10 Best Energy Gels for Running Reviewed

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So what is in an energy gel and why would an athlete even want to include them in their running routine for nutrition? Well, if you are a marathoner or someone who is training for something like a course challenge, you will need something to provide you with an extra carbohydrate or energy boost throughout the training. Think about it, it wasn’t that long ago that athletes really did solely rely on water, generic sports beverages, and sometimes soda that has gone flat for a supplement of energy. However, research has brought all sorts of supplements, like energy gels to the forefront, so let’s look at some benefits before we get to the list. 

The main benefit of an energy gel is the energy and clarity it can provide to you on an extended run. This is because as we run, we need glycogen to keep us functioning fully. Energy gels provide you with both calories and glycogen. But they won’t necessarily help with keeping your legs and other extremities feeling up to par all the way through the run. So, of course, like with anything else, you need to consult with a trusted nutritionist to help you find the exact supplements needed for hard training.

With all of this in mind, we hope you enjoy the following list of energy gels and find one that suits your needs so you can keep up your energy levels.

Last Updated: August 15, 2018
By Nina:

For this update, we have streamlined our list to ensure that we weed out any energy gel that is no longer doing well or that won't meet your high expectations. We have also freshened up much of our content to bring you only the best info out there.

Clif Shot  Energy Gel
  • Clif Shot Energy Gel
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • 50mg caffeine
  • Price: See Here
GU Original Energy Gel
  • GU Original Energy Gel
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Caffeine Free
  • Price: See Here
Jeunesse Reserve 30
  • Jeunesse Reserve 30
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Price: See Here

10 Best Energy Gels

 

Clif Shot

This is a popular one. The Clif “Shot” energy gel is intended to be consumed during a race or other endurance competition. Made of 90% organic ingredients, this Kosher energy gel also delivers a quick 50mg of caffeine to boost you up during your run.
Pros
  • Mocha flavored for the chocolate lovers
  • Kosher
  • 90% organic ingredients
Cons
  • High in caffeine content, so could cause stomach issues

GU Original, Big Apple

Yet another great flavor to deliver the energy needed to come out on top of the competition. This one, unlike some of the others on this list by GU, is caffeine free.
Pros
  • Apple flavor is one everyone can enjoy
  • Caffeine free for those with a sensitive stomach
  • Amino acids help decrease muscle damage
Cons
  • Does not have caffeine so if you need caffeine for those long runs, you may need to try something else

Jeunesse Reserve 30

Containing the essential fatty acids which help in the function of the digestive tract. Also, this gel is packed with antioxidants to resist oxidative stress and helps with maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Pros
  • High in antioxidants which helps prevent premature aging
  • Also helps boost the immune system
  • Helps maintain a healthy metabolism
Cons
  • It is a bit expensive compared to other gels

GU Roctane Ultra Endurance

GU Roctane Ultra Endurance
Similar to a lot of the other energy gels, this one also contains 100 calories and all the essential electrolytes, as well as 1425mg of amino acids to help preventing or decreasing muscle damage and mental fatigue. Suitable for high-intensity racing, as well as rigorous training sessions. This variety pack includes Vanilla Orange, Cherry Lime, Lemonade and 6 packets each of Blueberry / Pomegranate, Strawberry Kiwi. The caffeine content is different depending on the particular flavor.
Pros
  • The variety of flavors in this one is a good selling point. You are going to find some you’ll like.
  • The efficient absorption means lasting energy.
  • High in sodium helps with those who tend to sweat out a lot of salt
Cons
  • Some may find the consistency a bit thick

UnTapped Maple Syrup Athletic Fuel

UnTapped Maple Syrup Athletic Fuel
Untapped is a rather interesting option when it comes to energy gels. Even with runners that may be acquainted with gels made of high carb yield sugars, such as honey, Untapped can still come across as a rather unorthodox option. The trade is with syrup, you are eating something both familiar and palatable that is less likely to cause stomach problems. Also as a surprising benefit, the syrup keeps better in the cold than more traditional energy gels.
Pros
  • Keeps well in colder temperatures
  • Less likely to cause swallowing or digestion issues
  • Provides a good boost
  • Palatable texture
  • All natural 
Cons
  • Is strictly maple syrup, so may be less appealing to some.
  • Moderately high priced

Honey Stinger

Honey Stinger
Made with USDA certified organic ingredients, Honey Stinger has got to be as good as its name. This honey-based gel is perfect for those athletes that strive to push on to the finish line ahead of the others. With flavors like Acai & Pomegranate Honey Stinger energy gel is sure not to disappoint!
Pros
  • A honey-based alternative to other gels
  • Easier on the stomach than a lot of the other gels
  • The texture and consistency is perfect for runners, It goes down easily

