There are two schools of thought.
Sugar is sugar. The source doesn’t matter because the human body will metabolize it into glycogen regardless.
Natural over synthetic. The production process of artificial carbohydrates is different from how nature does it. Despite the similarities in chemical structures, your body may react less favorably to artificial ingredients. Therefore, natural nutrients are more bioavailable and less harmful.
As with most sports nutrition topics, expert opinions vary and credible scientific research supports both sides. Confusion ensues. However, Just like training, fueling is more art than science. A person’s body, lifestyle, daily responsibilities, and training goals often determine the most realistic and suitable solution.
Now that we’ve appeased the legal team, here are five energy gels that went the all-natural route. We’ve tried them and are very comfortable recommending them as fuel for your next endurance challenge.
Spring Energy – Become a force of nature
On their homepage, it says: “All Real Food. All Healthy Energy. All Gut-Friendly.”
You seldom see energy gel makers use the word “healthy”, yet Spring Energy describes its products as “healthy carbs.” In our humble opinion, a pack of sugar water is hardly healthy.
That being said, Spring Energy tops our list of the best all-natural energy gels. The company offers an array of flavors for pre-, during, and post-workouts. Most of them are not bad tasting; some even pack a hearty 180-250 calories. They also deliver a variety of macro-nutrients necessary for hydration and nutrient metabolization.
Simply put: We can eat quite a few of them without getting sweetness fatigue, and they provide what the body needs.
Honey Stinger – Go organic
Honey Stinger is a pioneer in adopting honey in sports nutrition. Honey is 80% sugars (mainly glucose and fructose), 18% water, 2% vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and a small amount of protein.
It’s a rich source of a Vitamin B Complex, which is responsible for wide-ranging bodily functions. One of the most directly related functions for endurance athletes is converting food into energy and metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Honey Stinger really highlights its Vitamin B Complex content, which theoretically should help accelerate and intensify the mouth-to-muscle effect. Read full review here.
The taste and consistency of Honey Stinger are…duh, honey-like. If you are a regular energy gel eater and enjoy the taste of honey, I would highly recommend it.
Huma Chia Energy Gel – Stomach happy gels
Huma‘s energy gels incorporate ground chia seeds, the O.G. of superfoods. While the company doesn’t specify how much is used, chia seeds are listed fourth or fifth on the ingredient list. One gel is only 36-43g, so I’m not sure if there are enough chia seeds to get the full range of benefits.
The fruit puree-based gels offer a more pleasant experience than the typical syrupy mixture. In terms of texture, it’s just about right, not too thick or watery. The light, fruity flavor is quite nice for hotter temperatures.
The packaging is a slightly bigger version of what we’re used to with GU, but it’s flatter and less “puffy.” I had no issue carrying them in a running belt or hydration vest.
Here’s a full review of Huma Orginal and Huma Plus energy gels.
Maple7 – Every bite is positive energy
This is a sports nutrition brand based here in our home market, Taiwan (yes, that little island in Asia famous for semiconductors). Maple syrup is widely accepted as an energy gel alternative, so Maple7 simply sourced pure maple syrup and packaged into a well-designed sachet.
Maple syrup is 67% sugar (primarily sucrose), 33% water, and has a diverse micro-nutrient profile. One tablespoon (14.7 ml) of maple syrup provides about 13g of carbohydrates and 52 calories. It’s lower on the glycemic index than the typical energy gel, so in theory, it should be easier on your gastrointestinal system.
When it comes to natural and sustainability, it doesn’t get any better than 100% maple syrup. And as an endurance fuel, it’s an excellent option.
Veloforte – Exotic fruits and spices
This less well-known brand produces some of the highest quality fuel. It uses exotic ingredients such as ginger, beetroot, elderflower, guarana, blackcurrant, etc. to provide a range of unique flavors. Regarding taste, it’s the best of the bunch. We particularly like the tartness of the blackcurrant-flavored Riba.
Although this is a gel-centric website, we also want to give their energy bars a shout-out!! They are great for powering your outdoor adventures and also as an everyday snack.