How to Use Energy Gels

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A quick boost of energy at a critical moment.

Part of becoming an endurance-focused athlete like a runner or a cycler is learning to be aware of and, when possible, regulate your body’s metabolic processes in a very particular way. When you’re active at a consistent pace for lengthy stretches of time, your body needs to make use of all of its energy stores in the most efficient manner possible. Sometimes, though, the stretch is just too long to keep it together; it is in these times that the endurance athlete employs the secret weapon: energy gels.

Originally developed back in 80s, energy gels can be found in most supermarkets alongside sports drinks like Gatorade. These tiny packets contain a special jelly-like paste that’s extremely dense in carbohydrates and sugars, and since they contain no fat or protein, your body can digest them at rapid speed. When you’re in the midst of a long cycling race, for example, there’s no time to stop and eat a full meal when your body is running low on energy sources like carbs and sugar; energy gels provide a rapid-action solution for restoring an athlete’s stamina on the fly.

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However, and I need to really stress this, energy gels are not a snack. Much like how you shouldn’t drink sports drinks if you’re not actively exerting yourself, energy gels should not be eaten unless you’re actually in dire need of energy. Of course, you probably wouldn’t want to eat them as a snack anyway because, in the words of a cycling acquaintance, the sheer sweetness of energy gels make them taste like the vengeful specter of glucose just vomited in your mouth. Energy gels need to be eaten in single doses and in extremely strict intervals. If you eat too many of them, or eat them too quickly, you’ll be sick to your stomach. You should also hydrate while eating them so they go down smoother (and so the taste is less overwhelming).

If you don’t mind the taste and have a proper regimen for using them, a single energy gel can give you all the stamina you need to finish even the lengthiest of runs and races.