 

Cons
  • No caffeine, so may not have the boost that others will

Huma Chia

Huma Chia
Huma Chia Energy Gel is Nutrition Energy Gel intended for high tempo, continuous such as running, cycling, triathlons and any other endurance. They are pre and in-Race Energy Supplements which can also be used during rigorous training sessions, workouts or any activities that call for glucose/glycogen replacement.
Pros
  • All natural energy gel made from organic food.
  • 100% Gluten & dairy free, reducing the occurrence of upset stomachs
  • Available in many Natural flavors like strawberries, lemonade, blueberries, Apples & Cinnamon, chocolate, Mangoes, Raspberries & Café Mocha
Cons
  • Not all flavored variations contain an adequate amount of caffeine

High5 Energy

High5 Energy
The High5 energy gel sets itself apart with its key ingredient, real fruit juice. Though the juice may reduce its shelf life a little, the High5 makes up for it by being a sweat and drinkable alternative to the more condensed, carb-heavy energy packs. The High5 also have packets available that contain caffeine for an added bump of energy.
Pros
  • Made with real fruit juice
  • Some flavors contain caffeine
  • Affordable 
  • Good consistency
  • Fast acting
Cons
  • Shorter shelf life

PowerBar Power Gel

PowerBar Power Gel
Born of the brand that was one of the first and biggest names at the beginning of the energy bar craze in the mid-1990’s, continuing to carry on strong among athletes and hikers alike. Containing C2MAX, Power Gel offers maximum energy to help push through the riggers of your sport. Power Gel contains 25 milligrams of caffeine, with 10 grams of sugar and 27 grams of total carbs in 110 calories per packet.
Pros
  • Great taste. Strawberry/banana is a particular favorite of ours.
  • One of the best-tasting gels out there!
  • Easy to open
  • It has caffeine for that extra boost you need in a race
Cons
  • Some felt the caffeine amount upset their stomach

Science in Sport Go Isotonic Energy Gel

Science in Sport Go Isotonic Energy Gel
The Science of Sport Go Isotonic Energy Gel is a solid choice for a runner looking for something to help them get across that marathon finish line. SIS claims that their gel is designed to be effective even if you don’t have water on hand, which is helpful in the event that you need to be a bit more conservative with your supply.
Pros
  • Water not needed upon consumption to be effective
  • Provides a great boost
  • Tastes good
  • Well priced when bought in bulk
  • Reliable, easy open package
Cons
  • Some found the consistency off-putting
  • Packaging a little bulky

Criteria for picking out the best energy gels for your run

Energy gels are one of the most popular sports snacks. Loved by hikers, cyclists, paddlers, and runners for on-the-go (during-workout), energy gels are syrupy, semi-liquid products—usually high concentrations of carbohydrates. Their main benefit, to a runner, is that they are able to deliver a very fast energy boost that is easy to digest and are considered to be the quickest energy input of any performance food for any given sporting activity. Energy gels come in small packets that are light, mostly 1 or 2 oz. They can be easily stashed somewhere close by, as you work out. Some are sweetened by non-sugar products such as honey, agave or stevia. Some gel-makers create specialized gels by adding varying doses of caffeine (a potent fatigue-fighter) or sodium (for people sweating excessively due to high temperatures or humid conditions). Caffeine-enhanced products are usually clearly marked. If you prefer to avoid caffeine, take note when selecting gels. There is, however, a huge number of different products on the market, with more flavors and varieties becoming available on a regular basis.

With the market full of many energy gels, we recommend for you only the best energy gels for runners. Below are some of the factors we considered when picking out these energy gels as the best ones for runners.

Nutritional Content & Ingredients

It is very important to look at the ingredients before making any purchase.
Should you be consuming these? Are they helpful or harmful to your body? A clear look at the energy contents of energy gels you will notice that they tend to have different types of sugars that vary in quantity. Gels can also contain electrolytes to replace those lost through sweat and prevent cramps. Some gels also contain caffeine. The most important thing to remember when choosing an energy gel is that ultimately, the most optimal fuel is the one that works best for you.  Make sure the ingredients used are able to get you what you are looking for during your workout session. The ingredients used not only serve the nutritional purpose, they also determine the taste and flavors of the energy gels. Pick your favorite flavor and with the best taste for you. What constitutes “the best” is different for every individual. You will likely have to test a few different fuel sources before you find one that you like (in terms of flavor) and that also helps provide the best performance enhancement without upsetting your stomach.

