For someone who is so committed to eating only whole, natural foods – energy gels would appear to toss all such values and ideals out the window. Truth be told, they are a rather processed product.
Energy gels, gus, gummies and sports drinks – not only are they processed, unfortunately sometimes these processed products also cause gastrointestinal distress. It may be that making our own could alleviate this problem.
While most natural, whole foods are fibrous, balanced and take time to digest, most energy gels are formulated with a few key factors in mind:
- Quick and easy to absorb and digest;
- High in carbohydrates (low in fat and protein);
- Source of electrolytes, especially sodium.
In order to achieve the standard of being quick and easy to digest, companies typically use maltodextrin (a polysaccharide, aka complex sugar, derived from starch – typically from corn starch) or another type of starch derivative, such as tapioca syrup which is made from tapioca starch. Brown rice is another example of a polysaccharide.
In contrast, a monosaccharide, aka simple sugar, is absorbed immediately into the bloodstream for only an immediate (short term) energy boost. Simple sugars include glucose (dextrose) and fructose.
Normally, when found in whole food, polysaccharides require work for the body to break down and are thought of as a longer, more sustained source of energy. However, once processed, they act more as simple sugars and are broken down and absorbed more quickly and readily. These processed polysaccharides in combination with monosaccharides have been shown in studies to promote improved absorption and uptake into the bloodstream than either carbohydrate source on its own.
All this to say, energy gels are formulated with the intention of being easy to digest and absorb. The problem is that we runners are not all textbook runners – some of us can digest anything while others experience GI distress from most anything. I know many runners who just don’t appear to do well with maltodextrin.
What do you do if you find you cannot digest maltodextrin well and end up with GI distress while out on your training runs (or worse, while out racing)? Try more natural versions of energy gels, such as Honey Stingers (they use tapioca syrup). Or, try making your own – such as this chocolate mint energy gel:
Mint Chocolate Energy Gel (makes 8 servings)
- 1 cup coconut water (try using Zola brand – tastes way better than most)
- 2 Tbsp chia seeds
- 2 medjool dates, pitted
- ¼ cup brown rice syrup
- 5 Tbsp cacao powder
- 3 Tbsp honey
- 2 tsp matcha tea powder (optional)
- ¼ tsp mint extract
- pinch of sea salt (i.e. 1/8 of a teaspoon)
- In a high-powered blender, process the coconut water, chia seeds and dates until smooth.
- Pour into a bowl. Add the brown rice syrup, honey, cacao powder, matcha powder, mint extract and sea salt and mix well.
- Store for up to a week in fridge (or longer in freezer).
*note – you may wish to dilute the gel with more coconut water, to make it easier to consume through a gel flask
Nutritional Info (per serving):
- Calories – 108
- Carbohydrates – 24g
- Fat – 0.5g
- Protein – 3g
- Sodium – 67mg
- Caffeine (if used matcha powder) – 15mg
Pack up 3 to 4 servings in a flask or gel container, stick it on your fuel belt with your other containers full of water – and you’re good to go!
Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers, Sarah | Sarah J Cuff, RHN