Energy Gels vs. Energy Bars, Same Purpose but Different Consistency

 

Both energy gels and energy bars are designed to replenish lost carbohydrates during exercise. They are similar products with different consistency – gels are syrups, and chews are typically gummy solids.

Many endurance athletes consider gels and chews interchangeable. They are not wrong, but in my humble opinion, the difference in consistency creates pros and cons in various situations.

Below are my experiences with fueling with gels and chews and their pros and cons for your consideration.

What are energy gel and energy chew?

Energy gels are carbohydrate-rich, gel-like substances conveniently packaged to replenish lost calories and nutrients during exercise. A typical gel is around 30 g and delivers 90-100 calories with 20-25 g of carbohydrates.

Energy chews (a.k.a energy blocks, energy cubes, energy gummies) are chewy, gummy snack-like sports fuel. The number of pieces in each pack is wide-ranging. Some contain 30-40 per pack and some 4-5 pieces. Calories and carbohydrate content are just as varied. A pack can have as little as 50 calories and 25 g of carbohydrates or as much as 150+ calories and 35+ g of carbohydrates.

 

How does your body react to energy gels and energy chews?

As soon as the gel enters your mouth, the enzyme salivary amylase immediately begins to process the simple sugars. Most of the gel is then swallowed into the digestive tract, where carbohydrates are broken down to cross from the small intestine to the bloodstream in the form of glucose.

Energy chews’ absorption process is similar to that of gels. Although the gummy texture is soft, chewing is still required to break into smaller pieces before entering the digestive system.

Once in the form of glucose, insulin is triggered to activate cells to use the glucose or store it for later. The whole process is fast. Mouth-to-muscle time usually takes 5-15 minutes for both.

(Find out why energy gels and chews may cause stomach issues.)

 

High-intensity effort

I choose energy gel for higher-intensity efforts, such as running a half-marathon or marathon. You rip it open, slam it down, and continue killing yourself.

Energy chew, on the other hand, requires you to dig into the pack to pick out the necessary number of pieces. Then you have to chew it without interrupting your breathing. Just a lot more work.

 

Flavor

In regards to taste, I give energy chews the edge. Huge fan of gummy bears, gummy cola bottles, gummy worms, sour patch kids, etc. You get the point. When chews first hit the sports fuel scene, I was all in. However, there’s one caveat – the chew’s flavor has to at least be okay.

I’ve tried a brand that was way too sweet. The fact that I had to chew it, which requires the chews to stay over my taste buds for longer only exacerbated the poor experience. In this case, I rather quickly consume a gel and chase away the sickly taste with water.

 

Low-intensity effort

For ultramarathons and hikes, energy chews are an excellent option. They generally taste better and are more satisfying to consume. I’m also in better condition to deal with the packaging.

Incredible natural scenery and a gummy snack that also powers you onward just go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Convenience

I give this category a draw. As mentioned, energy gels are undoubtedly more convenient for fast paces. However, regarding customization, energy chews have their benefits.

Depending on how I feel and what my body needs, I can choose how many pieces to eat and save the rest for later. Unlike gels, chews don’t create a sticky mess if you don’t consume them all at once.

 

Cycling

Unless you’re extremely good at riding without your hands, energy gel is the safer choice for cyclists. Yet, if you plan to take breaks during a ride, energy chews can be a tasty treat, like in the case of hiking and lower-intensity activities.

 

There you have it. If you’re interested in learning about other sports fuel options, here are our comparison of energy gels vs. energy bars and energy gels vs. sports drinks.

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