If you look at the wrappings of the energy gel you will notice some of the ingredients used, like cane sugar, water, chocolate and green tea extract, what about the other ingredients that you can’t even pronounce their names. Maltodextrin, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, malic acid and fumaric acid.

Below is a summary of these ingredients.

Maltodextrin

This food additive is a polysaccharide (a long carbohydrate molecule). Maltodextrin is the most popular ingredient used in gel and chews supplements. It is a complex carbohydrate made from a chain of simple sugars. Despite being a complex carbohydrate it’s widely used because the sugars are broken down and digested easily as glucose.  In the United States, Maltodextrin is most commonly made from corn, although it can be made from any available starch. Don’t worry if you come across maltodextrin that is made from wheat- it goes through so much processing that there is nearly no protein left to cause an allergic reaction.

It is an important ingredient to note since its easily digestible and absorbed, maltodextrin is useful for long distance workouts. Its major disadvantages include weight gain, high amounts of processing, and it is a potential allergen.

Sodium Benzoate

Sodium Benzoate is added to food to preserve it, specifically to keep gels from growing bacteria or fungus. It is also used in other non-gel foods, as well as cosmetics and fireworks.

Potassium Sorbate (aka Scrobic Acid)

This food additive prevents mold and yeast from growing and also lengthens the shelf life of food products. Beware- it can irritate your eyes, skin, and respiratory system.

Malic Acid

This food additive has rare approval from the US, EU, Australia, and New Zealand, and is naturally made by all living things. It is responsible for sour tastes (like in fruit) and is very safe.

Fumaric Acid

This additive helps to control acidity and has a fruity taste. With that in mind, it is most frequently used to improve the tastes of energy gels. Other uses for fumaric acid include polyester resin production,  Fumaric acid is also used in the production of polyester resins, a component of dyes, and in making polyhydric alcohols.

When choosing an energy gel, you may also want to consider ingredients like sodium and electrolytes for replenishing salt and other important minerals lost through sweat, and caffeine for an extra boost of energy. Many gels and chews also contain glucose, sucrose, and fructose (simple sugars). These carbohydrate sources are sometimes included in ingredients like cane syrup, tapioca syrup or even from fruit sources like dates. If you consume all of your carbohydrates in gel form, top up with plain water rather than carbohydrate drink (which would supply surplus carbohydrate). Consume too much carbohydrate and it won’t be absorbed – indeed, it could even upset your stomach.

Amount of electrolytes

Next, we did a comparison of the number of electrolytes in each brand. Are you going to need more or fewer electrolytes? This will depend on the time of your run and what your body needs. As a result, athletes need to experiment with both water and electrolyte intake, during exercise, to see what works for them in different environments like the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The environment also plays a role in the number of electrolytes lost during exercise.  We lose greater amounts of electrolytes in the summer heat.  The addition of humidity presents an extra heat stress on the body because of decreased evaporative cooling, which makes you sweat more to compensate and leads to more electrolyte losses. However, thermal loads can also be high in the winter and should not be overlooked.

Electrolytes can be consumed in many different forms during exercise. Most think about an electrolyte drink, but electrolytes are also found in many sports products and foods. Since sodium is co-transported in the gut with glucose and amino acids, there are benefits to consuming sodium with other calories. Most other electrolytes are absorbed passively.

Taste

Taste is extremely important. After all, if a certain gel isn’t to your fancy, then you aren’t going to use it. However, it shouldn’t be the main reason why you choose a gel. The content is more important. It’s also worth mentioning that everyone’s taste is different. So what tickles our taste buds might turn yours off.

Price/Value

Whilst sports nutrition is expensive, we will factor in convenience and assess the value of the product compared to other products on the market. Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra dollar to get what will best serve your work out goals.

 

Other Important Factors To Consider When Making Your Choice

There are more factors involved with energy gels than what one might realize. We have done a bit more research in order to share those points, hopefully making it easier to make your decision on whether this type of energy stimulant is right for you.

Caffeine or No Caffeine

Some gels have caffeine components in them that is very addictive. But then one gets an option to pick whether they want an energy gel that has caffeine or not. So before buying the energy gel make sure you check if it has caffeine or not.

 Type of Runner

Each runner uses a different supplement in terms of energy gels. This is not only motivated by taste and preferences but also by the level and intensity of running. Others use it for light running while others will need the energy boosters in a marathon. That’s why it’s very important to consider the type of running you do before you make a purchase of these energy boosters.

How Energy Supplements Work

Although energy gels clearly advertise, because it is the truth, that they give your body extra fuel to get through an especially long or tough workout, what they don’t advertise is that they do not necessarily work to replace the glycogen stored by your muscles.

