It’s no surprise that during long runs we find ourselves running out of energy. This is when it’s time to take some nutrition and pop back into form.
Two of the most popular products to take are energy chews and energy gels. Both provide an effective carbohydrate boost and often some added electrolytes. They are also sometimes tasty but almost always hit the spot when you are on the cusp of crashing.
When you’re training for your next race you might be wondering about energy chews vs gels.
Which is better? They are basically the same product in two different forms, but one may work better for one individual, while the other works for someone else.
We have compared the two side-by-side so you can get a good idea of which one would work best for you when you need an energy boost during your next run.
Why Is It Hard to Find the Right Nutrition for Running?
When it comes to fueling during a run, there’s no one-size-fits-all nutrition formula.
Nutrition and what you pack into your running belt on the race day will come down to trial and error. Sometimes it’s not feasible to take whole foods with you on the run and the aid station may not have what would agree with your stomach.
Your friends may recommend a product and you may find that you don’t like the taste or the texture, or you may find that your stomach is sensitive to a particular product.
Some products can contain caffeine, which can lead to one feeling jittery or anxious. But your body can also build up a tolerance to caffeine, which can lead to caffeinated products being less effective on the race day, when you need it most.
To find the right nutrition for you is going to require some experimentation with different products and various brands.
How Do I Find Out What Works for Me?
To find what works for you is going to take some time and you’re going to have to try different products, flavors, and different brands.
Keep a running journal of your performance of each different product, as well as how your body responded during the run and after the run.
While running, try the different products at different stages of your run, making sure to keep a mental note of how you felt. If you feel no difference with one product then don’t use it again. If you find that another product did work but you didn’t like the flavor or the texture, then look at a similar brand or try a different flavor.
Pay close attention to the types of effects you feel, how long it took to feel any effects as well as how long they lasted. This will also give you a good indication of how many you’ll need on your race day and how far apart you’d need to take them.
Energy Gels Vs Energy Chews
Energy gels are thick and syrupy and come in single-use tearaway packets that you can squeeze straight into your mouth. You should follow a gel with a small amount of water in order for it to digest most effectively.
They usually contain about 100 calories and 20 to 25 carbohydrates per packet. Some of them may contain caffeine as well and many include electrolytes.
There are lots of different brands and flavors to pick from. Thickness and consistency often vary slightly from one brand’s gel to another.
Advantages of Gels
An energy gel could be a more comfortable alternative to sports drinks for some runners.
They contain a sufficient amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes, but don’t require the runner to ingest as much water with it. Some individuals may prefer this to consuming a large amount of water which may make them feel too full.
Depending on the sports drink you choose, an energy gel is likely to be more energy-dense. Using a gel rather than a drink like Gatorade will give you more carbs in fewer calories, but choosing a powdered drink may be low in both calories and carbohydrates.
Energy gels are also available in a wide range of flavors, can be caffeinated or non-caffeinated, can contain electrolytes and are easy and convenient to carry with you and use without having to stop running.
How Often Should I Take a Gel?
You can take a gel 15 minutes before your run to start off with plenty of energy, although you don’t need the extra energy if you will be exercising for less than an hour.
One gel every 45-60 minutes should be sufficient to provide you with the energy you need for long sessions.
Make sure to take your energy gels with water. This helps them to digest more quickly and get into the bloodstream so you can start reaping the benefits.
Don’t combine your energy gels with energy drinks or you may ingest too much sugar at once which can have detrimental effects on your stomach.
Energy chews can be considered to be the solid form of energy gels. They are chewy snacks that a runner can eat while they’re moving to get a good carbohydrate and energy boost.
They also usually contain a small amount of electrolytes and may contain caffeine as well. Their calorie and carbohydrate counts are very similar to energy gels.
Energy chews should also be taken with water to aid in their digestion and absorption, although it’s less important than it is with gels.
Advantages of Chews
Some runners may not like the gooey consistency of energy gels. An energy chew is less messy, especially if it falls out of the packaging in your pocket or belt while you’re running.
They do take up a bit more space than a gel in your pocket, but not so much that the difference is significant.
Another benefit of chews is that runners can be selective about their serving size and cater it towards their needs at the moment. In other words, instead a one gel an hour. You could eat one chew every ten minutes.
Eating a packet of chews—which usually have a jelly bean or gummy bear consistency—can also be like having a sweet treat during your race.
How Often Should I Eat a Chew?
If you are doing an exercise that will last for less than an hour you don’t really need the extra boost that a chew will give you. If you want to start your exercise with a boost of energy, you can take a serving about 15 minutes before you begin.
But during exercise, you should take one serving about every hour. For example, if you are going to be running a marathon and plan on being on the road for five hours, you should carry five—or even six—servings of chews with you.
You can choose to eat them altogether or spaced out over a period of time. You’ll need to experiment to see which works best for you.
Both energy gels and energy chews will give you an energy boost when you need it most. In the end, it will come down to personal preference and which one you can tolerate the best.
Energy gels are smaller and easier to carry, especially when you are planning on running for a few hours and need to have many of them with you. If you consume them with water, they absorb quickly.
Energy chews take up slightly more pace, especially when you are carrying five to six servings with you. Their consistency may be easier for most runners to stomach, and they’re also easy to split into smaller servings if necessary.
Both have roughly the same amount of calories, carbohydrates, and additions like electrolytes and caffeine.
Popular Energy Gels
These are ideal for runners who like a caffeine boost, as almost all of the flavors contain caffeine—in varying levels.
They all have 100 calories and 21 to 23 grams of carbs per serving, as well as 50 to 125 mg of sodium. They stand out above the rest because they contain branched-chain amino acids—BCAAs—which are known to boost energy, help you build muscle, regulate blood sugar levels and help with recovery.
Honey Stinger’s Gold gel is their main product and consists mostly of honey, which is easily absorbed and provides a great source of quick energy. Their other flavors contain 24 to 26 grams of carbs and 45 to 50 mg sodium.
Certain flavors are caffeinated while others aren’t. They are all free from soy, nuts, dairy, and gluten.
CLIF Energy Shot
The Clif Energy shot comes in easy-to-open packaging which has a “Litter Leash” attached so that the top piece doesn’t end up on the ground.
With 100 calories and 25 grams of carbohydrates in a serving, and a variety of flavors with different caffeine levels, runners will find one of the Clif Shot flavors to suit them.
Popular Energy Chews
These bite-sized chews come in regular flavors, but also exotic flavors like Salted Watermelon and Margarita with Salt. One serving is three blocks—half a packet—which will give you 100 calories, 24 grams of carbs, plus sodium and potassium.
Each flavor offers something unique. For example, the Tropical Punch flavor has 25 mg caffeine added, while the Margarita flavor has three times the amount of sodium.
Jelly Belly Sport Beans
Runners who love jelly beans will enjoy this form of energy chew. One serving of these beans—one full packet—consists of just 100 calories and will give you 25 grams of carbohydrates.
They also contain a small boost of sodium, potassium, vitamin B1, 2 and 3, and vitamin C. You can find them in a range of flavors, including a mixed pack.
Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews
These chews come in a wide variety of flavors, including a variety pack if you can’t choose a favorite. They’re USDA-certified organic and gluten-free.
One full packet is considered to be a serving, and it contains 39 grams of carbohydrates and 160 calories. The serving will also give you a nice electrolyte boost, with 65 mg of sodium, 40 mg of potassium, and 60 mg of vitamin C.