From different sports drinks, capsules, and chews to energy bars and gels, many products on the market can help you maintain your energy levels during physical activity. But energy gels are probably one of the most efficient forms of nutrition to fuel your body when you’re cycling. So you may wonder, how often should you take them?
You should take energy gels every 45-60 minutes of cycling. But the amount may vary depending on your metabolism, body fluids, nutrition intake before the start, and the ride intensity and duration. Some experts suggest using one sachet every 30-45 minutes for intense and prolonged rides.
Keep reading the rest of this article as we tell you more about energy bars, how they work, and the best time to use them. We’ll take a closer look at energy bars and help you take the most advantage of them.
What Are Energy Gels?
Energy Gels are carbohydrates in their simplest form, which quickly get absorbed by the body, leading to an immediate energy boost. They provide the required energy for endurance event athletes and help with their muscle recovery.
These sachets may also contain other ingredients like electrolytes, caffeine, and flavors.
Electrolytes are essential for muscle function, body hydration, regulating blood acidity, and recovery of damaged tissue. In long rides, especially in hot weather, you’ll lose minerals through sweating and need to replace them with electrolytes intake.
Most caffeine energy gels have about 25 mg (0.025 g) of caffeine, equating to a half-cup regular coffee. The substance widens the vessels and increases the bloodstream to muscles, resulting in an energy boost on the go. It also helps alertness and reduces muscle pain.
Energy gels also come in various flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, blackberry, caramel, strawberry, etc. Since energy gels are mainly carbohydrates, it’s no surprise that they taste overly sweet, which may make some people feel sick.
How Do Energy Gels Work?
Our body has two primary sources of energy: fat and carbohydrates. Although fat is a rich energy source, it burns very slowly, meaning it can’t provide usable energy while pedaling.
So, the body’s primary resource for supplying energy during an activity is carbohydrates stored in our muscles. The problem is that you can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates in muscles in the form of glycogen.
Cells burn glucose (the simple form of carbohydrates) to produce body fuel, and that’s why energy gels are so efficient. They’re highly concentrated sources of glucose that efficiently replenish blood sugar levels and provide more fuel for cells to burn—and they do it all in a blink of an eye.
Each energy gel usually contains about 20-25g (0.02-0.025 kg)of carbohydrate, first absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose and then by active muscles and organs. This process happens fast and takes about 10-15 minutes.
Then this question arises: how long do they last? You can’t say for sure because everyone is different. However, 20-30g of carbs will sustain a 70kg (154.32 lbs) athlete at race pace for 20-30 minutes,” says Nigel Mitchell, head of nutrition at Cannondale-Drapac, in an interview with Cyclist Newsletter.
Who Should Use Energy Gels?
As the name suggests, energy gels are here to provide energy, but not everyone needs to take them. With proper food and nutrition intake, you have the required energy for 60-90 minutes of exercise.
However, those who work out strenuously for more than 60-90 minutes can benefit from energy gels, primarily runners, swimmers, cyclists, triathletes, etc.
Energy gels are also suitable for athletes who need to carry around their nutrition. That’s why it’s mostly popular among runners, cyclists, hikers, etc.
Nevertheless, remember not to consume too much gel as it can result in a sad stomach. One sachet is usually enough for an hour of extra training.
When Is the Best Time To Take Energy Gels?
Although some prefer to take an energy gel just before or at the onset of their ride, experts suggest using them strategically. At the beginning a ride, you’re probably fueled for about 90 minutes, burning the glycogen stored in your muscles.
You have to listen to your body. It takes a bit of trial and error to know your body’s capacity. But don’t wait too long, and before you start feeling hungry, rip open one sachet and drink plenty of water.
A fundamental rule in taking energy gels is to use them in your training sessions. So, on the big race, you know how often your body needs it. Besides, your stomach adapts itself to using these supplements.
How Often Should You Take Energy Gels?
While you’re pedaling, the bloodstream flows towards your active muscles, and therefore digestion slows down. So, it’s crucial to know how often you need to take energy gels.
Generally, professionals recommend using energy gels about 45-60 minutes after the race or workout starts and repeating this every 45-60 minutes. This would be roughly the equivalent of every 6-7 miles (9.65-11.26 km) of cycling.
Also, try to alternate between caffeine and non-caffeine energy gels to avoid taking too much caffeine.
However, not all people use up energy at the same speed, and you have to consider the factors that affect your energy burn-up level.
The required energy varies from person to person, and it increases with intensity.
If you train with high intensity, your stored glycogen burns faster, and your energy level drops rapidly. But if your exercise isn’t that intensive, you can endure for a more extended period with the muscle-stored fuel.
Going on a long ride for more than 60-90 minutes means you’re going to lose all the body fuel and need to replenish it with easily absorbed carbs like those found in energy gels.
On shorter rides, your body-stored energy would probably be enough. A typical but decent meal that provides you about 1500-2000 calories is almost adequate.
Carbs burn at different paces in each individual. Some digest and burn it fast, while others require more time to use it. Finding your body metabolism speed is a crucial factor in timing your energy gel intakes.
As Will Newton, cycling coach, puts it, “people metabolize sugar in different ways, so you’re best off experimenting to find out when you need to take it.”
Drinking water is another critical factor in using energy gels. You need to drink plenty of water after consuming each sachet to help your stomach digest it faster and easier.
Energy gels get absorbed in the small intestine and through osmosis. So, if you don’t receive enough water, you may get dehydrated, and therefore you won’t fully and immediately benefit from the gel.
Each energy gel sachet needs about 14 ounces (0.41 L) of water to dilute and enter your cellular system. If you’ve had enough water before starting the workout, there’ll be 20-30 ounces (0.59-0.88 L) of water in your digestive tract that your body can use for gel digestion.
But if you can’t compensate for this lost water during the ride, you’ll surely get into trouble, and your performance would suffer as a result.
One exception to this is Isotonic gels, which aren’t as thick as typical gels but provide less energy.
Experts say there’s no need to take energy gels before starting a race or training session unless it’s in the evening.
If you eat a good breakfast and hydrate properly in the morning, you’ll have up to 2000 calories in the form of glycogen stored in the body. With a decent warm-up, the body starts releasing this stored glycogen.
However, if you want to pedal in the evening, your last intake has probably been lunch, and now your stomach is empty. So, it’s a good idea to use a sachet 15 minutes before getting started.
Pros and Cons of Energy Gels
Every supplement nutrition can have its own benefits and drawbacks. Here, we point to some of them.
- They contain other ingredients like electrolytes, helping in restoring its lost balance due to sweating.
- Your energy boosts quickly (within up to 15 minutes).
- They contain caffeine, enhancing energy and increasing concentration.
- They’re easy to open and take while cycling.
- You can easily carry them in a jersey’s pocket.
- With easy absorption capabilities, these pills immediately provide energy.
- If not taken with enough water, it may lead to dehydration and cramps.
- Some of them don’t taste good.
- Buying some energy gels costs more than sports drinks.
- It’s sticky and can become a mess if not appropriately opened or spilled.
Energy gels are efficient in boosting your energy level and also easy to use while pedaling.
Although the exact amount of gel each person needs during a race or training session varies, one sachet per 45-60 minutes of pedaling is the optimal recommendation for energy sustaining.
You can also use other energy sources like energy bars, bananas, sports drinks, and sports chews, along with energy gels.
While using energy supplements is convenient on the ride, remember not to rely solely on them to replace real food.