If you are about to take on your first triathlon or maybe you raced before but you are not sure about energy gels, how much should you consume, and what would be the price tag to get to that damn finish link, then you need to read this article.
So how much to spend on triathlon energy gel? Athletes are recommended to consume one energy gel around every 45 minutes, at a cost of around 2$ USD per gel. To put this in context, an Olympic triathlon would take someone from 3-3.5 hours, thus consuming around 5 gels that are worth around $10 USD.
It is not uncommon for triathletes to look for an energy source to assist them in the race. Our body has the ability to store almost 90 minutes of running worth of energy. The remaining energy has to be provided at regular intervals if you want to continue the race beyond 2 hours.
Make sure to check our post on Triathlon Nutrition Guide: Before, During & After Race (What Not To Eat !!!)
As for young triathletes, the use of energy gel is something that has to be looked at in-depth. Check the article we wrote about “Should kids use nutritional supplements like energy gels and drinks? Risks and Substitutes“
Energy gels are just the thing for this purpose. If you are just getting familiar with the concept, this article got you covered on all those queries.
What Are Energy Gels?
Energy gels are carbohydrate-rich gels that provide the instant boost of energy you need for your race. It also replenishes energy deposits spent by our muscles in the race.
Maybe you were looking through energy supplements or electrolytes replacement for triathlon and you came across the term energy gel. New products raise many questions in our mind like, how effective these are and more importantly, exactly how much should you spend on something like this?
Science and technological advances made everything easier and understandable. With the knowledge of how our body works and how it reacts to the stress created by endurance and strenuous exercise, there came a convenient and efficient way to fuel our body.
From water and electrolytes supplements to energy drinks to the most common form of energy in the present day ” energy gels”.
Check out How Many Calories Are Consumed In Triathlons; Why Is It Important? All Distances
Energy gels contain almost 25g of sugar (Quantity varies from product to product). This sugar is easily absorbed by our body and gives us a quick refill of body fuels to continue the race and it is also absorbed in muscles and blood to give long-term effects.
Some energy gels also contain additional ingredients like caffeine which helps in keeping the brain sharp. It also prevents our bodies from crashing during the race.
Also, make sure your supplements are not expired. For more on this, check out our post “Do Energy Gels & Electrolyte Powder Get Expired?“
How Do Energy Gels Work?
To have an understanding of how energy gels work in our body, one should have an understanding of how our body normally works.
Our body generally works on two kinds of power sources. These are fats and sugars.
Fats are the biggest source of energy for our muscles. Our body breaks down fat in times of need and produces energy to keep us running, but breaking down fat is a slow process.
It is slowly distributed into energy packets and this drawback makes it unreliable where instant energy is required.
On the other hand, our body relies on carbohydrates or sugars when you need an instant boost. Sugar is easily broken down into energy packets in our body but our muscles have limited storage of carbs in them.
Normally these stores are replenished by the food we eat on daily basis but the actual problem arises while racing a triathlon.
The high demand for energy needed by our muscles cannot be met by the limited stores of carbs in our bodies. There needs to be a fueling source that can provide the sugars needed by the body in the long run.
Energy gels are made for this purpose. They contain a high amount of carbohydrates and sugars. Most of the sugars in energy gels are easily breakable by our body to provide us with instant energy.
They are readily absorbed in our bloodstream which gives a wake-up call to our brain and makes us more active. These sugars are then absorbed into working muscles and different body organs like the liver, where they fill replenishing sources of energy.
How Many Energy Gels Can You Take?
How many energy gels can you take depends totally on your body’s ability to absorb energy gels. Each person’s body is different. Some absorb energy gels faster than others. After some research, I found out that the general recommendation is taking one energy gel pack every 45 minutes (Source).
Statistically, 25g sugar should get you running in 45 minutes of strenuous exercise.
You can take as many energy gels as your body can bear but it is not recommended to overload your body with those sugars. So, you should limit yourself to 5-7 energy gels per race and no more for up to Olympic distance triathlons.
