Let’s start with the bottom line – energy gels are simply better than candy to help you fuel through your endurance adventures such as marathons, century bike rides, ultra trail runs, ironman triathlons, and other long distance events. The winning factors deal with the nutrient content, ease of consumption and digestion, dosage of energy and electrolytes, and packaging. We’ll delve into these factors as we analyze a typical energy gel versus some of the more popular candy alternatives: jelly bellies, snicker bars, and hard candy.
Nutrition content and digestion of energy gels vs candy
As we summarized in our energy gel ingredient piece, the basic nutrients within energy gels are sugars – typically in the form of maltodextrin, glucose and fructose, electrolytes including sodium and potassium, and optionally there is also caffeine for that extra performance boost and amino acids for recovery. The sugars are meant to be easily consumed, digested, and distributed through your body.
Let’s see how the various types of candy compare to the gels:
Jelly Belly nutrient contents for endurance sport
Jelly Belly candies’ three primary ingredients are “sugar, corn syrup, modified food starch”. Sugar on nutrition labels typically refers to sucrose (a molecule which combines glucose and fructose). Corn syrup also contains glucose, maltose, and fructose. Modified food starch is a carbohydrate but it typically performs the role as a thickening agent. In any case in a serving size of 40g, 28g are sugar and they deliver about 140 calories. This brings us to a similar ball park as an extra large energy gel when it comes to quantity.
When it comes to Sodium, Jelly Belly candy contains 15 mg per 40g serving size. This is a bit low compared to 60 mg that is contained in a typical 30g gel.
Jelly Belly candy also contains about 1/5th the Potassium that is available in a typical energy gel.
Overall Jelly Belly candies have high enough sugar content but are lacking in electrolytes and contain no caffeine or amino acids.
Snicker bars nutrient contents for endurance sport
We selected the Fun Size Snickers bar for this comparison as this size would fit nicely in a runner’s pocket. The three primary ingredients of Snickers are Milk Chocolate (most of which is sugar/sucrose), peanuts, and corn syrup. So again we’re getting a good hit of glucose and fructose combo. Total sugars add up to 9g per 17g bar. You are also getting some energy delivered to you in fat format from the peanuts. Since a serving of 17g is about half of what some energy gels weigh – lets count two fun size bars for comparison with energy gels. This serving will deliver 160 calories (pretty good – but you’ll have to eat two of these bars).
You will get 80 mg of sodium from the two bars so that’s pretty good, but you will not get any potassium to balance out your electrolytes. There is also 2g of protein from the peanuts.
Overall Snickers (2 fun size bars) exceed the calories of most energy gels but some of these calories will be delivered as fat and not available for fast conversion into energy. They also lack potassium.
Hard candy nutrient contents for endurance sport
You will need to suck on approximately 4 hard candies to get about 90 calories of energy. Hard candy is basically sugar that’s been melted with some citric acid and flavoring added in.
These candies typically do not contain any sodium or potassium.
Overall hard candies do deliver sugar that can be readily converted into energy but require some work on your part to get that energy out – either sucking or crushing.
Consumption & packaging comparison of energy gels vs candy
Energy gels essentially win out in ease of consumption and packaging. When it comes to consumption, energy gels are:
- Engineered to be gulped down quickly
- In the case of some energy gels to move super fast towards the small intestine
- Sized correctly for a single dosage of energy
- Some energy gels don’t even need water to consume
When it comes to candy, we have some issues:
- They require chewing, sucking, or crushing of the candies
- They contain additional ingredients which may occupy your digestive system
- They may require a great deal of water to swallow completely
Gels also win out when it comes to packaging. For over 30 years, sports nutrition companies have been engineering energy gel packets that are durable enough to withstand the moving and shaking associated with sports. They can withstand high and low temperatures. The opening mechanism has been patented by multiple gel makers.
Candies of any type really lack when it comes to packaging. They may leave you with a gooey substance in your pocket, running pack or pouch. They require agile hand skills or hand tooth coordination to get them opened. They may become rock solid in cold weather or melt into unmanageable mess in hot temperatures.
The final verdict is that candies do have some superficial nutritional similarities to energy gels, however, these similarities are not enough for them to substitute for the optimized sugar and electrolyte combinations that energy gels provide. When you add the other factors such as ease of consumption and digestion, along with packaging and dosage, energy gels reign supreme.