Energy Gels or Energy Drinks?

02 May, 2020
In this article, we'll tell you which is the better option between energy gels or energy drinks. Do you use either of these for your workouts?
 

Energy gels and energy drinks are two good ways of managing your glucose levels when training. Both of them are a simple way to get a hit of energy which can be absorbed quickly.

These products are typically made using glucose, fructose, or maltodextrin and are able to quickly produce a glycemic spike. They’re very common in endurance sports such as cycling or sports which are divided into parts such as soccer or other team sports.

Energy gels

Energy gels are viscous substances with high sugar content. They’re generally absorbed quite quickly and don’t cause any stomach problems. However, too much of them can cause abdominal pain or a bloated feeling.

They’re easy to carry around and take quickly, and they come in a wide variety of flavors.

There are some brands that contain additives such as caffeine to increase the stimulating power of the gel. In some cases, they may contain other stimulants such as taurine, which can work in synergy with caffeine.

The positive thing about gels is that they have fast absorption and high bioavailability. After consuming one, the amount of glucose will rise and the caffeine will pass to the central nervous system in no time at all.

A cyclist taking an energy gel.
Image: 3nutritionpro.com
 

Energy drinks

These are water-based sugary drinks. They normally have a glucose concentration no higher than 6-8 percent to avoid an uncomfortable stomach during exercise. They usually contain glucose or maltodextrin instead of fructose which makes them easier to absorb.

The range of flavors is more limited than with gels, but the positive side is that they also help to keep you hydrated because of their water content. Furthermore, they normally contain added mineral salts or electrolytes to prevent muscle cramps.

However, they don’t normally contain stimulants, and those that do, contain more sugar and more caffeine, which isn’t recommended for everyone [1].

In the case of drinks containing these stimulants, you need to be responsible. An overdose of stimulants could be harmful instead of enhancing your performance. Furthermore, you definitely shouldn’t mix them with alcohol to avoid serious effects [2].

Gels or energy drinks: which to choose?

The answer depends on the activity and the conditions. If you’re taking part in an endurance sport in high temperatures and high humidity, you should consider energy drinks.

The supply of water is more important than caffeine, and you won’t need large amounts of sugar in short periods of time. Instead, you’ll want a slow and sustained sugar intake.

Gels are more geared towards shorter sports or team sports. They’re better suited for anyone who could benefit from the ergogenic properties of caffeine and who needs a large amount of sugar in a short period of time.

 

The best use of energy gels is for sports that combine aerobic and anaerobic efforts.

Be careful with different brands and choices

It’s really important to choose a brand that you trust and have tried in pre-competition training. Not everybody’s body responds in the same way to energy drinks or extra glucose.

A woman drinking an energy drink.

By trying products out during training, you can check whether a certain product causes you any stomach discomfort which may affect your performance.

Similarly, you should use approved brands with a quality seal that certifies the absence of doping substances. There have been cases in the past of drinks or gels containing ephedrine, which is a banned substance that would fail anti-doping tests and could even be dangerous to your health.

As a result, you shouldn’t opt for any products by unknown or uncertified ranks. It’s always a good idea to speak to a dietician or a specialist before using these products and read the manufacturer’s dosage recommendations.

Finally, remember that these products are for athletes. This means that sedentary people who don’t really take part in sports shouldn’t really be consuming them.

 
  1. Curran CP., Marczinski CA., Taurine, caffeine, and energy drinks: reviewing the risks to the adolescent brain. Birth Defects Res, 2017. 109 (20): 1640-1648.
  2. Grasser EK., Miles-Chan JL., Charriere N., Loonam CR., Dulloo AG., Montani JP., Energy drinks and their impact on the cardiovascular system: potential mechanisms. Adv Nutr, 2016. 7 (5): 950-60.