by Derrick Krane
Power gels, aka energy gels are small packets of complex carbohydrate syrup, usually some combination of maltodextrin, brown rice syrup, honey, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and flavorings. Though these are technically not power gels, I have also included packets of pureed fruits and veggies aka Baby food on this list. These packets are nutritious, have a long shelf life, don’t require refrigeration until they are opened, and are inexpensive. Fruit and veggie purees are available under different labeling and marketing as sports supplements, but they are really the same as baby food. The difference is the serving size, price and the packaging.
The purpose of power gels are a quick, easily digested, convenient source of energy, along with some caffeine, electrolytes, vitamins and minerals to provide a boost during endurance activities such as running, bicycling, rowing, hiking, cross country skiing, or snow shoeing. It is recommended to take one packet every 15 minutes with water during endurance training.
I always have a few in my EDC Bag, my office drawer, BoB, car, and at home in the pantry. I also like to use them as a substitute when I am craving something sweet without undoing my clean eating plan and I have also found them useful for relieving some of the misery of the flu. You can get creative and mix different flavors together into a squeeze container or stir them into oatmeal or other hot cereal, or put them in coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. They can also be used to top pancakes.
Here are my evaluations of some of the top brands.
|Apple cinnamon||Maltodextrin, proprietary sweetener (grape juice, rice dextrin) salt, amino acids||Toothpaste||Tastes like sour apple candy with some cinnamon. OK, not bad.|
|Hammer Gel||Vanilla||Maltodextrin proprietary sweetener (grape juice, rice dextrin) salt, amino acids||Toothpaste||Vanilla frosting taste, creamy texture, nice, not overly sweet or cloying. Very good.|
|Birthday cake||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Vanilla/Lemon cake frosting, a little too sweet, but with a flavor like Birthday cake, what did I expect? Overall, OK, not bad.|
|Vanilla bean||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Vanilla frosting taste, a little cloying. Good. This is one of three classic flavors (mandarin orange and tri-berry are the others) that have been around for 20 years of more. They used to be made with brown rice syrup, which tasted better IMO.|
|Mandarin orange||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Sweet, weak orange flavor. OK|
|Jet blackberry||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Blackberry jam flavor. Pretty good.|
|Tri berry||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Jammy, strawberry and raspberry flavor. Not bad|
|Razz||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Raspberry jam flavor, way too sweet. As with all Clif shots, the packet has a litter leash. Yuck. Nasty. You will need to drink water afterward to get the sticky cloying feeling out of your mouth.|
|Citrus||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Artificial lemon lime, like fruit stripe gum Yuck again. It coats your mouth and is sticky and cloying. You will definitely need water after.|
|Cliff shot||Chocolate cherry||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Nice chocolate taste with cherry, not overly sweet. Very good. 100 mg caffeine, about the same as 8 oz. of brewed coffee.|
|Clif shot||Mocha||Maltodextrin||Toothpaste||Chocolate and heavily creamed coffee. Not too sweet or cloying, good flavor balance. Very good. This one contains 50 mg of caffeine, about the same as 4 oz. of brewed coffee. I had the Chocolate cherry and Mocha together, and had no need for an AM coffee. Good energy without being wired.|
|Gold||Honey||Thin and watery||Salty honey taste. Way too sweet. Sickening. Best served with an IV drip of insulin.|
|Honey stinger||Fruit smoothie||Honey||A little thicker than the honey Stinger Gold||Salty, sweet, slight cherry fruit punch taste. Yuck. Effing gross.|
|Coffee infused Vermont maple syrup||Maple syrup||Thin, watery||Black coffee with maple syrup taste. Very simple ingredients: organic maple syrup and organic coffee .Very good. Robust and strong. Not for soy boys. I would also add this to hot chocolate, or a shot of brandy or bourbon for a cocktail.|
|Plum organic Baby food pouches||Banana pumpkin||Pureed banana and pumpkin||Thick, mealy applesauce||Banana, lemon taste. OK, edible. Reseal able container, refrigerate after opening.|
|Earth best Baby food pouches||Orange banana||Purred banana and orange||Thin applesauce||Banana with a hint of orange. Pretty good. Reseal able container, must be refrigerated after opening.|
|Earth best Baby food pouches||Sweet potato apple||Pureed sweet potato and apple||Applesauce||Bland, sweet potato and apple. Dull and insipid taste, but very nutritious. Refrigerate after opening.|
|Buddy fruits||Banana||Banana, lemon juice||Thin applesauce||Banana, applesauce, lemon taste. Container is resalable. Pretty good. Small portion, though it can be resealed and refrigerated.|
According to my totally biased taste testing, the winners are:
- Hammer gel Vanilla
- Gu Vanilla bean, Blackberry, and Tri-berry
- Clif shot Mocha
- Slopeside syrup Maple Coffee
- Earth best Orange Banana
In terms of prolonging endurance for physical and mental activity, only the gels containing caffeine seemed to do this.
