The Best Energy Gels to Fuel Your Fitness

man running and eating energy gel


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There are ways to boost your energy quickly during a normal work day or at certain times when your energy is at its lowest, but if you are an endurance athlete, you might need more. That's where energy gels come in. If you're an endurance athlete, you're probably familiar with energy gels because you know how important it is to fuel your body during any exercise that lasts more than 90 minutes.

Nutrition is key to keeping your energy levels high, and energy gels are a simple way to address this while you're on the go. They're a great option for most sports, including a long day at the golf course. They are small and lightweight so they can be stored anywhere without hindering your performance. You can even make your own energy gels at home if you need to avoid certain allergens or want more control over the nutrient content.

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The Best Energy Gels - Our Top Picks

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A Quick Look at Energy Gels

At a basic level, energy gels are concentrated nutrition that are in a form your body can break down quickly. The contents of these gels vary between manufacturers, but generally speaking, there is sugar for immediate energy, carbohydrates for long-term energy, sodium to help your body retain water, and other vitamins to boost energy levels. Some energy gel formulas also include caffeine to give you a mental boost. If any of these ingredients don't appeal to you, there are many gel alternatives that try to accomplish the same thing.

Who Should Use Energy Gels

Endurance athletes—runners, cyclists, triathletes, etc.—are usually the primary users of energy gels. However, anyone who is exercising for longer than 90 minutes needs to have mid-exercise nutrition ready, and energy gels are one of the best ways to address this need.

What to Look for When Shopping for Energy Gels

  • Price: The ACTIVE Reviews Team determines the price rating based on cost per serving. If a product is under $1 per serving it is rated $. If a product is between $1-2 per serving it is rated $$. If a product is over $2 per serving it is rated $$$.
  • Flavor options: Similar to the price rating, we have our own flavor rating system that rates the product on a scale of 1-3. If the product is not flavored it will be designed with an N/A. If a product has 1-2 flavor options, it will be rated a 1. If a product has 3-4 flavor options it will be rated a 2. If a product has 5+ flavor options it will be rated a 3.
  • Nutrition: Because energy gels are supplements, you should always be paying attention to the ingredients list and the nutrition label. Even though all energy gels do essentially the same thing, they are formulated to accomplish that goal in different ways. The best energy gel for one thing may not be the best for another based on its ingredients, and if you track your macros as part of your diet plan, you don't want to sabotage yourself.

Best Overall - Science in Sport Isotonic Energy Gel

Science in Sport Isotonic Energy Gells

SPECS

  • Price: $$
  • Flavor rating: 3
  • Calories: 90
  • Carbs: 22g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Sodium: 10mg
  • Caffeine: None
  • Added electrolytes: None

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The Science in Sport Isotonic Energy Gel is a great combination of convenience and nutrients. This gel comes in a small package that is very easy to store in any pocket. The most impressive part of the SIS Isotonic gel is that it has 22 grams of carbs per serving despite being formulated to be much thinner than its competitors.

The thin consistency is helpful to be able to consume this energy gel without needing to drink water. So, when you are in the middle of a long run or an intense cycling session you don't need to worry about being bloated from drinking too much water just to get an energy boost. With limited sugar you can also expect little to no crash from this energy gel.

PROS

  • Can be consumed without water
  • High dose of carbs
  • Multiple flavor options
  • Limited sugar helps avoid energy crash

CONS

  • Artificial sweetener
  • Reviewers say some flavors aren't good

BUY: Science in Sport Isotonic Energy Gel

Best for Runners - Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel

Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel

SPECS

  • Price: $$
  • Flavor rating: 2
  • Calories: 80
  • Carbs: 20g
  • Sugar: 6g
  • Sodium: 90mg
  • Caffeine: Available with or without
  • Added electrolytes: None

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Gatorade Endurance energy gels use the same principles as the Gatorade endurance formula drinks to help you maintain energy over a long period of time. This energy gel formula is caffeine free, but there is also a caffeinated option if you prefer that. The key to the Gatorade Endurance gel formula is the 90 milligrams of sodium to help your body retain electrolytes during really long runs, this is up to nine times that of some of the other energy gels on our list.

The Gatorade Endurance also has 30 milligrams of potassium, which works alongside the sodium to retain electrolytes and fluids. The 20 grams of carbohydrates is not bad, but there are other gels on our list that will give you more carbs for a longer-burning energy. The Gatorade Endurance also needs to be consumed alongside water to wash it down.

