labelled as carbs. No wonder gels give me a boost and then I fall off again quickly – Quick take another gel to keep running – Finish running spend more money on gels!

Am I being cynical here?

I came across this site 33shake  who have exactly the same thoughts but are selling their own healthier version. I haven’t tried their products I’ll admit but I was intrigued. Then I saw the gels were £2 a pop. Ok so even if I didn’t consume them at the same rate as other gels I’d still be coughing up probably over £6 per run and more!

My next step – I’m going to make my own using chia. I was intrigued by chia from reading books such as Born to Run and Eat & Run. Seems ideal and from the reading I’ve done it seems I stand a good chance (even with my culinary skills) of making somethnig edible, natural and likely to fuel me on long runs.

I’ve ordered a load of chia and will pick up the other ingedients this week and let you know how it goes!

If this post has bored you beyond belief it’s not my fault it’s my ankles – I want to be posting photos of beaches! But at least think about what you’re fuelling with on runs and have a think if you follow a high — crash — high — crash cycle due to instant sugar hits?




Author: Gareth

Running coastal trails in South Wales and working on a healthier body and mind

22 thoughts on “Gels – Fuel or Fool?”

      1. Actually I am curious now. What are you looking for? Sugar as honey/maple syrup = glycogen or energy from fat like in nuts and seeds? I am not taking anything on runs but if I would I just take a bunch of nuts and dried mangos for sugar kicks.


      2. I’m still considering a few things, I’ve been looking at using fat reserves rather than piling in sugars repeatedly but I’m not entirely sure that the shorter distances I cover will work. Been reading about using fat rather than carbs but it seems to be aimed at the ultra end of things. Let’s be honest I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for. It started out with trying to find a natural replacement for gels and it’s now gone off in all different directions – Which I don’t mind as it’s all interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Most are! Thinking through the whole thing I shouldnt need to fuel under a half marathon really but I think the day I did bonk scared me a bit. Plus where I run im alone and quite isolated so I need to take everything I could need with me… Am I turning all logical? Whats happening to me!?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Taking it with you doesnt mean consuming it. I have no bonk experience since I started back … sounds like you need sugar though, adapting to fat is a longer process. Ever tried dried fruit? Taking a banana might be inconvenient lol.


    1. I’ll certainly keep everyone up to date in the blog! Still looking at the questions and conclusions might be a while but it’ll be an interesting journey finding out


  1. I’ve had good luck using real food instead of all those processed chemicals. Figs. Rice balls. Even candy corn (at least it’s honest about being pure sugar). Boiled, salted potatoes were really good when I ran my last (and first) ultra.

    Good luck with your experiment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really struggle with the whole feeling while running business . The gels upset my tummy but I still try them. I don’t know if it gives me a hit but I convince myself I shouldn’t be running without them.

    I’ve tried jelly babies, blocks, gels enforced by runnjng mags gels introduced to me by friends and nothing really works. I’m not convinced it isn’t all in the head. A friend of mine has one before a 5k run and then at least 3 during a 10 mile and has suddenly become miss speedy. Are they working? Who knows.

    As for cost!!! £6 per run for someone running 5 times a week is refuculous! No wonder people buy a bag of crisps and glue themselves to the sofa.

    Let me know how you get on

    Great post

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think its quite a personal thing, one shoe doesnt fit all. I dont think you need one beforehand, thats just a sugar hit. I usually start after an hour or so but im wondering how much of this is placebo. Im looking foward to my own concoctions and will try to trickle more in. To be honest im not even sure if I need to fuel under a half distance. Been looking at fat adaped running, quite interesting that we should be able to run on our reserves alone but thats a whole dietry change more for elites I think. Anyway Hows the mojo?!


      1. Sorry to spam your blog, but I think fat adaptation works and it is not just for elites. However I don’t like/think this is in the area of ‘primal’ or ‘paleo’. That is imho taking it too far. For me it had to do with speed and if I do slow down I feel like I can run forever without fuel. If I speed up and overdo it I come home starving for sugar.
        It is an interesting topic mixing all sorts of things ha! Enjoy the experimenting!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. No specific comment…just found the post & thread really interesting. I have used gels a bit but probably not as much as the rest of the group but I am interested to see/read how this progresses for you Gareth. Hope you have a swift recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m testing out different foods to have on the run, however I must say i still use gels during a race when I’m going for a time, simply because I can consume it quickly. But for the ultra and LSR I’m keen to experiment with home made delights!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: