These days a ridiculous amount of “goo” products available, in fact there are probably too many at this point. So how do I choose you ask?? Well you have come to the right place. Here is the VR7CO informal and unscientific guide to choosing your race fuel.
This guide is intended for a crit racer, so most of your time during a race is spent hunched over your bike trying to keep your heart from leaping from your body. With that going on, you cannot really take down a ham sandwich. A goo is ideal for a few reasons:
- You can store it in a convenient spot and not a back pocket (think tucking it under your leg band or something)
- You can open it, eat it and dispose of it in seriously 5 seconds with 1 hand
- It is a proper amount of carbohydrate and calories for the duration of a crit race (assuming 40 mins – 1 hour duration)
The many faces of goo
I call these natural’ish because all gels tend to be natural, they are just sugar variations after all. But I suppose there is a degree of processing involved in producing various sweeteners (tapioca, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup etc.) and perhaps these have less processing involved since they use raw ingredients like maple syrup, honey and fruit purees. Note that most of these gels also use the sweeteners I just mentioned in parallel with their natural CHO source.
Natural gels tend to taste better and go down easier, though they are weaker nutritionally than the alternative. If you like the natural option, look for something sweetened with brown rice syrup (higher maltose content). Maltodextrin is hailed as the king of carbohydrates for energy gels. Its production process is very similar to brown rice solids (syrups) and chemically they are very similar. Maltodextrin is a chain of glucose molecules, while maltose is 2 glucose molecules.
The other side of these natural gels is that they tend to be more expensive. Huma charges ~$2.49 per gel…..ouch. Fortunately, their simple ingredient list means you can make them at home. At my house we make a lot of our own baby food, and turning the baby food assembly line into a DIY energy gel line was very easy. I would recommend trying to make your own before buying these at the store. Seriously, maple syrup gel? Just buy maple syrup at the store and put it in a flask. Throw some chia in it while you are at it. There you go, you made your own gel.
Alrighty, here are your classic gels. When I think of an energy gel I think of companies like GU and Hammer. Hammer particularly strikes me as a company who pays a lot of heed (pun intended) to getting to the scientific foundation of which carbohydrate source is the best for fueling endurance activity. They have a literal library of information on carbohydrates, you should read some of it.
If you check the ingredients on these babies you will likely see something in common. Ingredient #1 – maltodextrin. I do not want to get into a technical debate on carbohydrates, but maltodextrin seems pretty darn solid in terms of fueling you on your bike. Maltodextrin sounds weird, but it is simply a sweetener made from rice starch.
Depending on what you go with, these can range in price from $1.40 to $2.50.
What do I pick?
It is hard not to be drawn towards a natural gel. These guys have sweet websites and their marketing is great. Also, it feels trendy. But, they are expensive and I can’t get past how easy they are to make. I whipped up a dozen Huma imitations in 30 minutes with some modifications that I feel improve the overall gel performance.
Based on that, I say make your own “natural” gels for daily training. For race time, grab a GU or a hammer gel to maximize your performance. If you are lazy and do not want to make anything, stick with GU or Hammer for everything.