PROS

  • 90mg of sodium works to help you retain electrolytes
  • Sugar content for an immediate energy boost
  • Specifically formulated for long-distance exercise

CONS

  • Water is needed to consume
  • 6g of added sugar could lead to a crash

BUY: Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel

Best for Cyclists - GU Energy Original

Gu Energy Orginial

SPECS

  • Price: $$
  • Flavor rating: 3
  • Calories: 100
  • Carbs: 21-23g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Sodium: 50-125mg
  • Caffeine: Available with or without
  • Added electrolytes: None

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GU Energy gel has plenty of flavors to choose from and each flavor comes with its own unique nutrition value. Some of the flavors have higher carbs and lower sodium, while others have the opposite. However, what makes GU unique for cyclists is its amino acid content.

Amino acids help your body by promoting muscular endurance, particularly during strenuous exercise like cycling. GU's energy gel formula has 450 milligrams of amino acids per serving to go along with the carbs for energy and the sodium to retain electrolytes. GU does need to be taken alongside water to make sure your body is able to metabolize it quickly for maximum benefits.

PROS

  • 450mg of amino acids help improve muscular endurance
  • Contains high amounts of sodium for retaining electrolytes and fluids
  • Many flavor options with different nutrition content give you max customization

CONS

  • 7g of added sugar could lead to an energy crash
  • Some reviews say the gel is very thick and you need a lot of water to wash it down

BUY: Gu Energy Original

Best Natural - Huma Chia Energy Gel

Huma Chia Energy Gel

SPECS

  • Price: $$
  • Flavor rating: 3
  • Calories: 100
  • Carbs: 23g
  • Sugar: 14g
  • Sodium: 105mg
  • Caffeine: Available with or without
  • Added electrolytes: None

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Huma Chia Energy gel is one of the more expensive energy gels on our lists and that's because you're paying for a premium product. The ingredients in the Huma formula are very clean and all natural, consisting of dried fruits, milled chia seeds, sea salt, and other ingredients depending on the flavor you choose.

Huma has 14 grams of sugar but there are no added or artificial sweeteners. The sugar comes directly from the fruit which means you are not likely to crash after consuming it. Likewise the carbs and sodium come from natural sources. The unique ingredient of this energy gel is the milled chia seeds which provide you with carbs and fiber that promote energy production. This is a great product for anyone who wants an all-natural gel, or who has dietary restrictions to consider.

PROS

  • All-natural sugars from fruit means immediate energy with no crash
  • Milled chia seeds provide a long lasting, dense, complex energy source
  • Gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan-friendly formula

CONS

  • More expensive than other options
  • All-natural ingredients make the gel thick

BUY: Huma Chia Energy Gel

Best for Ironman - Maurten Gel 100

Maurten Gel 100

SPECS

  • Price: $$$
  • Flavors: N/A
  • Calories: 100
  • Carbs: 25g
  • Sugar: 25g
  • Sodium: 34mg
  • Caffeine: 100mg
  • Added electrolytes: None

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Maurten Gel 100 is a simple, six-ingredient formula that gives you a powerful boost of energy across a strenuous competition like Ironman. Many energy gels market themselves as thin and easily digestible, but Maurten takes a different approach and intentionally makes the Gel 100 thick. The science behind this approach is a special hydrogel technology that uses seaweed and fruit fibers to bind the other components together and gives you a longer burning energy source.

The Maurten gel has 25 grams of sugar, which is quite a bit higher than most other gels on our list. However, this sugar content is a combination of fructose and glucose that is meant to help your body absorb carbohydrates and convert them to energy. If you're an endurance athlete who likes to push your body to the limit, then Maurten Gel 100 may be a good choice for you.

PROS

  • Hydrogel technology to help your body absorb the sodium and carbs
  • High number of carbs per serving
  • No artificial sweeteners or preservatives

CONS

  • High sugar content could lead to crashes
  • No flavor options

BUY: Maurten Gel 100

Best Budget - Clif Bar CLIF SHOT Energy Gels

Clif Bar CLIF SHOT Energy Gels

SPECS

  • Price: $$
  • Flavor rating: 3
  • Calories: 100-110
  • Carbs: 24g
  • Sugar: 12g
  • Sodium: 60mg
  • Caffeine: Available in different amounts
  • Added electrolytes: None

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CLIF SHOT is a simple formula energy gel that is meant to give you the quickest shot of energy possible. The carbs are simple carbs and there are 12 grams of cane sugar that your body can easily break down and convert into energy. One great thing about the CLIF SHOT energy gel is that it has a customizable caffeine level from 0-100 milligrams.

