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 Make Your Own Energy Gels
Submitted by Rickshaw :: Thu Dec 16, 2004 11:00 am
Typically about $1 per 100-calorie packet, energy gels are an expensive way to boost endurance during lengthy workouts. But for many runners, gels' convenience versus bars and sports drinks is too great to pass up. Fortunately for the thrifty, it's possible to have something that's both convenient and economical by making your own energy gels at home. The ingredients are readily available, and it's easier than you might think.

The main ingredient in every energy gel is sugar in one form or another. Taken during multi-hour training sessions or races, they help to extend your muscle glycogen stores, enabling you to exercise harder and longer. Normally they contain a mix of simple sugars and complex carbohydrates. They differ in sweetness and stomach impact, but all perform the same basic function of getting sugar into your system. Some gels also add small amounts of other ingredients like caffeine or ginseng. Whether these make much difference is debatable.

The simplest gel replacement is plain corn syrup, sold as Karo Syrup at your local grocery store. Get a refillable plastic tube from a camping or sports supply store, and you'll be ready to go. Two tablespoons has 31 grams of carbohydrates and 120 Calories, with a mix of simple and complex sugars such as glucose, maltose, fructose, and other polysaccharides. However, the proportion of simple to complex sugars is higher than in commercial energy gels, which can occasionally cause nausea for some people.

Another option is brown rice syrup, available at your favorite organic health food store. Brown rice syrup is about 60:40 complex carbs to simple carbs. It has a "whole wheat" type flavor that some people may dislike, but other flavors can be mixed in to alter the taste.

To more closely mimic the composition of commercial gels, the sugar maltodextrin is often used. Maltodextrin is a white, semi-sweet powder that turns gooey when mixed with water, and contains glucose, maltose, and polysaccharides. It can be purchased inexpensively in bulk in 2 to 50 pound bags-- do a Google search on maltodextrin for suppliers. Cycling Performance Tips has a good recipe for maltodextrin-based gel on their web site.

Another popular maltodextrin based recipe aims to specifically match the ingredients in Gu energy gels. In addition to maltodextrin, it adds small amounts of fructose, salt, citric acid, and pectin to mimic Gu's consistency and taste. However, the extra hassle may not result in much improvement over the basic recipe of maltodextrin plus flavoring.

Runworks 2005 5M Racer
Rochester, NY
Joined: 28 Nov 2004
Posts: 262

Re: Make Your Own Energy Gels Posted: Fri Dec 17, 2004 7:00 am 

OK, but what are you supposed to put this stuff in? I know they make those gel "holster" things, but for me anything like that would fall into the "stuff that bounces around and drives me crazy" category. All I can think of are ballons and zip loc bags, and I don't think either of those would work very well. It seems that at least half the value of commercial gels may just be in the packaging.

Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: Make Your Own Energy Gels Posted: Fri Dec 17, 2004 10:02 am 

Where do you stash your gel packets? You can get refillable plastic tubes about the same size, so they should fit wherever your gel packets fit. REI sells some very small plastic containers that are the about the size of a match box. They'll probably fit in the inside key pocket in most shorts, or in your outside pockets if you have them.

Runworks 2005 5M Racer
Rochester, NY
Joined: 28 Nov 2004
Posts: 262

Re: Make Your Own Energy Gels Posted: Sun Dec 19, 2004 11:14 am 

I use my key pocket or outside pockets (on those shorts that have them). Maybe I'll check this out, although it sounds a bit like a hassle. Anyone do this or know anyone who does it?

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