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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.
The Best Energy Gels - Our Top Picks
- Best Overall Energy Gel: Science in Sport Isotonic Energy Gel
- Best Energy Gel for Runners: Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel
- Best Energy Gel for Cyclists: Gu Energy Original
- Best Natural Energy Gel: Huma Chia Energy Gel
- Best Energy Gel for Ironman: Glukos Energy Gel
- Best Budget Energy Gel: Clif Bar CLIF SHOT Energy Gels
- Best Organic Energy Gel: Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels
- Best Caffeinated Energy Gel: Gatorade Endurance with Caffeine
- Best Unflavored Energy Gel: Honey Stinger Gold
- Best Vegan Energy Gel: Ucan Edge Energy Gel
Why Trust Us?
The health and safety of ACTIVE's readers is of the utmost importance to us. To ensure your well-being when consuming nutritional supplements, the ACTIVE.com editorial team prioritizes products that are independently tested by a third party. We've also consulted with a team of nutritionists and dieticians to ensure the products we feature are of the highest standard. This helps us create the most accurate, authentic review content for our readers. More importantly, fitness may be our job, but it is also our passion. Therefore, we strive to bring you products that we trust and would personally use.
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 are carbohydrates for energy, sodium to help you stay hydrated, and other vitamins to boost energy levels.(1) 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.
Best Overall - Science in Sport Isotonic Energy Gel
- Ingredients: Water, Maltodextrin, Gelling Agents, Natural Flavouring, Acidity Regulators, Preservatives, Acesulfame K, Sodium Chloride, Antioxidant
- Price: $1.16 per serving
- Flavors: 7
- Carbs per serving: 22g
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.
Why We Picked It: We like that this gel supplies 22 grams of quick-digesting carbs per serving and can be consumed without water.
- Active individuals who prefer a lower sugar energy gel
- Users who value having a number of flavors to choose from
Not Best For
- Those who are opposed to artificial sweeteners
- Users who prefer an energy gel that also includes electrolytes
Best for Runners - Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel
- Ingredients: Water, Maltodextrin, Brown Rice Syrup, Sugar, Salt, Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Natural Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Calcium Citrate
- Price: $1.67 per serving
- Flavors: 5
- Carbs per serving: 20g
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.
Why We Picked It: We like that these energy gels supply added electrolytes and come in both caffeinated and non-caffeinated versions.
- Runners who require energy gels with added electrolytes
- Long distance endurance athletes
- People who enjoy having a wide range of flavors to choose from
Not Best For
- Users who prefer not to have to drink water with energy gels
Best for Cyclists - GU Energy Original
- Ingredients: Maltodextrin, Water, Fructose, L-leucine, Natural flavor, Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, Green Tea Leaf Extract, Calcium Carbonate, L-Valine, Sea Salt, Gellan Gum, L-Isoleucine, MCT, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate
- Price: $1.50 per serving
- Flavors: 16
- Carbs per serving: 21-23g
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.(2) 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.
Why We Picked It: We chose these gels as the top pick for cyclists due to the fact they contain added electrolytes for hydration and amino acids to help support muscle recovery.
- Athletes who value having added electrolytes in their energy gels
- Those who value having a wide array of flavor and dosing options
- Cyclists looking for a carb supplement with added BCAAs to maintain muscle mass
Not Best For
- Those who prefer a thinner energy gel as these are said to be quite thick
- Users who prefer not to have to drink water with their energy gels
BUY: Gu Energy Original
Best Natural - Huma Chia Energy Gel
- Ingredients: Strawberries, Evaporated cane juice, Brown rice syrup, Filtered water, Milled chia seeds, Strawberry concentrate, Sea salt, citric acid
- Price: $2.50 per serving
- Flavors: 7
- Carbs per serving: 23g
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.
Why We Picked It: We like that these energy gels contain all-natural ingredients using dried fruits for the carb source and are free of any artificial sweeteners.
- Athletes who prefer an all-natural energy gel option
- Users looking for a slightly slower-digesting carbohydrate source
- Those who follow a gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or vegan diet
Not Best For
- Users on a tight budget, as these are rather costly compared to other options
- Those who are adverse to thicker energy gels
BUY: Huma Chia Energy Gel
Best for Ironman - Glukos Energy Liquid
- Ingredients: Water, Glucose, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Potassium Phosphate, Malic Acid, Potassium Citrate, Sea Salt
- Price: $2.00 per serving
- Flavors: 4
- Carbs per serving: 16g
Glukos Energy Liquid is a simple, all-natural formula that gives you a powerful boost of energy across a strenuous competition like Ironman. Unlike many other gels, this brand uses pure glucose as its carbohydrate source for faster digestion and absorption into the bloodstream. In addition to the carbohydrates, each serving supplies 150 milligrams of potassium, an important electrolyte for maintaining hydration.
