Monday, 5 May 2014

Gel wars

Just after Christmas I noticed that the Ultra Marathon store were offering box discounts on pick-n-mix orders of any combination of make and flavour of gels. So I bought some of everything to see what works best.

I should point out at the start that the results of this review are one man's opinion having carried out a non-exhaustive test on a sample size of one. I'm also generally a lover of "real food" which for me is usually flapjacks & potatoes, but I will almost always alternate with gels to avoid getting too full up.

Not wanting to give too much away but I should also mention that the resultant winner may, in light of a recent sponsored trail camp in the Lakes, seem a little disingenuous but the results were in some time ago, I've just been lazy about writing it up.

I've rated everything on taste, consistency and nutritional value. However, to be fair I don't have any opinion on which products give the best results energy-wise; they all provide a similar amount of calories and its impossible to discount the many and various variables at play during a long run that affect how I'm feeling, making an objective decision on the effectiveness of a particular gel pretty much impossible. Something which makes you want to throw up though will definitely affect performance and is easier to quantify.

A word on energy source; it is recognised that high GI sugars such as Glucose and Maltodextrin offer the most rapid absorption rates when exercising, but recent evidence suggests that Fructose, which has a low GI is absorbed slowly and does not conflict with the absorption of Glucose or Matlodextrin. This means more energy can be digested where both types of sugar are ingested.

Products reviewed:

Accel Gel

"The Top Performing Energy Gel Just Got Better! Designed and scientifically-proven to deliver rapid energy to muscles. How? Patented 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein.  Accel Gel gives you more bang 13% more vs. leading carbohydrate only gel, and 50% better muscle recovery so you can get back to your next adventure."

Calories: 100

Energy source: Fructose, Glucose and Maltodextrin; 4:1 carbs to protein - this is one of two gels in the test that contained protein. I couldn't "feel" any difference over 20 miles...maybe on a longer run I would have? Some flavours are caffeinated (20-40 mg) but those I tried were not.

Consistency: medium. Liquid but not too runny. About right.

Taste: I tried Key Lime and Orange. Accel gel appear to have attempted to avoid the sickly sweet issue that many gels have by erring on the side of bitter. Key Lime was OK, Citrus Orange was rank.


"GU Energy Gel provides athletes with a dose of 100 calories to deliver high-quality, easily-digested and long-lasting energy for athletes in every sport and at all levels. Everything inside each packet of GU is engineered to do one simple thing: provide your body with the essential nutrition it needs to keep going for miles and miles and hours and hours. It goes down easy, and it goes to work fast so you don't have to slow down."

Calories: 100

Energy source: Maltodextrin/Fructose (7-80%/30-/20% ratios flavour dependant) Caffeinated (20mg)

Consistency: medium. Liquid but not too runny. About right.

Taste: Tried Lemon, Tri berry, Jet blackcurrent and Salted caramel. Slightly sickly, getting worse over time. Caramel is pretty nice but even this gets hard to swallow after a while

Gu Roctane

"We added more of everything that makes GU Energy Gel the category leader and added a few more things for ultra distance and high intensity efforts resulting in the most efficient, high performance gel you can use in training and racing."

Calories: 100

Energy source: Glucose/Fructose plus lots of branch chain amino acids (basic proteins) and extra electrolytes. Caffeinated (35mg)

Consistency: medium. Liquid but not too runny. About right.

Taste: Tried strawverry/kiwi and Cherry/lime. Not bad, tart enough to be palatable.


"TORQ energy gels are formulated to a 2:1 Maltodextrin:Fructose blend for optimal carbohydrate release. We only use natural flavours, no colours or artificial sweeteners."

Calories: 115

Energy source: Maltodextrin/fructose 2:1. Two flavours (banoffee and forest fruits contain natural Guarana Caffeine - 89 mg. 

Consistency:  medium. Liquid but not too runny. About right.

Taste: Oh my! Tried Rhubarb & Custard, Rasberry ripple, Black cherry yoghurt, Strawberry yoghurt and Apple crumble. They taste A-MAZ-ING. The only gels you will look forward to eating?


"CLIF SHOT® Energy Gel provides quick energy to athletes while racing and training. With our new formula and flavours getting energised between breaths has never been easier."

Calories: 96

Energy source: Maltodextrin (although also listed dried cane syrup?)

Consistency: Thick. Like chewy.

Taste: Tried Razz and Lemon. Bit sickly.

High 5

"EnergyGel is smooth with a light consistency and a dash of real juice for a great taste. It’s not thick or overly sweet. Easy to open and swallow, each sachet contains 23g of carbohydrate. EnergyGel is award-winning and proven in many of the World’s toughest competitions."

Calories: 92

Energy source: Maltodextrin/Glucose

Consistency: Runny.

Taste: Mild, contains fruit juice and quite palatable. Tried Citrus blast and summer fruits

High 5 Iso Gel

"IsoGel has a consistency more like a sports drink than a gel. It is smooth and has a dash of real juice for a great taste. It’s not thick or overly sweet. Easy to open and swallow, each sachet contains 23g of carbohydrate. IsoGel is award-winning and proven in many of the World’s toughest competitions."

Calories: 92

Energy source: Maltodextrin/Glucose. There is a "Plus" option that contains 23mg caffeine.

Consistency: Watery. Gets everywhere.

Taste: Tried Berry. Very mild flavour.


As I stated above I couldn't really make a call in terms of energy delivery. I didn't find any of the special extras such as amino acids made any real difference and all gels contain roughly the same amount of calories.

Consistency wise Clif are too thick, almost chewy and the High 5 offerings, which taste ok are too runny which means its difficult to get the products into your mouth without spilling it everywhere. This was especially true of the Iso Gels which were so runny they ended up all over my race vest.

 For me, taste is everything. Gels as a rule tend to be hard to swallow, especially after many hours of running and so anything that remains and attractive proposition down the line is a winner in my book. For that reason Torq wins, hands down. I actually look forward to eating them! Given they also deliver a dual energy type and have two flavours boasting the highest level caffeine of all the products surveyed they really tick every box. Since buying this selection I've moved over exclusively to Torq products. 

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