Getting ready to pound the pavement? If you’re out there running for more than an hour, you’ll want to start fueling your body. One way to do so? Energy gels.
These concentrated gels provide carbohydrate (and sometimes additional ingredients, like caffeine) to support a continuous supply of energy for your long runs. While they’re certainly not the only option out there for fueling during exercise, they do tend to be a convenient one for many runners. Generally, runners should aim to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour for their long runs, which equates to a gel every 30-45 minutes.
The sheer volume of energy gels & chews on the market can feel overwhelming to anyone looking to fuel their longer runs. In this post, you’ll find some of the top products on the market, and provided information on different perks or considerations for each brand.
10 Best Energy Gels to Fuel Your Runs
1. Clif Shot Energy Gels
Each gel packet contains around 100 calories and about 25 grams of carbohydrate from both maltodextrin and cane sugar. Maltrodextrin is a flavorless carbohydrate that is very easy for the body to break down into glucose to support activity. Cane sugar is made up completely of sucrose – this is a called a disaccharide, which means that it’s two sugar molecules bound together (in this case, glucose and fructose). Cane sugar is also converted quickly into energy.
Five of the flavors contain caffeine, ranging from 25 mg to 100 mg. For example, their newest flavor “double espresso” contains 100 mg caffeine, about the amount of caffeine present in 1.5 shots of espresso.
2. Science in Sport (SiS) GO Energy & Electrolyte Gels
SiS gels pride themselves on being isotonic, meaning you don’t need to consume water with this product in order for the body to absorb it efficiently. Isotonic gels may reduce risk of bloating and gastrointestinal distress, since they promote an ideal balance of energy and gastrointestinal absorption. Research shows that isotonic sources of carbohydrate may be absorbed more quickly than more concentrated hypertonic gels, when adequate water isn’t consumed with it (source).
The downside to isotonic products is that it can be more challenging to provide the same amount of energy. SiS overcomes this by utilizing maltodextrin as it’s fuel source, which allows to to provide similar carbohydrates as other gels without tipping the into hypertonic territory. Each of these vegan-friendly gels provides 22 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
The GO gels come in a variety of different fruit flavors in addition to a chocolate and a vanilla flavor.
3. Spring Energy Gels
Spring energy gels are “real food” gels, meaning they’re made from whole food sources like rice, molasses, honey, maple syrup, and other ingredients. By combining a variety of whole food ingredients into a gel, the product may be absorbed quicker than carbohydrates coming from any one of those foods alone (as multiple types of sugars and carbohydrates are typically absorbed better than any one alone).
The company offers a wide variety of exercise gels with names that’ll make you smile. For example, you can choose from “Power Rush” (designed for a high-intensity activity), “Hill Aid” (to give you an extra energy boost to fly through the hills), and “Long Haul” (for consistent energy), among others.
Most of the gels contain between 17 to 20 grams of carbohydrate per gel. Some also contain fats – specifically in the form of medium chain triglycerides. The goal is to encourage energy production via another pathways with this addition. However, some people may be sensitive to MCT in energy gels, and it could cause gastrointestinal upset, so tread carefully if you choose a gel with them and you’ve never used them before.
Some gels have additional ingredients that could help performance as well. For example, some contain caffeine. Others have added beet extract to the list of ingredients, which research suggests may improve exercise economy and performance (source).
4. Honey Stinger Energy Gels
Following their slogan ‘fuel made easy’, Honey Stinger Energy Gels have just a handful of ingredients, with their primary fuel coming from honey and tapioca syrup. These two sources offer a blend of both glucose and fructose, making it more easily absorbed by the gut than a single carbohydrate source.
These tasty gels come in flavors such as fruit smoothie, acai pomegranate, and vanilla. Each one contains about 100 calories and provides 24 to 26 grams of carbohydrate per gel.
Their two caffeinated options (strawberry kiwi and chocolate) provide 32 mg of caffeine, about 1/3 of the amount of a cup of coffee.
5. Untapped Athletic Fuel
A family owned business, this maple syrup company out of Richmond, Vermont is a unique take on exercise fuel. Instead of the traditional gel texture, you’ll find packets with pure maple syrup to fuel your activity. Maple syrup provides a natural blend of both glucose and fructose.
They offer three options:
- Maple untapped – pure maple syrup – 100 cal / 26 g carbs / 5 mg sodium
- Salted raspberry untapped – pure maple syrup + raspberry juice + sea salt – 100 cal / 26 g carbs / 60 mg sodium
- Coffee untapped – pure maple syrup + coffee – 100 cal / 26 g carbs / 11 mg sodium / 27 mg caffeine
You can see that most of these fall short in the sodium department, so you’ll need to supplement with an electrolyte drink or some sodium products (Base Salts, etc) for long workouts (especially in the heat).
