Updated: Jun 30, 2021
If you've ever walked down the sports nutrition isle in Dis-Chem you would've come across energy gels. Shelves are stacked with energy gels from different brands, flavours, sizes and colours.
Here is a short discussion on energy gels, specifically for cyclists.
What is an energy gel?
Energy gels usually come in sachets as a semi-liquid. It contains high amounts of carbohydrates that contribute to the high energy value of the sachet. Energy gels are used as a 'quick fix' on your ride. It consists of easily digestible carbs (high GI) that is rapidly absorbed and increases energy levels almost instantly.
AND THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT. While on your bike, you need to constantly fuel your body with carbs that can be easily absorbed and rapidly release energy.
Basics of gels
Energy gels usually consists of 'multi-transportable' carbs. This means that the gel contains different types of carbohydrates that follow different absorption pathways. And this means that your body can absorb more carbohydrates (energy) in an hour, without competing for the same absorption sites.
The combination of carbs that has been most extensively studied is fructose, glucose and maltodextrin. When looking for a gel, scan the ingredients list for fructose and maltodextrin.
Why we need energy
Carbohydrate intake becomes important when cycling (or running) for more than 2 hours. Your body require about 60 - 90grams of carbohydrates per hour. Multi-transportable carbohydrate combinations allow the body to utilise (use) up to 90g/h. It is recommended to ingest carbs every 15 minutes to maintain a constant supply.
By use of example:
1 hour of cycling burns between 400 to 700 calories. To avoid going into your energy reserves, you need to fuel yourself with carbohydrates.
100g of carbs are needed to provide 400 calories of energy. So per hour you need about 100g of carbohydrates.
BUT carbohydrates can only oxidise (metabolise) at 90g/h so when training for longer than 2hrs we aim for 60 - 90g carbohydrates per hour.
When to take the gel
It is recommended to take one gel (providing about 100 calories and 25 g of carbohydrates) every 45 minutes to 1 hour.
The other carbohydrates you need to reach your 60-90g goal can be consumed through sports drinks, fruits and other snacks on your ride.
Plan and Pack
If you are planning a long ride, take a few gels with you. It is not recommended to use only gels for fuel. Take two or three gels for the road and have one every hour. Fill your bottle with water or a electrolyte rich energy drink to maintain hydration and maybe provide some extra carbohydrates.
Example for 4 hour ride:
Have a high carb snack after first hour (small banana, energy jellies, small energy bar)
Take 1st gel after two hours.
Take 2nd gel after three hours.
Have a sip of energy drink or water every 15 minutes from the start of your ride.
Gels on the shelves
A review of the popular gels on the shelves.
GU energy: GU is one of the most popular brands. It consists of a perfect combination of maltodextrin and fructose. It contains additional sodium to aid in the prevention of dehydration and ensure electrolyte balance. It also contains a small amount of caffeine to increase mental focus and alertness. It is more expensive so save it for race day (R22 per sachet).
Biogen Real Fruit Energy gels: Containing real fruit and providing a carb mix of fructose and maltodextrin this product is also a first choice. It contains no added sucrose, but contains a mix of minerals to maintain electrolyte balance. (R15 per sachet)
Powerbar Powergel: This gel contains a combination of fructose and glucose. It is a bit 'more natural', preservative free and made to be gentle on your digestive system. Also a great choice if you are aiming for your 90g/h carbohydrate intake. It contains 25 grams of carbs and costs about R28 per serving.
For a more detailed meal plan, book a consultation at email@example.com.