One other factor that you should take into consideration is that the faster you race, the blood supply to your digestive tract decreases which means you are less likely to absorb a large quantity of sugar at once.
Waiting 45 minutes between each energy gel gives your body the time to convert these sugar into useable energy form and also keep you from too much sugar overload.
There is another thing that you should consider while deciding how often you want to take energy gels and if the type of gel works for you.
Our body is trainable and so is our digestive system. If you are taking energy gels for the first time during the race, you have no idea how your body will react to all those strange sugars and instant sugar influx.
To overcome this problem, I recommend eating energy gels during your training program. This is actually very important.
Your digestive system will correlate with the amount of sugar and intervals you are taking them in. This will not only make energy gels more efficient but also will help in the rejection of energy gels just before the race.
This is very important to test your strategy in training. Make a fueling strategy and practice it in your training. What you practice is how you perform during the race.
If your body is already acclimated to energy gels during training, there is little chance that you will suffer from sugar overload or burnout during your race. They will help in keeping your body active and running for a longer period.
How Much Should You Spend on Energy Gels?
How much you should spend on energy gels depends on your body’s ability to take them. Good Energy gel packs cost anywhere between 25$-30$ per 24 pack. As stated earlier, one pack of energy gel almost contains 25g of sugar. This one pack is enough to provide 45 minutes of running.
You don’t want cheap energy gels. They can upset your digestive system and may even cause throwing up immediately after taking them. Check out the one I use in my list of Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budgeting Gear
When selecting an energy gel quality should be your first priority. Different energy gels suit different people. You should try them and find out which one suits you the most. You will be surprised to find out how every gel reacts differently with each person.
Also, check out or post on “How To Take GU Energy Gel (And How Often) ?!“
Is There a Cheaper Alternative?
Now that you know that good energy gels pack cost around 25$ but you do not want to spend that kind of money on them. They are expensive and you are just starting so, you are looking for a cheaper alternative.
Although they will not be as efficient as processed energy gels still, there are some things in nature that work just fine for you.
If you train with them, your body will learn to use them for energy during your hard exercises and even your triathlon.
-Honey: Honey is a great alternative for energy gels. Honey has an almost liquid consistency. It is easier to gulp down a spoonful of honey than taking a semi-solid gel. Honey has a high amount of sugars in it. It is already processed by nature so, it is readily absorbed by our digestive system. If you are looking for an energy source, this is the one nature gave you.
-Dates- Dates have high carbohydrate content. They are easily absorbed by our bodies and provide us with an instant source of energy. Dates have a chewy texture so they can become a little uncomfortable on the track. They also contain fructose which needs a little more time to break down in our body than simpler sugars.
–Maple syrup– Maple syrup has more sugar and more nutrients than honey. It is easily available and it has a thicker consistency than honey. It makes it ideal for carrying around during a race. Maple syrup candy is another great alternative. You get something to chew on as you continue your race.
For more and maybe better options, check out our Four Easy Natural and Cheap Energy Gel DIY Recipes & Three Other Off The Shelf Alternatives
Energy gels come in handy while racing a triathlon. Your body needs a consistent energy source to make it to the end of the race. The question is how much you should spend on energy gels?
It depends on multiple factors which include how serious of an athlete you are, your training plan, your body’s ability to take energy gels, and what kind of energy gels suit you.
If you are a serious athlete I suggest you start using good energy gels during your training. Take them in small amounts as not to get your body hoped up on sugar but still maintain energy demand.
If you didn’t find any energy gel that suited you or you are not very enthusiastic to spend 20$+ on energy gels, go for natural energy boosters.
Honey, dates, maple syrup mixed in chia seed and some other alternatives listed here can help you out. They will only cost you a few dollars as compared to expensive energy gels.
A final word of advice!
Do it beforehand and notice how your body reacts to these energy boosts.
Get familiar with your system and make an informed decision based on all the provided information about what kind of energy gels suit you and how much you should spend on them.
Also read: Is It Okay To Add Alcohol/Vodka to Gatorade/Electrolytes In Triathlon Races?