The right endurance supplement can be the secret weapon you need to run those extra miles or finally hit that PB you’ve been aiming for.
Energy gels and Energy bars are especially effective for endurance activities like marathons, triathlons or hiking. Being that they’re convenient sources of energy that can easily be taken on the go. Although energy gels and bars appear similar on the surface, they’re both very different in their chemical makeup and the benefits they provide.
In this article we look at the science behind both of these energy boosting supplements and how they help give you more endurance. Here’s everything you need to know about energy gels and bars:
What Are Energy Gels?
Energy gels bridge the gap between food and liquid endurance supplements. These products have also become increasingly popular with athletes due to the fact they supply you with a convenient source of energy. When it comes to their chemical makeup, standard energy gel supplements contain simple carbohydrates along with added electrolytes and caffeine.
How Do Energy Gels Work?
From the moment an energy gel enters your mouth your body starts breaking it down. This is thanks to the enzyme “salivary amylase,” which initiates the breakdown of starch into sugars. From here the gel travels down into your digestive system.
Once in your digestive tract, the carbohydrate content of the gel is broken down into simple sugars (glucose) which can then be absorbed into your bloodstream. As your sugar levels rise, your body automatically releases the hormone insulin. This allows your cells to use the sugar in your bloodstream immediately for energy, or to store it as glycogen for use at a later stage. This process happens fairly quickly and you’ll typically feel the effects in as little as 15 minutes. It’s also a good idea to wash your energy gel down with water. This will aid with digestion and help your mouth feel less dry.
What Are Energy Bars?
Like energy gels, energy bars give you a concentrated source of energy designed to fuel your muscles before or during exercise. Their chemical makeup includes complex carbohydrates, as well as small doses of protein and caffeine.
How Do Energy Bars Work?
Energy bars follow the same absorption process as energy gels. Your body breaks down the carbs of the energy bar, turning them into sugars which can then be used as immediate energy, or stored for use later on. The big difference is that energy bars release energy much slower than gels or drinks, because they take longer for your body to break down. As a result energy bars are often better to eat before intense exercise rather than during.
Although they don’t process as fast as gels, they’re still a great way to keep your glycogen stores topped up prior to exercise or competition. They also have a long shelf life and are a dense source of carbohydrates.
Which Endurance Supplement Should You Choose?
The energy supplement you choose largely depends on what you’re doing, how long you’re doing it for and how big of a role convenience plays. If you can take breaks during your exercise (activities like hiking or skiing), then energy bars are a great choice, as your body has more time for the absorption process to occur.
Energy gels on the other hand, are more effective for non-stop events like marathons, cycling, or triathlons. These activities allow little time for breaks, therefore it’s far more beneficial to consume a fast absorbing energy source which can be taken on the go. In general it’s fine to use a combination of both bars and gels. Just be sure to drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and help avoid issues like stomach cramps.