A few posts ago, I shared some of my favorite natural food options for mid-run fueling. In this post, I want to take it a step further and get into what makes one power gel better than another and provide a basic power gel recipe with options to customize it for your own purposes.
Probably the most important characteristic of a power gel is its ability to be used quickly by the body during exercise to boost energy and performance. How easily the gel is digested and absorbed by the cells mainly depends on the type of carbohydrate used.
- Maltodextrin is one of the most commonly used carbohydrates in commercially-produced sports gels. In the United States, it’s produced from corn or potatoes while, in Europe, it’s usually made from barley or wheat (so be careful if you have gluten allergy issues). Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate , is very easily digested, and does not require as much water for absorption as some simple sugars.
- Glucose or dextrose is a simple sugar and the only carbohydrate that can be oxidized in muscle. Glucose requires a lot more water than maltodextrin for maximum absorption. Glucose is also created by the body when stored carbohydrates are broken down for use.
- Fructose is a simple sugar that’s derived from fruits and some root vegetables. Fructose must be converted into glucose by the body before it can be oxidized. This conversion takes place in the liver at a pretty slow rate, so it’s absorbed by the body about four times slower than glucose. Too much fructose can cause gastrointestinal distress but, because it’s absorbed through different pathways than maltodextrin or glucose, including a small amount of it in your power gel can increase your total carbohydrate absorption more than using just one type of carbohydrate.
- Foods like honey and maple syrup mainly contain glucose and fructose while molasses is predominately composed of sucrose . Blackstrap molasses is also a good source of potassium and iron, which are important minerals for runners.
Other ingredients to consider adding to your power gel include fat (in the form of coconut oil or nut butters, for example), protein (in powder form), small amounts of caffeine, sources of electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium), and other ingredients to add flavor or texture as desired. Here is my recipe for power gel with a coffee/caffeine kick:
- 1/2 cup maltodextrin (you can find this at your local health store)
- 2 Tbs of honey or molasses (or a combination of both)
- 1 Tbl of premium instant coffee
Whisk the first three ingredients together in a pan over low heat until mixed. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the final ingredients. Pour into one or more gel containers or squeeze bottles.
Optional flavor additions:
- Mixed berry: cook down 1/4 c mixed berries until they become a liquid, then pour through a sieve to remove seeds.
- Use powdered drink mix to add different fruit flavors easily.
- Add cocoa powder for chocolate flavor.
- Add pureed banana for thickness, added potassium, and flavor.
Nutrition (per 1.3oz serving): 106 calories, 27.2 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 278 mg sodium, 7.3 mg potassium
Serving size: Makes about 1/2 cup of gel (or three 1.3oz servings)