Who Needs GU??

In my ongoing efforts to incorporate a more natural diet into my life, I continue to find new ways to make healthy (and much cheaper) alternatives to the processed energy drinks, gels that are most commonly used in the world of endurance sports.

Any individual who has ran, biked, swam (or all three) for any long periodes of time (60 minutes or more), know exactly what I am talking about when I use the term ENERGY GELS. They are often referred to as GU’s (which is just a brand name of a particular gel), Gels, shots, etc.

These days, there are countless brands, flavors, consistencies and types of “energy gels”. The claim being that these said gels will provide the athlete with energy, in the form of some carbohydrate sugar (fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc, etc). I won’t go into great detail on “how” or “why” or “if” these gels work (I did include a link below for those interested though).

Essentially, it is a proven and well known fact that as an athlete exercises (particularly for long periods of time), they burn through their energy sources (fats, carbohydrates, proteins). Depending on the intensity of exercise, one will be either more fat or more carbohydrates. Studies show that athlets can teach their bodies to burn fat more effeciently, but for most types of excersise, carbohydrates are the primary energy source.

Another concern during exercise is that an athlete will lose their electrolyte stores (potassium, magnesium, sodium, etc).

This is where energy gels and sports drinks come into play. As an athlete performs his/her sport, they begin to lose their fuel sources and their electrolytes (among other vitamins and minerals). After a certain amount of time (different for everyone), the athlete’s performance will begin to degrade if they do not replace what is lost through the demands of sport.

In endurance jargon, we call this “hitting the wall”. This is where an athlete has depleted their glycogen, depleted their electrolytes and or both. This typically can result in severe cramping, total exhaustion, dizziness and or sometimes total loss of control of the body.

So how can one prevent hitting the wall? Well, there is no definitive answer to this question really. Some runners (whether through trial and error, genetics or learned technique) can burn fat as a fuel more efficently than they do carbohydrates (fat stores are much more abundant than glycogen stores).

If one can prevent, or at least minimize the amount of fuel that is lost, the greater the chances are they can maintain performance over the length of time they are hoping to achieve.

So, what about those energy gels? Now I will not sit here and tell you that I know how effective energy gels are or how well they work or don’t work for each individual. I will however tell you that I have had some fairly decent success in using them (be it mental or physical). Upon taking a gel during a race (marathon), I have noticed a brief spike (usually 15-30 minutes) in energy levels. With that said, for the past two marathons I have completed (Boston and Shamrock), I did not use any store bought, processed gels or sports drinks. For sometime now, I have been tinkering with my own sports drinks and energy gels. For the most part, I have seen the same results by using both.

So why not just use what is convenient (store bought)? For me, the answer is two fold. ONE, is of a health concern. Majority of store bought gels (with a few exceptions) have a gelling agent in them that is not easily broken down by the body (it also slows the absorbption rate of the sugars within the gels). There is also many other “artifical flavors” added to these gels. Also, these gels typically have very very small amounts of your essential electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, etc). For a “salty sweater” or heavy sweater like myself, the gels are not likely to replenish the amount of electrolytes that are lost through the sweating process (in the past, this has caused severed cramps and fatigue for me). Here is a link that touches a little more on electrolyte loss for a “salty sweater”. http://www.training-conditioning.com/2007/08/salt_in_their_sweat.html

TWO, energy gels are rather expensive. Even if you get them on discount, they typically run from $1.50 and up. So, on a long training run, or during a marathon, the typical runner might take a gel every 15-45 minutes. At that consumption rate, you are looking at between 3-10 gels depending on perceived needs. That translates to a minimum of about $4.50-$15.00 per training run or race.

So, as I have continued to experiment with various formulas and recipes, I feel that this formula is a pretty good base to work with and from.

I have chosen the three primary ingriedents (chia seeds, dried apricot, dried mango) for several reasons.

1.) These three ingriedients contain large amounts of natural electrolytes. Dried apricots per gram contain more potassium than any other fruit. Chia seeds are loaded with good fats, calcium and many other vitamins and minerals http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3061/2.

2.) These three ingreidients absorb liquid very well and once they have absorbed the liquid (water or cocunut juice in this case), this adds to the hydration factor. This also helps to create a more “gel like” consistency.

3.) The taste! These three ingredients seem to provide a very nice taste combination (sweet and tarty).

Okay, so what’s with the OTHER ingridients? Well, these are other dry forms of electrolytes. Electryolytes can be found in many natural and or processed products. All of these ingridients are OPTIONAL. Based on your diet and or possible deficiencies in the various electrolytes, you can add and or subtract to ensure you are consuming sufficient amounts of each.

  • The MAGNESIUM PLUS blend contains 3/4 of your DV% of magnesium per scoop. This blend is high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, B12 and Zinc.
  • The PALM ISLAND black volcanic salt is used for added sodium supplementation. There is also many other minerals contained within the salt. You can also substitute Sodium Bicarbonate (plain old baking soda) as an alternative sodium source (also another aide in balancing PH levels in the blood).
  • CREAM OF TARTAR – Also known as Tartaric Acid (very high in potassium and also helps to balance PH levels in the blood).
  • Taurine – Just read up on this ingridient, there is far too much information for me to go into great detail here.

Okay, so now on with the recipe and the process of creation!

FIRST – Take the dried mango (4-6 slices), apricots (6-8 pieces) and chia seeds (2-4 teaspoons). Add all three ingridents to 8 ounces of water or coconut juice. Let this sit for 30-45 minutes, until the mango, apricot and chia have started to absorb the liquid.

SECOND – Throw all above ingridients into a blender and puree until desired consistency. Add either more water or more mango, apricot, chia until you have reached the desired consistency.

THIRD (optional) – Add 1/8 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 scoop of Magnesuim Plus, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, 2000mg of Taurine and blend thoroughly into mix.

Once you have reached the desired consitency of mixture, pour into your running flask or handheld bottle. The above recipe yields about 16 ounces of gel.

Keep in mind, this is just a base formula to go by. You can change up the frutis to include figs, cherries, cranberries, etc. You could also add your own sources of caffeine (powdered form, ground coffee, tea extracts, dark chocalate, etc.). If you would prefer more sugars/carbs, you could add honey, agave nectar, cane sugar, brown rice syrup, etc. The list of ingredients are limitless..Just play around and expermine until you find what is best for you.

Hope you enjoy! Below are some additional links with more information on some of ingridients and other topics discussed in this post.