This formula is free of gelling agents or thickeners, therefore it resembles more of a liquid than a gel, which may appeal to some users. As an added plus, it's gluten free, soy free, dairy free, and vegan friendly. If you're an endurance athlete who likes to push your body to the limit, Glukos Energy Liquid may be a good refueling choice for you.
Why We Picked It: We like the fact that these gels supply carbs from fasting-digesting glucose and are a bit thinner than other gels allowing them to be consumed without water.
- Ironman athletes in search of a fast-digesting carbohydrate to fuel training
- Those who prefer a liquid over a gel consistency
- People who follow a vegan or dairy-free diet
Not Best For
- Users who prefer a slower release carb source
- Those who prefer a bunch of flavors to choose from
BUY: Glukos Energy Liquid
Best Budget - Clif Bar CLIF SHOT Energy Gels
- Ingredients: Maltodextrin, Cane Sugar, Water, Raspberry Juice Concentrate, Sea Salt, Potassium Citrate, Citric Acid
- Price: $1.13 per serving
- Flavors: 8
- Carbs per serving: 24g
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.
CLIF 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 CLIF 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.
Why We Picked It: We like that these energy gels tick all the boxes and are just over $1 per pouch, allowing even the most cash-strapped athletes to supplement with carbs.
- Athletes in search of economical energy gels for use on a daily basis
- Users who like to have a number of flavors to select from
- Those who value being able to customize the amount of caffeine in their energy gels
Not Best For
- Those who require high amounts of carbs for longer duration activities
- Users who may be adverse to strong flavors
Best Organic - Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels
- Ingredients: Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Honey, Potassium Citrate, Salt, Organic Natural Flavor, Citric Acid, Water
- Price: $1.74 per serving
- Flavors: 2
- Carbs per serving: 24g
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.
Why We Picked It: We like that these gels use honey as the main carb source and contain all organic ingredients to provide users with a more natural carb-supplementing experience.
- Users who prefer 100% organic ingredients
- Athletes who prefer carbs sourced from more natural sources
Not Best For
- Those who prefer a thinner energy gel, as the honey tends to make these rather thick
- Users who value having a wide array of flavor options to choose from
Best Caffeinated Energy Gel - Gatorade Endurance with Caffeine
- Ingredients: Water, Maltodextrin, Brown Rice Syrup, Sugar, Salt, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Potassium Citrate, Xanthan Gum, Caffeine, Calcium Citrate
- Price: $1.66 per serving
- Flavors: 3
- Carbs per serving: 20g
When you're pushing through an intense race or training session, sometimes you need more than just carbs to get you through. Gatorade Endurance Energy Gels with caffeine packs 30 milligrams of quick-acting caffeine per serving to provide you with that mid-race jolt of energy to keep you moving forward. On top of that, each serving supplies 20 grams of fast-digesting carbs source from maltodextrin and brown rice syrup to keep your glycogen stores replenished.
Research shows that including caffeine as part of your intra-workout refueling regimen may improve power output and reduce fatigue, allowing you to maintain a faster pace for longer durations.(3) Available in three appealing flavors, most users will find one that suits their preference. As an added bonus, each serving supplies 90 milligrams of sodium to help keep you hydrated.
Why We Picked It: We like that these energy gels supply all of the standard ingredients, as well as a responsible dose of caffeine to keep athletes energized through the duration of their training session or race.
- Athletes who prefer caffeinated energy gels for an added energy jolt
- Users who value a product with added electrolytes to help stay hydrated
Not Best For
- Those who are rather sensitive to stimulants, as the caffeine in each dose can add up
- Users who prefer a wide range of flavors to select from
Best Unflavored Energy Gel - Honey Stinger Gold Energy Gels
- Ingredients: Honey, Water, Potassium Citrate, Salt, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Cyanocobalamin
- Price: $1.34 per serving
- Flavors: N/A
- Carbs per serving: 24g
For the purist in all of us, Honey Stinger Gold Energy Gels come in an unflavored format providing users with glycogen-replenishing carbs sourced from honey, without any fancy flavoring. These honey-based energy gels combine energizing carbs with B vitamins and electrolytes to supply the perfect intra-workout fuel for grueling training sessions or races.
Supplying 24 grams of carbohydrates per 1.1-ounce serving, these energy gels provide a convenient, compact source of nutrients to keep your energy stores topped off.
Made with simple ingredients without added sweeteners or flavors, they're easy to digest during intense training. Additionally, they're gluten free and non-GMO. For athletes in search of an unflavored energy gel option with naturally-derived ingredients, Honey Stinger Gold Energy Gels are our top pick.
Why We Picked It: We like that these energy gels get their flavor naturally from the honey they contain, while also providing B vitamins and electrolytes to support energy production and hydration.
