01 Dec, 2013

Gelled Up!

Gelled Up!

In the past few years, energy gels have become the preferred choice for most long distance athletes because of the consistent texture and the fact that they are easy to consume. They are digested and absorbed quickly, resulting in a quick and easy surge of energy during a race, plus they’re easy to carry on you on the road!


Energy gels are essentially concentrated sports drinks which contain about 80 to 100 calories each, and all energy gels need to be taken with water to ensure that they’re digested properly. There is a huge variety of tastes and textures on the market today, so it is worth testing a range of gels during your long training runs in order to find a product that works for you. Here’s what to look for in a gel:

?         Carbohydrate: 80-100 calories in the form of 70-80% maltodextrin and 30-20% fructose. This combination creates a complex carbohydrate, which has been shown to digest very quickly. Maltodextrin has little or no flavour, even at high concentrations, which helps energy gels to not be overly sweet.

?         Amino Acid Blend: Helps to combat muscle fatigue, assimilate the conversion of carbohydrates into energy, and helps with mental focus.

?         Electrolytes: Sodium and potassium are important to balance the electrolyte levels in your body. Potassium also reduces cramping and improves overall fluid movement in the body’s cells. Both of these electrolytes are lost through sweat during exercise and should be replaced throughout your run or race.

?         Caffeine (optional): Caffeine is great for improving performance and speeding the absorption of carbohydrate, but too much can upset the stomach. Play around with energy gels that contain caffeine and ones which do not, to determine which option is best suited for you.



The timing of when you should take your gels is an individual choice. Each athlete processes carbohydrate at a different rate. This variation in absorption rate has to do with how well your stomach reacts to the energy gel. When running at high intensity for a long duration, your body often diverts blood away from the digestive tract to the legs to help your legs continue to move. Sometimes your body may shut the gut down completely, or it may just slow down the digestion and absorption process.


By taking the energy gels early in your race, when your body is unlikely to be under great stress, you have a better chance of processing the sugars faster. It would be best advised to take your first energy gel somewhere between the first 30-45 minutes of the race. Because the digestion process will be slowed or halted the further you get into the race, you need to be careful not to overload your stomach. I would suggest waiting about 45-60 minutes between gels before taking another one.


It is important to consume approximately 250ml of water with every energy gel sachet, but if you are consuming some form of energy drink in combination with energy gels, it is important to reduce your energy gel intake. You should then consume one energy gel sachet only every 90-120 minutes.


Your digestive system is trainable, so if you consume energy gels during training, particularly if you do it at set intervals that correlate to when you will take them during your big race, your body will learn to keep the digestive process running and you will digest them more readily. This is why it’s critical to practise your exact fuelling strategy as often as possible! Also, energy gels may be a little sweet for you, and your stomach rebel from consuming large quantities, so you should be testing your stomach’s tolerance to different makes and flavours in training. Then, when the big race comes, you won’t be trying something new, and you’ll know you can race hard!


About the Author

Salom? Scholtz is a Registered Dietician and is currently working as a private practicing dietician in Sunninghill, Johannesburg. She is especially focused on weight-loss, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, sports nutrition and digestive disorders. You can contact her on 011 807 8251 or