Introducing nutrition to your running practice is one of the most beneficial moves you can make. Energy gels are an outstandingly efficient source of mid-run carbs which will help you reach marathon lengths and beyond.
Because your glycogen stores are finite, there's no way to run for much longer than a couple of hours without 'bonking', which is a frankly hilarious term for 'hitting the wall', running out of energy completely. This isn't a problem if you're going for a casual 5k, but any ambitious runner is likely to try out some gels at some point.
There are dozens of options on the market, but only a handful that won't make you scrunch your eyes and shake your head when you tkae them. It's tough to make something so nutritionally concentrated taste good, but the very best energy gel brands managed to pull it off.
The best energy gels at a glance
Best in test – TORQ
Best Value – HIGH5
Best Natural Gels – Veloforte
Best Gels for a caffeine boost – Nutrition X Energel
We've spent the last few weekends destroying our calves on long demanding trail runs and eating gels as we went. This list contains the ones that we would pack for an ultra marathon. Effective, easy on the stomach, and most importantly, tasty.
Our list also contains gels with a variety of added extras. Beyond dense carbs, some gels include caffeine for an extra mental and physical boost, while others might contain electrolytes to help the body remain hydrated.
Check out the full advice at the bottom of this article to find out more about different types of energy gels for runners.
How we tested these energy gels
Thankfully, more than one member of the LFTO team loves a bit of trail running. We've spent this summer hitting the occasional half marathon and enjoying long runs on the weekend, gradually going through gels and narrowing it down to our favourites.
One of our biggest weekends of gel testing was at Love Trails trail running festival in Gower, Wales. Kate Milsom and Milo Wilson (hi there!) spent the weekend racking up mile after glycogen-sapping mile, and they sustained themselves with a huge pile of assorted gels and bars.
We not only tested these in practice, but we've also used them to recover some energy after a hard run, which gave us more time to consider the flavours and make a few notes. So, without further ado, here's the scoop on our 6 favourite gels for all your running needs.
The best energy gels for running in detail
Best in test
These slim and sleekly packaged gels top our list for their excellent and diverse flavours. Your
- Great range of flavours
- Narrow opening lets you avoid sugary teeth
- Available with or without caffeine
- Strong taste can take some getting used to
HIGH5 have taken a different approach than TORQ for their flavours, opting for a smaller range
- Natural flavourings
- Contains vitamin B6
- Available for great value offers
- Not the most carb efficient
Best natural gels
You have to commend Veloforte for their bold and unique innovations with energy gel flavourings.
- 100% Natural ingredients
- Flavouring isn't overly sweet
- Small and light packaging
- Not as many carbs as other choices
This is certainly the most caffeine forward gel in our list, coming in at a whopping 80mg. That's
- Provides a huge mental boost
- Extra water makes them quick and easy to drink
- Great flavour if you like cola
- If you don't like cola, you're toast
Best performance gel
Science in Sport are inarguably titans in the world of running and race nutrition. They are
- Isotonic formula doesn't require water
- Fast carbohydrate delivery
- Ideal for race day
- Not our favourite texture
- No caffeine or elecrolytes
Best tasting gels
GU Gels offer a range of flavours to satisfy all but the fussiest of palates. The gels are tasty
- Luxurious flavour choices
- Tiny pack size
- Contain amino acids for muscle recovery
- Far fewer carbs than other choices
What to look for in an energy gel
Carbohydrate Content: Check the carbohydrate content per serving. Most energy gels primarily provide quick energy through simple carbohydrates, but you can look for gels with a balanced mix of simple and complex carbs to sustain energy levels.
Electrolytes and Nutrients: Some gels include added electrolytes like sodium and potassium to help maintain hydration and prevent cramping. Consider gels with additional nutrients like amino acids or caffeine if they align with your specific energy needs – be sure to give caffeine gels a test run for your stomach before you use one to compete.
Taste: Taste preference is subjective. Experiment with different flavours to find one that you enjoy and can tolerate during runs. Most brands offer a variety of flavours, but they're usually within the same vein. So find a brand whose style you like, whether its sweet and fruity or straight condensed coffee.
Texture and Consistency: Look for gels with a texture that suits you. Some gels are more liquid, which makes them easier to take quickly, while others are thicker, which you might prefer in the mouth. Consider whether you prefer a gel that can be consumed without water or one that requires hydration to aid in swallowing.
Digestibility: Opt for gels that are easy on your stomach. Some runners may experience gastrointestinal discomfort with certain ingredients. Unfortunately, there's only one way to find out which gels give you grief...
Packaging and Portability: Convenient packaging is crucial during a run. Choose gels that are easy to open and consume without making a mess. Of course, compact gels are more efficient, but you'd be hard pressed to find a gratuitously large energy gel.
Energy Release Rate: Consider the rate at which the gel provides energy. Some gels offer a quick burst of energy, while others provide a more gradual release. Choose gels that align with your energy needs and the duration of your run.