The Advantages and Drawbacks of Using Sports Packs for Exercise
Sports energy gels have become a popular kind of nutrition for endurance athletes over the past couple of decades. Gels provide a concentrated source of glucose that can be easily consumed while running. The thick, syrupy consistency allows the nutrients to pass through the stomach and be digested quickly. Competitors use gels as a way to replenish glycogen stores and avoid hitting “the wall” during competitions. Here is an overview of how sports gels work and who may benefit from using them.
Sports gels contain between 20-40 grams of carbohydrates per packet, typically in the form of maltodextrin. Some gels use fructose as well. The high carb concentration provides a rapid source of energy to taxed muscles. Most gels have a consistency like syrup. This enables the nutrients to pass through the stomach faster than solids. A serving of gel nourishes like a sports drink, but in a more portable form.
In addition to carbs, most gels also contain important electrolytes like sodium and potassium. These minerals are lost in sweat during intense exercise. Replenishing electrolytes helps maintain fluid levels in the body and reduce painful muscle cramps. The sodium also helps with absorption of the sugars. Electrolyte content varies between products, so athletes should compare nutrition labels. Stimulants is also commonly added to gels for an extra boost of energy.
When to Use Sports Gels
Endurance athletes mainly utilize gels during prolonged training or events lasting 60 minutes or more. Popular uses include:
- Marathon or half marathon races
- Century or half century bike rides
- Triathlon competitions
- Soccer, hockey, lacrosse games
- Hiking or backpacking excursions
Gels provide rapid nutrition for the carb burning phase of activity. Most athletes consume one gel packet every 30-45 minutes of sustained strenuous exercise. Proper timing of gel intake helps sustain blood sugar levels. Overconsumption may cause stomach upset. Moderate use avoids energy crashes.
Advantages of Gels
Sports gels offer several advantages over other forms of nutrition like energy bars, chews and sports drinks. Benefits include:
- Portability – Gel pouches are lightweight and easy to transport while running. Minimal packaging also produces less waste.
- Rapid absorption – The thick liquid consistency gets absorbed quickly relative to bars. Provides a fast energy boost.
- Precise dosing – With each pouch containing one serving, gels offer precise to manage consumption while exercising. Hard to over-consume.
- Variety – Gels come in a wide selection of flavors like fruit, chocolate, vanilla and more. Athletes can choose pleasing tastes.
- Caffeine options – Many gels contain stimulants for an extra kick. Provides a physical and mental edge.
While generally safe and effective when to take sports hydration gels used correctly, sports gels do come with some potential disadvantages including:
- Expensive – Gels cost noticeably more than sports drinks per serving. The costs can add up over many uses.
- GI distress – Consuming too many gels can cause cramps due to the high carbohydrate load. Careful dosing is key.
- Sugar content – The carb concentration leads to a high glycemic index. Individuals need to monitor blood sugar when using gels.
- Dental health – The sugary consistency can harm tooth enamel over time. Proper oral hygiene is recommended after use.
- Limited calories – Gels only provide carbs. Athletes also need protein and fat for complete sports nutrition.
- Not thirst quenching – Gels hydrate via sugars and electrolytes but do not quench thirst like water or sports drinks.
While not necessarily recommended for everyday use, sports gels can provide a helpful source of mid-activity fuel for endurance athletes. Proper utilization can help sustain energy levels and stamina during prolonged training and events. Athletes should test different brands and flavors during training to determine which gels work best for their needs.