You can make your own energy bars, protein shakes, and even dehydrated foods, but what about energy gels? While it may seem daunting, making your own gels is not only cheaper — most commercial gels cost upwards of $1.50 — but the process is as easy and customizable as making a smoothie.
When you need a gel
When choosing a gel, Kylee Van Horn, registered dietitian, running coach and founder of FlyNutrition in Carbondale, Colorado, recommends first considering the duration and intensity of your activity. Energy gels are not needed for every workout – Van Horn’s threshold is 90 minutes; your pre-workout nutrition should help if it’s less than that. When you hit the 90-minute mark, Van Horn’s rule of thumb is one freeze every 30 to 45 minutes, aiming for a total of at least 200 calories per hour. (You can also take a gel before you start if you’re not eating first.)
What to put in your gels
Higher intensity workouts require gels that come mostly from carbs, while lower intensities allow you to better tolerate fats and proteins. Also pay attention to the texture of the gel: thicker consistencies tend to be easier to suck up with slower clips. And if you’re going to be exercising for very long periods of time, be prepared for the possibility of palate fatigue — the feeling of not being able to choke down one more bite of X — by incorporating multiple flavor combinations into your plan. refueling.
Next, Van Horn suggests paying attention to the type of sugar in your gel, as research shows that a combination of fructose (common sources include fruit and honey) and glucose (found in starches such as rice, oats and bread) can help improve endurance performance during moderate to high intensity workouts and also speed up recovery on your back. Sugar alcohols, on the other hand, which appear on ingredient lists with names like Sorbitol, Erythritol, and Xylitol, are common sources of gastrointestinal distress, so it’s best to avoid them in gels and other mid-exercise foods.
Finally, Van Horn advises looking at the sodium and caffeine content of your gel. Although sweat rates and the sodium content of sweat vary from person to person, if you train long enough to need a gel, you’ll likely benefit from some added sodium. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends starting with a sodium intake of 1.7 to 2.9 grams of salt during prolonged exercise sessions and adjusting from there as needed. (All of Van Horn’s gel recipes, which make two to three servings, call for between a pinch and ¼ teaspoon of salt.) And caffeine, while not essential in a gel, deserves at least to be considered, as studies show that endurance athletes may reap the greatest performance-enhancing benefits from caffeine due to their elevated fatigue levels. Most commercial caffeinated gels include doses ranging from 25 milligrams to 100 milligrams.
How to make yours
While Van Horn enjoys the convenience of store-bought gels — her favorites are Real Food Mixes from Spring Energy and Muir Energy, and Pure Maple Syrup packets from UnTapped — she’s managed to make them herself with common ingredients like bananas, sweet potatoes, peanut butter, dates and salt. She likes that you have more control over what goes into homemade gels, which is especially good for people with allergies or food sensitivities. Homemade versions also eliminate the need for single-use sachets if you use a refillable bottle (like this one from Gu).
Just beware of including too much fat (from sources like nuts, oils, and avocados), fiber (which most vegetables are rich in), or fructose (found in fruits, honey, and agave nectar), all of which have the potential to cause gastrointestinal issues, in your gels. Van Horn also points out that it’s important to store them properly to avoid spoilage if you’re using perishable ingredients. (His recipes stay good for up to three days in the fridge.) Finally, like anything else you do on race day, you should experiment with homemade gels in training before introducing them to a competition.
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