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Over the last 40 years in competitive sports, energy gels have gained popularity as a convenient and quick source of energy for athletes trying to reach their maximum potential. But the question often arises, “Are energy gels bad for you?” The answer is not as simple as a yes or no. When used wisely and in moderation, energy gels can be a beneficial addition to your fitness routine. 

 

Cover image for blog post titled are energy gels bad for you

 

In this article, we’ll explore the potential drawbacks of consuming energy gels, discuss how to choose the right product for your needs, share tips for safe and effective energy gel consumption, and even suggest some alternatives for fueling your performance. So let’s dive in and find out if energy gels are truly friend or foe.

Potential drawbacks of consuming energy gels

Energy gels can give you a quick and convenient energy boost, but they also come with some potential drawbacks that you should be aware of. We’ll go over three main concerns: upset stomach and dehydration, the importance of using gels sparingly, and the risk of becoming too reliant on fast sugars.

  1. Upset stomach and dehydration: Some individuals may experience stomach discomfort or dehydration when consuming energy gels. This is an issue that is fairly easy to manage. You should find the right gel that suits your body. You can do this by testing different products during training sessions and not waiting until race day to use them. Additionally, always follow the recommended water intake guidelines when consuming gels and avoid mixing them with other products, which can create a “soup” effect in your stomach.
  2. Use gels sparingly: It’s important to remember that energy gels should not be a regular part of your everyday diet. They are primarily composed of fast sugars, which can have negative health consequences if consumed too frequently. Instead, reserve energy gels for competitions or for occasional use during training sessions when testing how your body reacts to them.
  3. Reliance on fast sugars: Relying too heavily on energy gels for fuel may cause your body to become overly dependent on fast sugars, decreasing its ability to metabolize fat for energy. Some experts in the field of sports nutrition advocate training your body to efficiently burn fat as fuel, giving you a competitive edge over opponents who rely solely on fast sugars. By reducing your reliance on energy gels, you can potentially improve your body’s fat-burning capacity and enhance your overall athletic performance.

 

How to choose the right energy gel for your needs

Selecting the perfect energy gel can be a personal and subjective process, as every individual has unique preferences and requirements. Luckily, Runivore Will wrote a really informative article on the subject. He highlights four main criteria to consider when choosing an energy gel: activity type, ingredients, flavor, and packaging.

cover image for article how to choose energy gels

It provides a thorough analysis of these criteria, offers insights on various aspects of energy gels, such as carbohydrates, electrolytes, natural vs. artificial ingredients, and the role of caffeine, among others. Definitely give it a read. Also remember, practice and experimentation are key to finding the perfect energy gel for your specific needs and preferences.

 

Tips for safe and effective energy gel consumption

The most important tip is practice using energy gels during training to familiarize yourself with their taste, ensure they don’t upset your stomach, and gauge how many you’ll need for the event.

Also, remember to consume energy gels with water and avoid mixing them with sports drinks or other foods, which can disrupt the balance of nutrients and potentially cause irritation.

Other considerations include familiarizing yourself with the packaging – even this can be tricky sometimes. I put together a little guide on this topic that goes into a little more detail here

 

Alternatives to energy gels: other pptions for fueling your performance

Let’s say that you follow our advice, and while you try to find the right gel for you, you still can’t find anything that suits you. Maybe your stomach is just too sensitive. Maybe you’re diabetic and just can’t consume fast sugars. Maybe you don’t like highly processed products. 

Don’t worry there are alternatives, and we’ve covered them in some of our recent reviews:

  • Natural energy gels and gel-like products – even before there was GU or Maurten, athletes have needed fuel for endurance sports.  Honey or maple syrup are some options you could use for fueling long runs or rides. There are also gels made by Huma or Spring Energy , which use real foods as the main energy source. 
  • Non fast-sugar gelsUCAN offers an alternative energy source which relies on a super starch as the main source of fuel. It may be an alternative worth checking out.  
  • Bananas? – although they may not offer as dense a source of energy, they do have lots of great qualities. We summarize them in our Bananas vs Energy gel article

 

The alternatives above are meant for events where you’re moving at fast speeds. When going at a more leisurely pace, you may also consider nuts, trail mix, or other real food alternatives to fuel your adventures. 

 

Conclusion – should you fear energy gels? 

In our opinion, the answer is absolutely not. Just make sure to not over use these power packed helpers. Always try them first in practice before using them in battle (PR race or other important event).  This way, you’ll know exactly how they work with your body, ensuring a harmonious partnership on your journey to greatness.