Superduper Affordable Energy Gel Alternatives

Shhhh…we are giving you our trade secrets today. The energy gel makers are not gonna like this. Keep it down.

Jokes aside, if you’re interested in affordable sports fuel options that can be highly individualized, then this article is for you. And if you’re not a fan of the chemically syrupy taste and consistency, this article is DEFINITELY for you. 

 

Use sugar powders for training

Super affordable

A kilogram of glucose powder costs about $2-5 if you know where to look (hint: sites for wholesale baking ingredients). A kilogram of fructose powder is around $3.

One tablespoon of either sugar powder is approximately 20g of pure sugar, which is more than the amount of sugar provided in many energy gels. Do you know what that means? Yes, you can make sports fuel that is equivalent to the amount of 50 energy gels spending less than $10.

Proper sugar proportion

Glucose and fructose are the two most common sugars and the primary fuel sources in energy gels. The word on the proper proportion for the two ranges from: 

  • 1:1 (occurs in many natural foods with both sugars)
  • 1:0.8 glucose and fructose (see the popular Maurten Gel100 and our full review, but pretty much the same as 1:1…)
  • 2:1 glucose and fructose

This is where making sports fuel with your own powder is a big plus. You can experiment with taste and how your body reacts to different glucose-to-fructose ratios.

I’m a fan of 2:1. Glucose is lower on the sweetness scale than fructose, which will make my homemade fuel less sweet.

Gu Energy Labs does a good job describing why the glucose and fructose combination is effective. Essentially, it is because fructose uses a totally different protein transporter than glucose – providing a different path for sugar metabolization and, ultimately, faster energy delivery. Here’s an informative article by someone way more intelligent than us. Click if you want to nerd out.

However, there’s a reason nutritionist call fructose the “sweet poison.” It’s useful in sports fuel and less harmful for active people but don’t over do it. 

How to make it?

The rule of thumb is every 20-25g of carbohydrates require 250-300 ml of water to process. And, of course, every person is different regarding reaction to carbohydrates, hydration needs, taste, etc. So play around with your mixture and find that sweet spot where taste and effectiveness come together.

Pinch of salt

To replenish lost electrolytes and optimize hydration, you can add a pinch of Himalayan pink salt to the mixture. For example, it is generally recommended that runners should replace 700-1000mg of sodium every hour during a marathon.

1 gram of Himalayan salt contains

  • 368mg of sodium
  • 2.8 g of potassium
  • 1.5 g of calcium
  • 1.06 g of magnesium

Even your electrolytes intake can be highly personalized. Learn more about the two electrolytes – sodium and potassium – the body loses the most during exercise. 

Pros and Cons

Yes, this alternative is more similar to a sports drink. But it’s a good fuel option for training.

Cons

  • For races, sports drinks weigh you down. A typical energy gel weighs 30g and provides 20g of carbohydrates and 100 calories. As mentioned, every 20-25g of carbohydrates require 250 ml of water to process. To get the same amount of carbohydrates and calories as a packet of energy gel, you have to bring 250g of sports drink.
  • Suitable for workouts but not race days. Non-elite marathoners and half-marathoners don’t have the luxury of placing water bottles throughout the course, so this option is not practical for us weekend warriors.

Pros

  • Customization. For example, I can make a more diluted mixture that’s less sweet for long and easy efforts that won’t completely drain my stored carbohydrates.
  • Avoid big spikes and troughs of blood sugar levels by mixing a less concentrated solution. It’s a way to prevent gastrointestinal stress.
  • Refuel energy + hydrate – killing two birds with one stone.
  • Super affordable if you buy all the ingredients in bulk. I mix it with reusable flasks and bottles, making it an environment-friendly fuel option too.
  • Good choice for ultramarathons, which require a steady, moderate pace. Since I usually carry a pack or vest with mandatory gears and water flasks for these events, weight is not a big concern.

 

Package honey yourself

Sugar powders are great for making fuel for workouts. So let us provide another affordable option for race day.

Honey

Honey is widely used in endurance sports. They are perfectly engineered by Mother Nature to deliver well-balanced fuel to keep you moving for the long haul.

Honey and energy gels offer similar amounts of carbohydrates. The bee-made sweetness is 80% sugars (mainly glucose and fructose), 18% water, 2% vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and a small amount of protein. One tablespoon (14.7 ml) of honey provides 17g of carbohydrates and 64 calories. So 3-5 tablespoons per hour should keep you fueled up.

Easy packing

You only need two things.

  1. Aluminum sachets. If you buy in bulk, about 100 sachets, it costs about $0.4-0.6 per sachet.
  2. A heat sealer. It’s very affordable. You can find one online for under $30, and it doesn’t break down. Ever! We’ve had one for eight years, and it still functions perfectly.

Squeeze a tablespoon or two of honey into the sachet, then seal it. Voila! you’ve made an all-natural energy gel for the next big race.

The price of honey varies. High-quality honey, like New Zealand Manuka honey, isn’t cheap. But many options are much easier on the wallet and still provide ample quality carbohydrates. Add a pinch of Himalayan salt for electrolyte replenishment. You’ll be surprised that the sweet/salty combination is not bad.

Discounting the initial cost of a sealer and depending on the kind of honey, this “energy gel” can definitely provide a big bang for the buck.