CLIFT SHOTs are a little over $1 per pouch when you order the variety pack, which makes them a great option if you're looking to try energy gels on a budget. Because the CLIFT SHOT formula uses simple carbohydrates, there are better options if you're competing in or training for longer endurance activities like a marathon or Ironman, but if you're a more casual athlete or are competing in a shorter race, give these energy gels a shot.

PROS

  • Simple carbs give the body a quick energy source
  • Many flavor options to choose from
  • Customizable caffeine levels

CONS

  • Not going to be enough energy for longer runs
  • Some reviews say the flavors can be overwhelming

BUY: Clif Bar CLIF SHOT Energy Gels

Best Organic - Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels

Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels

SPECS

  • Price: $$
  • Flavor options): 2
  • Calories: 90-100
  • Carbs:24g
  • Sugar:24-25g
  • Sodium:45-50mg
  • Caffeine: Available with or without
  • Added electrolytes: None

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Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels are made with all organic ingredients and are free of most allergens like gluten, nuts, and dairy. As the name implies, the main ingredient of Honey Stinger energy gels is honey, which is responsible for the high amount of sugar you will see on the nutrition label. However, because honey is naturally gel-like in consistency, Honey Stinger says that the sugar is easily absorbed without causing a sugar crash.

Because honey is the main ingredient of all flavors, these energy gels are sweet, and the other flavor ingredients are extracts from plants and fruits that build a nice profile of vitamins and minerals that are lacking in other energy gels. The product is naturally caffeine free, but you are able to get caffeine in some of the flavors, if desired.

PROS

  • 100% organic ingredients
  • All sugar content comes from honey
  • Caffeine option in some flavors
  • Contains vitamins that can help boost your central nervous system

CONS

  • The honey can leave a sticky residue and require a lot of water to wash down
  • Some reviews say honey overwhelms any other flavors

BUY: Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels

FAQs About Energy Gels


Are energy gels effective?

Short answer, yes. Long answer, it depends on what you use and how your body breaks down energy. Energy gels are basically varying combinations of sugars and carbs. Depending on the formula for the particular energy gel you use, you will see varying results. If your body usually responds to sugar with a quick burst of energy, then the more sugar content an energy gel has, the quicker you should feel the effects. If a certain energy gel does not work for you, don't be afraid to try a different brand because it likely has a different formula.

What are the negatives of using energy gels?

One of the most commonly reported negative effects of energy gels is an upset stomach. That could be due to a variety of factors including how much water an athlete consumes to wash the gel down, or the ingredients of the particular gel in question. However, generally speaking, there should be limited to no negatives if you're using energy gels properly.

Do elite runners use energy gels?

Yes. Many elite athletes use energy gels to replenish their body's supply of carbohydrates as they compete. If you're going to get your body to perform you need to properly supply it with carbohydrates and hydration throughout the race; energy gels provide an easy way to get 20-25 grams of carbohydrates mid-race.

Do energy gels really give you energy?

Yes. Your body uses two major fuel sources during endurance exercises: fat and carbs. Usually somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes of exercise, your body's stored energy is depleted and you'll start feeling it. Energy gels are designed to meet your body's immediate need and supply it with a new stock of carbohydrates to draw from. You may not feel the energy in the same way you would feel an energy drink, but your body will.

How long do energy gels take to kick in?

The length of time between consumption and energy depends on the individual. Most people are looking to feel an immediate boost like they do when they drink coffee or take an energy drink. However, the goal of energy gels is to give your body fuel to burn, not to give you the feeling of being energetic. Some may not necessarily "feel" anything after taking an energy gel, but their muscles will continue working efficiently because they have replenished their fuel source.

Can I run a marathon without using energy gels?

Yes, you can run a marathon without energy gels. However, over the course of a race like a marathon, your body's energy will need to be replenished multiple times and liquid won't be able to give you enough nutrients to fill the gap. Some runners use solid foods, but many find that these are difficult to digest on the move. Energy gels are a great alternative that give you energy and won't sit heavy on your stomach.

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