How can you boost your energy to enhance your workout? For many endurance runners and athletes, the answer to a longer, harder workout is an energy gel. A convenient method for delivering quick bursts of energy, energy gels have seen their fair share of praise from athletes ranging from marathon Olympians to recreational runners.
In fact, the global market for energy gels is expected to reach $1 billion by 2027. Nevertheless, an influx of manufacturing errors and questionable ingredients begs the question. Are energy gels safe for runners?
Understanding the full scope of gels prior to incorporating them into your workout will enable you to make safe, educated decisions toward your overall fitness and health.
Here’s everything you need to know about energy gels, as well as some healthy, natural alternatives to boost your energy.
Energy Gels & Their Safety
Athletes may consume energy gels to ward off nutritional deficiencies affecting their performance, for their convenience, or for sponsorship purposes. Marathon runners and Olympians have shorter recovery windows when needing to refuel, pushing their bodies beyond the limits of the average recreational runner.
But despite being heralded as a portable yet efficient energy boost, manufacturers have come under scrutiny in recent years as energy gels fail to comply with regulations. Vague ingredient listings and lack of product information can lead to health and safety risks for consumers. Additionally, manufacturer miscommunication can have serious consequences for high-performance runners who are frequently tested for illegal substances.
Safety concerns may also include potential ethical breaches to do with sporting conduct, as research demonstrates increased favor of doping practices by sport supplement consumers. Athletes who use quick and easy methods intended to improve performance may express similar sentiments with regards to doping, thus potentially willing athletes to use more illicit means to improve their performance.
Ingredients in Energy Gels
Consuming carbohydrates before a competition helps athletes replenish muscle glycogen storage lost throughout competition. Fructose is a type of carbohydrate that has been shown to enhance performance during endurance competitions, according to Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
A miniscule amount of research provides specific advice with regards to the consumption of fructose, merely highlighting the importance of consuming carbohydrates ranked high on the glycaemic index. However, the limited research on fructose demonstrates it produces high levels of hydrogen post-consumption, leading to potential gastrointestinal concerns and stomach problems in athletes.
Among a handful of supplement ingredients reviewed, caffeine was one of the few proven to be beneficial for long distance athletes. A popular ingredient among runners for improving performance, caffeine is traditionally consumed through a time-release capsule. However, new research suggests that caffeine delivered in gels, bars, and gum can affect the speed of absorption.
One recent study, for example, demonstrated that while the consumption of caffeinated energy gels positively improved performance for isolated body parts, whole body power showed no improvement, indicating that energy gels may not be as efficient in providing a whole body burst of energy as many believe.
Alternatives to Energy Gels
Many energy gels and supplements are easily replaceable with common foods found in your pantry and are able to not only meet nutritional needs but also provide cost savings.
Carbohydrate-rich foods, like a piece of fruit or a vegetable, for example, may provide the same energy and nutrients as energy gels. In fact, one study from the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests consuming russet potatoes is just as effective.
The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests meals made up of low-fiber, carbohydrate-rich foods — like white bread and pasta — in combination with protein-rich foods like meat and eggs to optimize distance runners’ performance.
ModBalls Modify Your Chemistry to Boost Your Energy
ModBalls are an energy hack for high-performance people, offering both immediate and time-released energy in the form of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Our nutrient-dense balls contain 85 different fruits, vegetable seeds, and nuts and are small enough for an easy on-the-go refuel without upsetting your stomach.
With so many healthy whole-food alternatives to energy gels serving up a similar nutritious and energetic burst, the more appropriate question to ask yourself is whether energy gels are necessary for your workout routine.