The Truth About Energy Gels

They Really Work!!
By Mike Mathewson

An article published on was recently brought to my attention titled Physiology and Nutrition: Why Not Energy Gels?. In the article the author states that energy gels are one of the most detrimental fuel sources for performance.

Wow, seriously? After 17+ years in the energy gel industry and hearing countless success stories from professional athletes to weekend warriors, how can this be true?

As the president of a company that manufactures energy gels this certainly caught my attention, and after reading the article I thought it deserved taking a moment to explain why the author is simply wrong.

You can read the full article for yourself (link to article), but here is the author’s summary and conclusion:

“First, they are a concentrated carbohydrate ingested into a compromised gut (blood flow is diverted to the muscles and skin), increasing the osmotic pressure within the digestive system (read: slow gastric emptying, water drawn into the stomach to aid in the emptying). Second, they are usually comprised of maltodextrin and fructose; the two carbohydrates which create a significant hyperosmotic environment in the small intestines, causing additional water to be pulled into the GI tract to reduce the pressure exerted by the sugar molecules. Why is this significant in the world of training and performance? Fluid loss during exercise is difficult to mitigate and maintain blood volume. Blood volume is critical for sweating and muscle metabolism. Why would you ingest a product that accelerates dehydration and GI distress?”

Where Did The Author Go Wrong?

At the beginning of the article the author states “most usage directions state that a gel must be consumed with 2-4oz water”. From there she assumes that the athlete does not consume any more water, and therein lies the fundamental flaw in all of her logic that follows.

This subject has been written about extensively and most people now know that energy gels have to be consumed with water (not a sports drink) in order to be properly diluted and absorbed, and NOT just 2-4 ounces of water! The energy gel manufacturers have done an absolute horrible job of providing proper education on energy gel usage and how much water is required. 2-4 ounces of water may be enough to get the gel out of your mouth and down to your stomach, but it’s not nearly enough to allow your body to absorb the gel.

Water is the transport vehicle for energy gels and it is important that you have enough available water in your GI system to dilute the gels down to an isotonic state (equal concentration to cellular fluids), so that the gels can be rapidly absorbed and give you the energy benefits that they are designed to provide.

On each pack of e-Gel for example, we clearly state that the athlete needs to consume approximately 14 ounces of water for each gel consumed. This is the amount of water that will be carried along with the gel into your cellular system when it is absorbed. However, this does NOT mean that you have to take 14 ounces right when you take the gel, what’s important is that you are getting enough water in between each pack of gel that you consume.

When you start your training or competition hopefully you are fully hydrated. If you are then you will have ample water in your stomach and GI system to absorb your first gel. The problems can occur if you continue to consume gels and you get behind on your water intake. If you maintain the proper ratio and stay hydrated then you won’t have any problems. For marathon runners for example we generally recommend taking a gel before a water stop, then go through a couple more water stops before taking your next gel pack. It’s really quite easy, after all, you have be be drinking anyway to stay hydrated.

At Crank Sports we have made it a priority to provide athletes with the education required to properly use energy gels, and I have personally talked to thousands of athletes about this very subject since we started Crank Sports in 2001. When I talk to someone that has problems with energy gels they are usually making one of the following mistakes:

They are not using enough water

2-4 ounces per gel is not enough!!

They are drinking something other than water

Sports drinks are already isotonic and can’t dilute the gel down as required

They are consuming other “food” with the gel

When you start eating bars, chews, sport beans, fruit, etc., along with your gel and water, the result is a highly concentrated “soup” in your stomach. You’re just asking for problems. Did you know that it takes a banana 4 hours and 15 minutes to leave your stomach?!!

Once they make the correction and start using the gels properly, all the problems go away and they realize how beneficial energy gels are.

Bottom Line

If you use energy gels during an endurance activity and only consume a couple ounces of water for each pack, you’re going to have problems, but the problems may be even WORSE than the author described! You will also become severely dehydrated which can hospitalize or kill you. But this has nothing to do with the energy gel, endurance athletes need to stay hydrated, period.

Energy Gels are not the problem, in fact they are the BEST sports nutrition solution for endurance athletes. They are easily absorbed (with water), the complex carbs and low sugars provide sustained energy (without the sugar BONK), and in the case of e-Gel also provide electrolyte replacement to maintain hydration and avoid cramping.

But yes, you do have to use them properly!

