In last week’s blog, I talked about why I think gels are the most ideal in-race nutrition fuel. For anyone who has every wandered through the gel section of a store, you know that there is no shortage of gel options. This variety can be confusing since it can be hard to know what is a marketing gimmick and what is actually proven to work.
As discussed last week, I suggest looking for a gel that lists maltodextrin and then fructose on the ingredients lists. Typically, each gel contains around 20 grams of carbohydrates. This week, I will discuss some other things that you can look for in a gel.
Taste: I think that this is probably the most important factor when it comes to choosing a gel and is usually determined through trial and error. Each brand of gel comes in many different flavours. Consistency and texture also tend to differ according to brand. If you don’t like the taste, then chances are that you aren’t going to consume it.
Sodium: Gels should be taken with water not a sports drink. As a result, you won’t be replacing the sodium that is lost through sweat from a sports drink. Taking a gel with a higher sodium content can help replenish these losses. While sodium losses are extremely variable, most people need about 250-500 mg of sodium per hour. If you are taking a gel every 20 minutes with water, then you should be looking for ones containing 85- 170 mg of sodium per gel.
Caffeine: Caffeine is an ergogenic aid, which means that it improves sports performance. It does this be allowing athletes to exercise at a higher intensity for longer periods of time and reducing the perception of fatigue. However, not everyone gets benefits from caffeine, only fast metabolizers, which is based on individual genetics. For some people, caffeine can cause gastrointestinal issues and should be avoided Depending on your individual tolerance to caffeine, look for gels labeled with or without caffeine. For instance, a GU roctane gel contains 35 mg of caffeine compared to around 100 mg in a cup of coffee.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA): BCAA include isoleucine, leucine and valine. Because BCAA can be used directly by working muscle for energy, there are claims that they can be used to improve performance in endurance exercise. More research is needed, but there is moderate evidence to support an increased time to exhaustion in prolonged endurance exercise. However, this is only shown in untrained and lightly training individuals and not in more advanced athletes. Additionally, these studies provided much larger amounts of BCAA than what are typically provided in some gels. The small amounts in gels are unlikely to improve sports performance.
Gels are an important part of endurance events as they ensure that you don’t hit the wall. Experiment with different gels until you find the one that is most ideal for your individual needs. I promise that you won’t regret a well thought out nutrition plan on race day!
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