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Fueling up while running is tricky. You need calories and nutrients to sustain your effort, but your food has to be highly portable and easy to eat on the move. You can’t exactly tote a bagel and schmear with you on your run. Running gels —single-serving packets filled with a nutrient-dense flavored gel — make it much easier to carry the calories you need during long runs and marathons. Determining the best running gels for you is a highly personal process, but there are tons of options available. No matter what flavors you crave while jogging (caramel macchiato or salted watermelon?) or what your dietary needs are, we found the best running gels that’ll work for you.
Best Overall: Gu Original Energy Gel
Long-lasting Energy: Fastfood Galacto-Gel
Neutral Flavor: Maurten
No Need for Water: SIS Go Isotonic Energy Gels
Simple Ingredients: Muir Energy Gels
Best Caffeinated Gels: SIS Go Energy + Caffeine Gels
Sugar-Free: UCAN Edge
Best Electrolyte Boost: Hüma Energy Gels Plus
Most Versatile: Honey Stinger Gold Energy Gel
Things to Consider
Running gels, also called energy gels, deliver a concentrated dose of carbohydrates, usually in the form of simple sugars that are easily absorbed by the body. Fructose and glucose are two common sugars used in running gels. The gels are formulated to maintain your levels of glycogen, which is your body’s main form of stored energy. (It’s created when you digest carbohydrates from food.) Here are some key factors to consider when choosing which running gels to buy.
Nutrition Facts: Always read the Nutrition Facts label to compare specific running gels, as this label will tell you which nutrients, and how much of them, a gel contains. Since most gels are mainly carbohydrates, focus on the carbohydrates figure, which is listed in grams. The more carbs a gel has, the more energy it will provide you.
Electrolytes and Caffeine: In addition to carbs, many running gels offer other additives to help boost your performance. Some include electrolytes to help replace the minerals (like sodium and potassium) you release while sweating — these gels can be helpful if you won’t have access to an electrolyte-filled sports drink while running. Other gels include caffeine (anywhere from 20 milligrams to 100 milligrams or more) for an extra jolt of energy and improved mental alertness.
When to Use Running Gels: It’s important to note that not every runner needs running gels. They’re only necessary when running for over an hour. If you’re just jogging around the neighborhood, you don’t need to worry about bringing gels, as your body will have enough stored glycogen to sustain you. On long runs, most people need to consume about 50 grams of carbs per hour (that equates to about two gel packets).
Finding the best running gel for you will require trial and error — you won’t know if you like the taste, or if the gel causes an upset stomach until you try it while running. If you’re training for a race, make sure to test out some gels and find one that works for you before race day. You don’t want any surprises out on the course.
This guide highlights popular, well-reviewed running gels that’ll work for a variety of athletes, whether you want all-natural ingredients, unique flavors, or an all-in-one fuel and hydration solution.
Gu Original Energy Gel
GU might be the most well-known running gel on the market, and many runners trust them to stay energized while training and racing — these gels have racked up thousands of positive reviews on Amazon. Each packet contains a mix of maltodextrin and fructose for fast-acting energy (22 grams of carbs total), branched-chain amino acids to reduce muscle fatigue and muscle breakdown, and sodium to replace the electrolytes you lose while sweating. Compared to other options on the market, GU stands out for its huge range of flavors: everything from salted watermelon to birthday cake. Some flavors include caffeine for an extra burst of energy.
Galacto-Gel offers 25 grams of carbs via a blend of three sugars — galactose, glucose and fructose — to deliver long-lasting energy while exercising. By dividing up the carbohydrate load across three different sugars, this gel activates multiple metabolic pathways for digestion. This maximizes the amount of carbs you can metabolize and allows your body to absorb sugar progressively instead of all at once, so you don’t experience the dreaded sugar crash. Better yet, each gel is made from real food ingredients like milk-derived whey, cane sugar and mangoes.
These packets stand out for their stripped-down ingredients list. They’re made without flavorings, colors or preservatives. What you get is a mildly sweet fuel that offers 25 grams of carbs per serving, thanks to a proprietary mix of glucose and fructose. The consistency is similar to Jell-O, according to one reviewer. Maurten gels have received quite a bit of hype, and there’s a whole thread on r/Advanced Running with runners debating whether or not it’s warranted. There’s only one way to find out: Try some.
No Need for Water
SIS Go Isotonic Energy Gels
Most energy gels are formulated to be consumed with water, but Science In Sport’s Isotonic Energy Gels don’t require extra hydration. That’s especially helpful for racing when it can be difficult to sync your fueling strategy with aid stations along the course. In addition, slamming a gel and chasing it with gulps of water can sometimes cause bloating, and this product alleviates that issue. Each SIS Go packet contains 22 grams of carbs, and they come in a wide range of flavors.
Muir Energy Gels
Muir Energy gels are created from real food ingredients (like blueberries, molasses and cashew butter), so you don’t need a graduate degree to understand what you’re putting into your body. They’re available in a variety of sweet and savory flavors, but pay attention to which type you grab. There are “fast burning” flavors for quick hits of energy and “slow burning” options for fueling long-distance efforts. Each packet contains anywhere from 12 to 23 grams of carbs.
Best Caffeinated Gels
SIS Go Energy + Caffeine Gels
Caffeine can provide an additional energy boost and increase your alertness, which is especially helpful for runs that start early in the morning. Many caffeinated gels contain relatively low doses of caffeine, much less than what you’d get in a typical cup of coffee (one cup of brewed coffee has about 95 milligrams of caffeine on average). These SIS packets offer more of a jolt: Most have 75 milligrams per serving, and the double espresso version ups the caffeine level to 150 milligrams.
Trying to cut down on your sugar intake? Grab some UCAN Edge packets. These gels utilize corn starch as a carbohydrate source and have allulose, a sugar that can’t be absorbed by the body, as a sweetener. Each packet supplies you with 19 grams of carbs, and UCAN claims it’ll give you 75 minutes or more of sustained energy.
Hüma Energy Gels Plus
As you sweat, you lose electrolytes, and replenishing them is usually something you accomplish by chugging a sports drink. But your running gel can handle that, too: Just try these packets from Hüma. They contain a hefty dose of salts — 355 milligrams total — and are made with wholesome, all-natural ingredients to help prevent stomach upset. They’re also vegan.
Honey Stinger Gold Energy Gel
Honey is naturally packed with sugar and calories; it’s sort of like nature’s original energy gel. These Honey Stinger packets contain honey plus added electrolytes and B vitamins for optimal running fuel (there are 24 grams of carbs in each packet). Better yet, because they’re honey-based, you have more options for how to consume them: Stir some into your pre-run tea, or spread some on your toast at breakfast.
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