If you are new to running or cycling you might have heard people talk about sports gels. What are they and do you need them?
Why do I need a sports gel?
When you exercise your body uses two sources of fuel to feed your muscles – fat and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are used as the main fuel source. If you’re exercising for less than an hour, you will have enough stored carbohydrates as glycogen in the muscles. However, if you are exercising for more than 75 minutes you will benefit from some additional carbohydrates. Ideally you will take in about 30-60 grams of carbohydrates every hour. This will maintain blood glucose levels to fuel your muscles and brain and help you avoid “hitting the wall”. You’ll also get more out of your training session as you will be able to sustain the intensity for longer.
What is a sports gel?
Sports gels provide simple sugars. These can be quickly absorbed into your blood stream as glucose to give you a spike in energy. Gels are convenient because they contain a lot of carbohydrate in a small volume of food and don’t require chewing. Sports gels contain about 25g of carbohydrate which is about the right amount to fuel 45 minutes of exercise. For quicker absorption, look for a gel that have two different forms of carbohydrates, such as glucose and fructose.
Sports gels can also contain other ingredients like electrolytes such as sodium to replace minerals lost through sweat. Some also contain caffeine.
When should I take my sports gel?
If your run or ride is going to take longer than 90 minutes it is time to start trialing gels and find one that works for you. We all absorb and process carbohydrates at a different rate. Gels vary in texture and taste, with some being thicker than others. Some people struggle with their texture, and they may cause stomach upset. Trial and error is the only way to determine which gel is going to work for you.
How often should I take a gel?
This will depend on you but for most people taking one gel every 45 minutes to an hour will be about the right rate. Your digestion slows during exercise as blood is diverted from your stomach to your muscles. If you try to take gels more often than every 45 minutes you are likely to end up with an upset stomach through taking on too much simple sugar in one go.
Don’t forget to always consume your energy gel (regardless of brand) with water. This makes it quicker for your body to digest the gel and get the sugar into your blood stream. Never take an energy gel with sports drink because it will be too much sugar for your stomach in one go. Experiment with different fueling options in training so you can find a solution that works for you. Remember – nothing new on race day!
VPA® Gels provide 25g of carbs and 100 calories in each gel. As they contain water they are more convenient and quicker to absorb. They also contain sodium to replace electrolytes lost from sweat.
Next time you’re out for a long training run or ride try taking a gel and notice the difference it makes!
Rachel Eagleton (MHumNut) is a university qualified Clinical Nutritionist based in Sydney, Australia. She is a busy working mum of two teenagers, so is practical and realistic with her advice. Rachel offers private consultations to improve your sporting performance, or your general health and well-being.
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