Energy gels provide a carb heavy calorie kick designed to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
The sachets of gloopy paste are best put to use during events such as road races or time trials, where chewing anything more than the metaphorical handlebars can become a chore.
You can use them on longer rides, and their space efficiency can be preferable in the jersey pocket, but opting for normal food where possible is gentler on both your stomach and your bank balance.
Energy drinks, gels, or bars?
There’s plenty of talk around fuelling your rides with fat or even adding protein – but most nutritionists still argue that, during exercise, carbs are king.
You’ll need to top up your carb stores on rides over 90 minutes, anything shorter and your body can usually sustain itself on existing reserves.
Energy bars, gels and drinks all provide carbohydrates and all three products have their place.
Energy drinks are the quickest to be absorbed, but are designed for repeated ‘top ups’ via regular sips. The 100-200 calories and approx. 20g of carbohydrate per sachet will be spaced out over the hour plus it takes you to get through a bottle.
Energy drinks also contain added electrolytes to replace those lost through sweat.
Gels are the second quickest to be absorbed, but are taken in doses – delivering around 100 calories in one go, making them ideal for a quick surge when you need it.
Energy bars are usually slower release – but require breaking up and chewing, so they’re best for endurance rides.
How many gels should you consume?
Energy requirements vary between individuals, increasing with intensity.
The general rule of thumb is to feed yourself with one gram of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight, each hour – so a 60 kilogram individual should aim for 60 grams an hour, whilst an 80kg rider would need around 80g.
Consuming too much carbohydrate means it’ll be surplus and go to waste – however, some manufacturers mix their glucose with fructose (fruit sugar) – and research has shown that this can increase absorption to 90g an hour.
Some gels come with additives – such as caffeine. Studies have shown that caffeine can boost performance when administered in the correct dosage – but the milligrams per average cup of coffee can vary wildly.
The amount in a gel will always be uniform and thus dosage can be properly tailored to requirement.
Energy gels: our top picks
Energy gel favourites will be dictated by subjective personal preferences around consistency and flavour – but we’ve picked six popular brands based on inclinations within Cycling Weekly’s HQ.
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High5 energy gel
High5 offers its standard 40g ‘Energy Gel’ sachet, as well as the 66g ‘Energy Gel Aqua’ which has a thinner consistency.
The latter is more akin to an energy drink, meaning that though it’ll take up more space in your pocket you don’t need to follow it up with a few sips of your drink.
Both options provide 23g or carbohydrate per 91 calorie sachet, and are suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.
All taste options use real juice flavours, and there’s a caffeine product that provides 30mg per sachet.
Read more: High5 energy gel review
SIS energy gel
The ‘GO Isotonic’ gels from SIS have a more watery consistency than others available on the market. At 60ml, they’re bulkier in the pocket but go down easily.
The carbohydrate source that SIS products are based on is maltodextrin – which requires less water to be effective, reducing the need to follow it up with drinks, and thus the chances of bloating.
SIS says the source cuts down on the likelihood of gastric issues when compared with simple sugar based options, too.
Each gel delivers 22g of carbohydrate, within an 87 calorie dose, and they’re suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
SIS also produces a ‘GO Energy+ Electrolyte Gel’ which provides all of the above but also contains the essentials lost via sweat – in this case 118mg sodium, 9.5mg potassium and 1.5mg magnesium per gel. Replenishing these salts and nutrients can reduce the chances of cramp.
There’s caffeine versions of each, delivering 75mg per sachet.
Torq energy gel
Torq’s unique selling point is its use of natural flavourings, and shunning of artificial sweeteners or colouring.
The flavours are fairly exceptional, with offerings such as Cherry Bakewell, Black Cherry Yoghurt and Raspberry Ripple (a personal favourite) – the consistency is smooth and quite thick.
Torq uses a 2:1 Maltodextrin:Fructose carbohydrate mixture, which studies suggest can increase absorption capacity – they deliver 114 calories and 28.8g of carbs per 45g sachet.
You also get five key electrolytes: sodium, chloride, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
The majority of the gels are free from caffeine, but the ‘Forest Fruits’ and ‘Banoffee’ gels contains 89mg of caffeine, delivered via the plant guarana.
GU energy gel
Like Torq, GU’s energy gels are quite thick in consistency – and they boast a rather incredible range of flavours, ‘Vanilla Bean’ comes highly recommended and we’ve yet to try ‘Birthday Cake’.
The thicker consistency, in Cycling Weekly’s collective opinion, is more suited to endurance based activities than high intensity races – but this will mostly come down to personal preference.
You can buy individual 32g sachets – with 100 calories and 22g of carbs in each – as well as packets with 15 servings in, which can be dispensed into a re-usable five serving pack – saving on packaging and stickiness.
There’s added potassium and sodium in each sachet. Some flavours include caffeine, but dosage varies – Espresso Love carries 40mg whilst Chocolate Peanut Butter has 20mg.
Mule bar energy gel
Mule Bar introduced re-usable energy gel pouches last year, selling the product in refill bottles that can be dispensed into 37g pouches to cut down on plastic.
Each 108 calorie serving offers around 25g of carbohydrate, made from brown rice syrup or malted barley – which carry a high glycemic index of 95, thus delivering the quick burst of energy gel users are after. These are combined with agave syrup, which has a GI index of 15, and thus adds a slower release follow up.
Each gel contains around 0.1g of Himalayan salt crystals, to help replace the goodies lost in sweat and ward off cramp.
Some options provide caffeine – such as Café Cortado which boasts a 100mg serving from coffee and guarana.
Read more: Mule Bar energy gel review
OTE energy gel
OTE’s energy gels provide 82 calories and 20g of carbohydrate, per 82g serving, as well as magnesium and sodium.
With a liquid like consistency, they’re well suited to high intensity efforts, and real fruit juices provide tasty flavours without putting too much stress on your gut.
They’re gluten, dairy and soya free, fine for vegans – and OTE provides two perforated tear strips, so you can sip of gulp depending on your needs at the time.
There are caffeine varieties, which provide 50mg of ‘rocket fuel’.
All of the above gels will provide a carb boost of energy – preference is subjective and influenced by the taste and consistency you’re seeking – as well as your preference on additives like caffeine. We’ll keep adding more gel options as we taste and test them.