Comparing Popular Running Gels, aka I tried a bunch of gels so you don’t have to, with Coach Erin Hunt.
With so many nutrition products on the market, writing your own perfect race day menu can be a big task. While you should be learning by trial and error, some runners have very specific tastes. If you are a person who regularly says “it’s a consistency thing” or “I just don’t do (fill in the blank) flavor”, this article should help you narrow down your nutrition choices.
While trying to stay as unbiased as possible, I am reviewing three categories for each product. Flavor options, consistency, and key differences in nutrient profile from other brands. We will assume that each gel is made with endurance events in mind, but some brands offer specific products for different types of efforts.
Brands compared include: GU, Maurten, Muir, Spring Energy, Clif, Honey Stinger, Endurance Tap, and Green Moose Fuel.
Flavor Options: GU has the most flavor options on the market. Magda Boulet and her team have been working hard to perfect the art of flavor science. Most of the flavors are sweet; masking the flavor of simple sugars with a savory taste is hard to do. However, they do have a bitter category that includes Hops, Gingerade, and more.
Consistency: GU has a medium thick consistency. It comes out of the package easily, but you do need some water to help wash it down. GU recommends hydrating when consuming their products.
Differentials: GU offers two types of gels: Original and Roctane. Roctane gels have more electrolytes and amino acids, designed for longer, tougher, or hotter events. They also offer a variety of caffeinated products in both original and roctane.
Flavor Options: None, really. They sell one gel, called The GEL. It doesn’t really taste like much of anything, which is kind of the point. They don’t add any extra ingredients, just the 6 required to get you from point A to point B.
Consistency: Before I tried this, many people described it to me as “crushed Jello”. I didn’t understand that until I tried it, but it’s completely accurate. Imagine mashing up your bowl of Jello with a fork and then eating it. That’s Maurten!
Differentials: Maurten’s claim to fame is their hydrogel technology which is also used in their drink mixes. The combination of ingredients is designed to be an optimum mixture to transport carbohydrates into the body during movement. According to them, this cuts down on gastrointestinal issues while eliminating added colors, preservatives and flavors that could hinder performance.
Flavor Options: Muir gets creative with their flavors, from fruity to thanksgiving dinner (sweet potato oregano). They do use molasses as a form of carbohydrate in all of their products, so all flavors have a thick molasses overtone. It can be polarizing, so I would try this one at home for the first time rather than halfway through your long run.
Consistency: Molasses level thickness. You might have to knead the package a little bit on a colder day.
Differentials: Muir uses organic, real food ingredients in all of their products. They also keep the products thick for a reason. When you chew, it sends signals to your digestive system to get ready for some food. The viscosity forces your mouth to start moving, and therefore primes your body for absorption. They also provide fast and slow burning products. The slow burning gels have more fat and protein in them from organic nut butters. These are great on a long effort or incorporated into your pre-run breakfast.
Flavor Options: Spring has ten different flavors. Many of them are partnered with their athletes and a pun from that person’s name is often included in the flavor name. It’s fun to see if you have the same taste as your favorite athlete!
Consistency: Spring has more of a baby food consistency. If you have a flavor that includes berries, you’ll occasionally taste some seeds. It’s similar to a fruit smoothie you would make at home but with less liquid.
Differentials: Spring is also real food based. They have a couple of differentiating products, including a hydration gel that is more focused on electrolyte consumption than calorie intake. They also have one high calorie gel with hemp oil, and a meal replacement oatmeal gel with 300 calories. For breakfast on the go made for athletes, spring is the place to look.
Flavor Options: Clif has 9 flavors, again mostly sweet. They do have a Boston cream pie product inspired by the Boston marathon.
Consistency: Clif is a little bit thicker than GU. This one also might require a little bit of kneading on a cold morning.
Differentials: Clif’s gel department doesn’t have any products that make it super different from other brands on the market. However, because they are a bigger company, I often see them at race aid stations. I would add them on your list to try just in case you run out of your own stash during a marathon and end up grabbing one. If you are a fan of caffeine, pick up some of the double espresso. They’re great to have in your bag when you aren’t sure if you’ll have access to a cup of coffee before a run.
Flavor Options: A few fruity and one chocolate flavor. As the name implies, honey stinger uses honey as a sweetener. Expect a honey overtone to any flavor you pick. They also have a simple original honey flavor, which you don’t see much of in other brands.
Consistency: Like honey!
Differentials: Honey stinger sells both organic and non-organic products. Their story came more from an ingredient angle, as the brand was started by beekeepers. They also branch outside of endurance events, including a wrestler on their list of sponsored athletes.
Flavor Options: Endurance tap sticks with what they know, which is maple syrup. They have a caffeinated and non-caffeinated option.
Consistency: The consistency is like a thin maple syrup.
Differentials: Again, they just stick with what they know and do it well. If you like familiar tastes while running, this gel has no surprises. It’s delicious, reminds you of the pancakes you’ll eat after the run, and has the extra electrolytes you need.
Flavor Options: This is a new brand taking off in my town of Asheville, North Carolina. Green Moose makes avocado based gel. Right now they offer one flavor, chocolate.
Consistency: An avocado based chocolate mousse.
Differentials: Green Moose has a short shelf life, so they recommend keeping the product frozen until use. In the Asheville area, they will hand deliver. At local retailers, they provide a small freezer so your gels are fresh when you buy them. On a hot day, you can let it defrost in your pack and have a cold snack a few miles into the run. They are also fat based, so athletes who are experimenting with keto or carbohydrate cycling can easily incorporate them into their diet.