- Users who are adverse to fancy flavors
- Those who value a more natural energy gel
- Athletes who require additional electrolytes in their carb supplements
Not Best For
- Users who enjoy having a bunch of flavors to pick from
- People who don't particularly care for the taste of honey
Best Vegan Energy Gel - UCAN Edge Energy Gel
- Ingredients: Water, LIVSTEADY Cornstarch, Erythritol, Glycerin, Natural Flavors, Cellulose Gum, Xanthan Gum, Ascorbic Acid, Lactic Acid, Potassium Sorbate
- Price: $2.91 per serving
- Flavors: 3
- Carbs per serving: 19g
Following a vegan diet can be somewhat limiting at times considering that many nutrition supplements contain animal-derived ingredients. Thankfully, for vegan athletes, UCAN Edge Energy Gels provide a 100% vegan refueling option that supplies 19 grams of carbs per serving. These gels utilize a unique form of complex carbohydrates sourced from corn starch that is designed to maintain steady blood sugar levels during exercise.
UCAN Edge Energy Gels are designed to be taken either 30 minutes prior to training, or every 60 minutes during training sessions lasting 90 minutes or more. They contain no added sugars and come in three flavors to keep your taste buds guessing. Lastly, these gels are free of artificial ingredients and are gluten free, non-GMO, and keto-friendly.
Why We Picked It: We like that these energy gels supply a slower digesting source of carbs for sustained energy during longer duration events.
- Vegans looking for a high-quality refueling option to use during training sessions
- Users who prefer a no-sugar energy gel option
- Those looking for a slower digesting energy gel to maintain steady energy levels
Not Best For
- Users in search of faster digesting carbs
- Those on a tight budget, as these gels are a bit more expensive than some others
BUY: UCAN Edge Energy Gel
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.(4)
How We Chose The Best Energy Gels
When analyzing the top products on the market there are several factors we took into consideration to provide you with the best energy gels.
Type of Carbs
Generally speaking, energy gels provide mostly carbohydrates with minimal fats and protein. Therefore we took a close look at the specific sources of carbs that each brand used in their energy gels. This is important as some carbs will be digested faster or slower than others making them more suitable for certain types of activities.
As with most nutrition supplements, energy gels can vary greatly in their price based on the ingredients they contain. We made sure to include products that hit each price point for users looking for budget-friendly options, to those looking for a more premium product.
We chose products that are available in a wide range of flavors to suit the taste preferences of most users.
While carbohydrates make up the backbone of most energy gels, they also often include a number of other ingredients meant to further enhance their effects. We selected products with the appropriate amount of carbohydrates as well as some that contain other science-backed performance enhancing ingredients.
What to Look for When Shopping for Energy Gels
When browsing for the best energy gel, there are several factors you should consider to determine which one best suits your needs.
Type and Amount of Carbs
Carbohydrates are the main ingredient in most energy gels as they are our body's primary fuel source during exercise. Some carb sources are digested differently than others. When in search of an energy gel, be sure to look at where the carbs are sourced from to help you determine if a given product is suitable for your goals. Longer duration athletes may be looking for a slower digesting carb whereas short duration athletes may want something that digests quicker.
Not everyone has an unlimited budget for sport supplements. Determine your budget when shopping for energy gels and find one that supplies the highest quality ingredients that you can afford.
Due to their varying formulas, some energy gels will be thinner or thicker than others. Thicker gels will usually require some sort of fluid to be drunk with them for best results. Thinner energy gels may be able to be consumed without water, which may be more convenient for some athletes.
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.
FAQs About Energy Gels
Are energy gels effective?
Research shows that energy gels can be effective for maintaining exercise performance.(5) That said, it depends on what type you use and how your body breaks down energy. Energy gels are basically varying combinations of sugars and carbs. Depending on the formula of 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 60-90 minutes of exercise, your body's stored energy is depleted and you'll start feeling it.(6) 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.
- Choi, D. H., Cho, J. Y., Koo, J. H., & Kim, T. K. (2021). Effects of Electrolyte Supplements on Body Water Homeostasis and Exercise Performance during Exhaustive Exercise. Applied Sciences, 11(19), 9093.
- Fouré, A., & Bendahan, D. (2017). Is Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation an Efficient Nutritional Strategy to Alleviate Skeletal Muscle Damage? A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 9(10), 1047.
- Guest, N.S., VanDusseldorp, T.A., Nelson, M.T. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 1 (2021).
- Kerksick, C.M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B.J. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 33 (2017).
- Kozlowski, K. F., Ferrentino-DePriest, A., & Cerny, F. (2021). Effects of Energy Gel Ingestion on Blood Glucose, Lactate, and Performance Measures During Prolonged Cycling. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 35(11), 3111–3119.
- Murray, B., & Rosenbloom, C. (2018). Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutrition reviews, 76(4), 243–259.