Rather than have your muscles absorb carbs, which can take a long time, the carbs in your energy gel are absorbed into your blood. This makes your brain feel energized and lifts any feelings of exhaustion you might have.

So, what it comes down to is that energy gels actually give your brain a boost to overcome feelings of tiredness, while also replenishing some of the calories, electrolytes, and glucose lost while working out or racing.

Which one is right for you?

The most important thing to consider when choosing an energy gel to support your athletic performance is its ingredients. Beware, first and foremost, of any potential allergens, and also think about whether the ingredients are actually good for your body. If they are, they will enhance your performance, but if they aren’t, they have the potential to stifle it. After the ingredients, the next step is trial and error. Pick up a few gels, give them a try, and stick with the one that helps you perform and tastes great.

Is There Any Reason for Women Not to Use These Types of Products?

The main concern women should have about taking energy gels whilst running, is the issue of energy gels during pregnancy. If you’re a pregnant runner, take your Doctor’s advice about caffeine consumption, and be sure to calculate any caffeine in your energy gels within your total daily intake.
A few energy gels list shellfish products as an ingredient, believe it or not, and this may be something you choose to avoid during pregnancy. The safety of taking herbal extracts when pregnant remains a hazy area, and you may wish to avoid any gel with herbal ingredients such as ginseng or kola nut extract.

Certain products stand out for having new innovations. Where this is the case, these products will often score higher marks.

 

FAQ

We have put together a few frequently asked question which we found might be useful while conducting our research. Our hope is that these will answer any questions that you might have, or give you a little more to think about when shopping around.

 

Q. How do you consume these?

A. If your metabolism is slow, then one GU every 45 minutes works fine. If you have an athlete’s metabolism, try ingesting one GU Energy Gel every 30 minutes and see if it agrees with you. Rip open the top and squeeze the entire packet into your mouth—don’t save half of it for later.

Q. What is an energy gel and what should I expect from it?

A. One could see energy gels as concentrated energy drinks based on some easily-absorbable carbohydrate, such as maltodextrin. As the human body needs water in order to properly digest carbs, you should always have some fresh water when consuming an energy gel. The purpose of the gel is to reduce mental fatigue, to increase muscle recovery rate and to give you an immediate boost of energy.

Q. When should you take them?

A. Try half a gel or a few blocks or a few beans every 15 minutes until you determine how much your gut can take. JUST ADD WATER. Be sure to wash down those carbs with a sip of water. Do not chase an energy gel, chew, or any carbs-heavy fuel with sports drinks, which have carbs, too.

Q. How much water do I need to consume?

A. If your energy boosts come only from gel supplements, remember to drink plenty of water- maybe even a bit more than you think you need. Gels are best absorbed when you are drinking water and are well hydrated.

If you drink a product like Gatorade or other electrolyte or carb-based drink, beware that the carbs in your gel may not all be absorbed, defeating the purpose of taking the gel in the first place.  Plus, you could end up with an upset stomach.

Q. How many energy gels should I take?

A. First, check the ingredients of the gels you have, most importantly the carbohydrate content. If you are using standard gels (ones containing only maltodextrin and not a 2:1 formula of glucose and fructose), you shouldn’t absorb more than 60g of carbohydrates per hour. Calculate how many gels an hour would add up to this amount (e.g. 3 x 20g, 4 x 15g) and be careful not to go over this maximum amount – the best way to do this is to spread the sachets evenly across each hour of exercise.

Runners come in all ages, physical shape, etc and all run for various reasons. Some are serious marathon racers, while others are just recreational joggers looking to stay in shape. So a good gel for one may not be the right one for another. So to determine the top ten best energy gels really depends on who the runner is and what they are running for. One must also consider the individual tastes of the runner as well.

For example, If one runner is an absolute lover of peanut butter and another is not as big of a fan, then obviously what might be the best for one is not as great for the other. One runner may have a more sensitive stomach than another, so that is also something that has to be considered.


Here are some sources we used while conducting our research:

Sources

  1. Katie Rosenbrock , The Active Times, Sporting Website,
  2. Kylene Guerra, RD, Cleveland Clinic, Medical Website,
  3. Bryon Powell , I Run Far, Running Website,
  4. Andrew Hamilton, 220Triathlon.com, Sporting Website,
  5. Fitday Editor, Fitday.com, Fitness Website,
  6. Andrew Hamilton , 220Triathlon.com, Fitness Website,
  7. Henry Robertshaw, Cycling Weekly, Cycling Website,
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