Gel Review: Gu, Hammer and More!

author : bostic
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Most beginner triathletes find drinking and riding their bike an artistry in itself. But if you’re going to tackle longer distances you’re going to need to go beyond just Gatorade and sports drinks and become a moderate expert in race nutrition. One of the most important pals a triathlete can have is the gel pack.

 

What is it about these sticky, gooey materials that keep athletes coming back for more? Well, for starters, energy gels are utilized by endurance athletes to provide a quick boost of energy. They are small and portable. Most gel packs are easily tucked in small pockets or other nooks where a little bit of space is available. Endurance athletes can perform well on the body’s stored up energy supply for only so long. After these stores are depleted, this extra energy requirement has got to be made up somehow. Eating solid foods in the middle of strenuous exercise can be a recipe for a disaster for some athletes – can you say “gutbomb”? Energy and blood tied up in digestion cannot be used for more essential activities like providing energy to the muscles and cooling the body. Energy gels attempt to solve this problem. All energy gels contain a large portion of energy producing complex and simple carbs. Proteins and fats are slow to absorb and can sit in the stomach, so you won’t find a whole lot of them in gels. Their sole function is to get into your blood stream and do it as quickly as possible.

In a typical gel, you’ll normally find maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate, and a simple sugar like fructose as the carb source. These two carbs also tend to be in the gel at a ratio of 80% complex / 20% simple sugar ratio. Water is used as the carrier. There is also a number of different performance boosting additives added to gels. While not in all gels, here’s a list of some of the common additives along with their potential benefits:


* Electrolytes – normally Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium: Cellular balance, fluid regulation, neuromuscular system
* Antioxidants – Vitamin E, Vitamin C: Destroy free radicals generated during exercise
* BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) – l-leucine, l-isoleucine, l-valine: prevent cannibalization of muscle tissues
* L-alanine – another amino acid: carb metabolism aid
* Caffeine – Nervous system stimulant, aid in use of body fat as fuel

Energy gels will provide 100-150 calories per use. These calories are carb calories and are explosive enough to keep those legs pumping. Every energy gel website recommends chasing your gel with a few mouthfuls of water to aid in the speed at which all these sugars are absorbed into the body. How often should you gel? Endurance athletes consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise. A good rule of thumb - for workouts of 1 to 1.5 hours or less, your body can usually provide enough energy from its internal stores to keep your body well fed. Exercise times in excess of this may require a little boost, which gels can play a role in your nutritional scheme. When using gels, don’t forget to hydrate – gels do not contain enough water to sustain your body's hydration requirements.

For my gel testing, I ingested the gel 30 minutes prior to exercise. Each gel was eaten with a cup of water to help promote absorption into the body. Exercise time was kept in the 90 minute range. All gels were purchased in a single serving pouch.

I did not experience any gastro-intestinal problems while using gels. I saw very similar performance from one gel to the next. My muscle’s energy needs were well satisfied throughout the entire training session. The one exception to this was the GNC’s Cytomax Gulp ‘n Go Orange Herbal Lift. I took this gel prior to a 90 minute swim/bike brick. 30 minutes into my swim, I experienced severe cramping in my quads. *NOTE - this could have been due to a variety of other factors not specific to this gel.

Consistency and Taste
Since performance was relatively the same throughout this evaluation, my gel preference really came down to consistency and taste. Gels that were thinner / less viscous appealed to me. When eating the thicker gels, I continually felt the need to chew which made swallowing them awkward. Thinner gels were easier for me to swallow and seemed to mix better with my water chaser. Many gel manufacturers make a gel concentrate which you can dilute with water yourself. One way to obtain your personal preference when it comes to gel consistency is by simply diluting or concentrating your mixture to the right thickness.

Swallowing a poor tasting gel can be difficult at best. Good tasting gels seemed to go down faster and easier with little to no “gag reflex”. An extra perk was that gel flavor made a big impact on how satisfied I was with the gel. My personal favorite in the flavor category is Powergel’s Strawberry Banana. The taste along with the consistency was so close to eating yogurt that I almost forgot that I was eating a gel. Carboom’s Orange Vanilla was yummy – it tasted just like an orange cremescicle. I didn’t care for Hammer Gel’s Chocolate flavor at all. This gel tasted like I was eating a slimy chocolate mixture. It did not go down easily.

Buzz Factor
Some gels contained caffeine. When evaluating Carboom’s Orange Vanilla gel I experienced a mild caffeine buzz. Aside from some slight trembling, I didn’t notice any negative performance. If you’re a morning coffee drinker, these caffeine-containing gels are perfect for those 5 am workouts where you need a little extra stimulation to get the body going.

 

Scale is 1 being the worst, 4 being the best.

 

Gel - Flavor

Taste

Consistency

Performance

Comments

Gu - Triberry

2

4

4

Used before tri

Gu – Vanilla Bean

3

3

4

Just like Vanilla

Hammer-Chocolate

1

2 - very thick

4

Slimy chocolate consistency

Hammer-Orange

4

3

4

Good orange taste but thick consistency

Carboom – Orange, Vanilla

4

4 - liquidy

4 - caffeine

Tastes like a creamscicle

Clif Shot – Sonic Strawberry

2

2 - extremely thick

4 - caffeine

Very thick

Cytomax – Gulp 'n Go Orange

2

2

2

Guarana/Ginseng additive

Powergel – Vanilla

4

3

4

Tastes just like cake frosting

Powergel – Strawberry Banana

4

4

4

Tastes like yogurt

Powergel – Rasberry Crème

3

2

4

Tastes like inside of jelly donut (Mmmmm)


Summary
In the course of my gel trials, I was drawn more to the thinner and fruitier gels. These types went down easier and tasted better than the others. The gels allowed me to get a quick burst of carbs in one small single sized serving. Most gels provided the same level of performance. A few stood out more than the rest.


Jeff’s Top 2:
#1 : Powergel - Strawberry Banana
#2 : Carboom - Orange Vanilla

Jeff’s Bottom 2:
#1 : GNC’s Cytomax Gulp ‘n Go Orange Herbal Lift
#2 : Hammer Gel Chocolate
 

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date: February 28, 2005

Author


bostic

 

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