Check out e-Gel

With 4 times the sodium and double the potassium, e-Gel is the only Electrolyte Energy Gel that is designed to provide complete and balanced electrolyte replacement. And, with less sugar, more complex carbohydrates and a thin consistency that’s easy to get down… you’re gonna love it!

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Our customers tell it best…

Keith Castleton

"Figuring out how to stay hydrated, not get upset stomach and prevent muscle cramps during long runs and races has been one of my biggest challenges. In the past my muscles would ache and twitch and cause me a lot of pain after long runs. I came across e-Gel energy gels this summer used them during the Top Of Utah Marathon, took 17 minutes off my previous marathon PR and easily qualified for Boston." ...
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Maricopa, Arizona
Sport: Running

Jeff Rommel

"I broke the golden rule and tried e-Gel for the first time on race day. I ran the Houston Marathon and it was a great experience - no stomach issues and no muscle cramping. Water in my bottle and an e-Gel every hour got me through the race. I'm not the fastest runner, but I set a PR!" ...
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Houston, Texas
Sport: Running

Adam Lecompte

"This is by far the best energy gel product on the market, and I have been through them all. I have had nothing but positive training and racing experiences with this product. I trained on and used e-Gel in a half half marathon and busted a 1:32.44! My personal best of 5 half marathons. The sustained energy is incredible! I absolutely love this product." ...
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Houma, Louisiana
Sport: Running and Triathlon

Sam Albrecht

"40 miles into a 56 mile ride in the desert with two big hills I started cramping, and had to stop several times. The next week I did the same ride with e-Gel and had no cramping despite it being over 100 degrees. My hydration was the same, so I have little doubt the e-Gel played a big part in keeping me going that day." ...
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Big Bear City, California
Sport: Triathlon

Bruce English

"I recently completed a half-iron distance triathlon with a brutal bike course. At the end of the ride my quads started to cramp. I nursed an e-Gel over the first mile of the run and the cramps abated. I thought it may have been coincidence, but when the cramps resurfaced at mile 7 only to resolve with another e-Gel I was sold. I only drank water on the run and took e-Gel, so I feel confident that this product made the difference. " ...
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Waynesboro, Virginia
Sport: Triathlon

Mary Rogers

"I used e-Gels exclusively and exactly as directed in training for the Lakefront Marathon. This was my fourth marathon and I did not expect to PR, but just to complete it well. With the help of e-Gels taken at miles 2, 7, 13, 18, and 23, I took 10 minutes off of my marathon time and never hit the 'wall' or cramped as I had done in previous events. Some guy laughed at me at the start asking why I had so many energy gels. I told him I had a plan and I was sticking to it. I'm pretty sure I passed him somewhere around mile 22." ...
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Springfield, Illinois
Sport: Running

David Ball

"I've been using e-Gel for 2 years exclusively and will not go with anything else....I qualified for Boston with a 3:18:16 and felt great. One e-Gel 15 minutes before the race and one at miles 6, 12, 18, and 23 mile marks and then the last three miles were my fasted splits" ...
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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Sport: Running, Triathlon

Malcolm Campbell

"I looked for a gel that had less sugar and more potassium/sodium than some of the other energy gels. I came across e-Gel and used them is the US 50K Championships in Caumsett Park, New York. I finished 2nd in 3:04.22, so I guess they worked pretty good!" ...
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Marietta, Georgia
Sport: Ultra Running

Jeff Domenico

"I was running my best marathon ever in Detroit, had five miles to go and I took my e-Gel 100 yards before a water station. I got to the station and it was a bunch of guys handing out beer! GU and other energy gels are so thick that I would have needed water right away, but the e-Gel was so thin and easy to digest, I got through it just fine when I hit a water station about a mile later. Not only did I finally hit my sub-three hour dream, I hit 2:57!" ...
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Battle Creek, Michigan
Sport: Running

Dave Kumler

"I am an on-ice official in the AHL and I want to share my story about e-Gel ... My job as linesman requires me to sprint repeatedly and physically separate anyone who fights throughout the game. We get no breaks, no downtime, no relaxing...I need my energy level to remain constant. I had yet to find any product that satisfied my requirement. I tried GU, Clif Shots and other energy gels, but found that I was still needing something to get me thru the last half of the game. With e-Gel, I found it." ...
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Cleveland, Ohio
Sport: Hockey

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