How to Make Your Own Power Gel
An alternative is to make your own power gels by combining different ingredients in a squeeze bottle.
- Maple syrup. This is the delicious boiled down concentrate of the sap of maple trees. It is available in different grades, which are different colors and flavor intensity. I prefer Grade B Dark Amber, (It used to be just called Grade B, but someone decided that sounded too negative, and the maple syrup might feel hurt by being put in second place. Fucking Political Correctness). Simple as it gets. Pour some genuine Vermont maple syrup into a squeeze bottle, and have a shot as needed. Don’t overdo it, as too much at once is a purgative. Add some instant coffee crystals and stir to dissolve. Maple syrup will keep for months at room temperature. It may grow a mold on the surface. It is still edible if you spoon out the mold and re-boil the syrup.
- Peanut Butter Mix maple syrup or honey into peanut butter. Add molasses for a taste similar to Mary Janes or Bit-O- Honeys. PB has a room temperature life of months.
- Honey, straight, or cut with molasses. Molasses will cut the sweetness of the honey so it is not overpowering. Many convenience stores and cafes have packets of honey available for coffee and tea. Most places will sell you a bunch of them, or if you are a customer, give them to you, especially if you are a regular and you tip well. You can also try different varieties of honey. Orange blossom is my favorite, though some people prefer the dark robust taste of buckwheat honey. Honey has a shelf life of millennia. You read that right. Honey will crystallize after a while, but it is still edible after about 3,000 years.
- Molasses is derived from sugar cane or sugar beets. It is thick dark brown, strongly flavored sweet syrup. It is more nutritious than white sugar, as it contains iron, phosphorous, and potassium.
- Agave syrup is from the agave cacti. I don’t use this personally, as any amount gives me GI (Gastro-Intestinal) upset. It is fine for most people.
- Brown Rice syrup is obviously derived from brown rice. It is not as sweet as honey, and has a mildly nutty, pleasant taste. Use it straight, or mixed with flavoring such as lemon, orange or lime.
- Malt syrup is derived from malted barley. It is less sweet than sugar, thick, light brown, and has a taste similar to molasses. Use it straight or straight up. Or mixed with flavoring such as lemon, orange or lime
- Pureed fruit and vegetables are very nutritious but have a short shelf life. Use it the same day, or keep it refrigerated. You can run pretty much any combination you can think of through a food processor or blender, and add some liquid so it will blend.
Some combinations to try:
- Pumpkin, apples and a dash of cinnamon.
- Banana, splash of orange juice and a pinch of sea salt.
- Beets, raspberries, strawberries
- Sweet potatoes, a drizzle of maple syrup
- Apples, pears, and a dash of cinnamon
Little foil packets or squeeze bottle of gel are convenient sources of carbohydrates, nutrients, and electrolytes, they taste good, have a lengthy shelf life, and are portable. Their flavor is a comforting morale booster, and they are a good substitute when you are craving a dessert but don’t want to disrupt your clean eating plan.
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