All the maple syrup and coffee in these options are locally sourced, with no additional additives or preservatives. This is a great choice if you’re looking to move towards “real food” options, provided your stomach can handle them.
6. GU Rocktane Energy Gels
While all the GU gels are great products, the Rocktane ones in particular are ideal for serious endurance athletes. The Rocktane version boasts up to three times as much sodium as the original gels, clocking in at 125 mg, which is important for replenishing sodium losses in sweat. This can be important for hot summer workouts, and if you’re a heavy salt sweater.
Rocktane gels also include beta-alanine, which could help delay time to fatigue with higher intensity efforts (source) – you can read more about beta alanine for runners and triathletes here.
Of their flavors, the pineapple and strawberry kiwi contain no caffeine, while the chai latte, chocolate coconut, vanilla orange, sea salt chocolate, and tutti frutti all contain 35 mg. The cold brew coffee one amps up the caffeine a bit with 70 mg of caffeine, higher than most other gels on the market.
7. Xendurance Energy Gel
Xendurance offers one simple energy gel solution for athletes – a gel that provides 83 calories and 28 grams of carbohydrate, coming from a mixture of maltodextrin & fructose. It comes in two just two flavors, citrus and berry, eliminating decision fatigue.
The company prides itself on gels that have a smooth texture and light flavor, and promotes the use of their gels to athletes from all disciplines.
These energy gels are gluten free, dairy free, & vegan friendly. The product is also Informed Sport tested on a monthly basis to ensure it does not contain any banned substances for elite athletes.
8. Muir Energy Gel
With fun flavors like Cacao Almond or Cashew Lemon, Muir energy gels are a great option for athletes sick of tasting the same gel flavor. Each gel is categorized by “fast burning” or “slow burning” – so you might choose a fast burning gel for the last half of your half marathon race, while you’d look at a slow burning gel for your ultra distance event.
These gels are focused on natural whole food ingredients like cashew butter, molasses, coconut palm nectar, fresh fruit, and many more. Each gel pack varies widely in nutrition breakdown based on the ingredient used. Most range from 100 to 150 calories per gel, with about 15 to 25 grams of carbohydrates per gel.
Of note, some of their gel options are higher in fat & caffeine than standard gels on the market which could lead to gastrointestinal upset if you have a sensitive stomach. Always practice with a new gel like this prior to race day.
9. Hammer Gels
With the main carbohydrate source being maltodextrin (that complex carbohydrate that is broken down rapidly), these gels are lower in simple sugars compared to other gels. Each pack contains about 2 to 5 grams of sugar, and about 20-22 grams of total carbohydrate. This may be a nice option for athletes who notice that other sugar-based gels bother their stomach.
Only two flavors of Hammer Gels contain caffeine – the espresso flavor has 50 mg, and the tropical flavor has 25 mg.
One unique aspect of Hammer Gels is the option to purchase it in bulk. You can get a 26-serving jug that you can portion out into a running flask or reusable gel pouch. This is a great option for athletes who are environmentally conscious and get frustrated with the waste from single-serve gels.
Buy Hammer Gels here.
10. Huma Energy Gels
Huma prides themselves on an energy gel made from simple ingredients like chia seeds, fruit puree, and brown rice syrup. Each gel has 100 calories and 21 to 25 grams of carbohydrate. Since they are not an isotonic gel, Huma recommends consumption with water.
Their gels come in two categories – original and plus. The only difference between the two is the electrolyte content; the original version contains 105 to 110 mg sodium per gel, while the plus version doubles that to 240 to 245 mg. Both of these are higher than most gels on the market, which can be great for hot weather workouts or athletes who are heavy salt sweaters.
At the time of publish, all the gels are currently gluten free and vegan friendly. The original variety comes in eight different flavors, while the plus variety comes in four different flavors.
According to their website, the goal of adding chia seeds to their product is to provide sustained energy instead of a sugar crash – the addition of just a smidge of fiber in the seeds helping to create a more steady energy release. Whether this is true or not during exercise is yet to be proven, but the theoretical idea is there and worth exploring.
A Final Word
There you have it – some of the best energy gels for runners on the market! Remember, your choice of which energy gel to use may depend on a lot of factors, like the type of ingredients, how it sits in your stomach, your race distance, and more. Experiment with many different fuel options during training to narrow down the one that works best for you.
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