Which Gel is Best for Runners?

IMG_3257Each long-distance athlete will have his or her own personal preference of the gel that works best when they need a boost of carbs and energy. Here’s a comparison of three of the more common ones.

By Henry Howard

Look around you at your next long-distance race. Runners come in all shapes, sizes and outfits. Runners who are tall. Runners who are small. Runners wearing bright hues. Runners wearing dark blues.

It’s like a Dr. Seuss collection of characters. And, oh, the places they’ll go.

Fuels on the Run

In order to get to the finish line, all runners — from newbies to elites — will require proper fueling. During races, I have seen runners take everything from beer to doughnuts to bacon. Tasty, yes. Proper fueling strategy, not so much.

If I had to guess the most common fuel, outside of water and sports drinks, it would be gels. For endurance athletes, fuels can be a lifesaver to get a boost when times are tough. On the other hand, they can quickly lead to GI distress.

Experts recommend testing fuels during long runs before race day. No one wants surprises on race day, especially surprises like the aforementioned GI distress.

When I started running long distances, I opted for Gu gels. Simply because they were everywhere. Race expos. My local running store. Running magazines. I tried the Gu gels and they seemed to work for me.

But as I learned more about running and fueling, I tried different options. Hammer Nutrition products work really well for me, and I have been pleased with the gels. I have also tried a sample pack of Boom! Energy Gels. I first learned of Boom! when the Indianapolis Monumental announced they would be giving out that brand of gels at the race later this year.

Not every runner, triathlete or other athlete will react the same way or prefer one of these gels over the others. For those of you new to gels or wanting to experiment, the table below gives a side-by-side comparison of the three brands I have tried.

I compared Gu and Hammer using their chocolate version. Boom! does not offer a chocolate option, so I used the Apple Cinnamon for comparison.

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Overview of Three Gels for Runners

Gu: The most recognizable brand of the three has the most options — and ingredients. While, I started with Gu gels, I don’t think I will be going back. While I haven’t experienced serious GI distress with Gu gels, I do find that the others are easier on my stomach. But if you don’t have the same issues, there are lots of flavors that would appeal to almost anyone.

Hammer: This company’s gels are similar to its other offerings, geared for athletes based on testing and feedback from other athletes. I do like the taste and how the amount of sodium is less than the other two. I have tried both the chocolate and apple cinnamon flavors and both have worked just fine for me. Hammer touts these as made with wholesome ingredients. Two of the options — espresso and tropical — contain caffeine. All of the flavors are vegan-certified except for nocciola.

Boom!: These gels, according to the company, are made with real fruit concentrates and purees with no added sugars or artificial flavors. To me, these gels taste slightly better and have a little more liquid consistency than the others. Very easy to digest and take on the run — but you still need to follow the gel with water or another drink.

In addition to the Monumental race, Boom! is the official sponsor of other major races such as the Pittsburgh Marathon and Cleveland Marathon. It is worth noting here that runners should check the website for upcoming races to learn which — if any — gels are being handed out at aid stations. If it’s a brand that does not work for you, plan on bringing your own — or doing without.

In conclusion, my go-to gels will be Hammer and Boom! going forward. For me, there is plenty to like about both. During an upcoming marathon, I will bring Hammer gels along with me. When I am in training for the Indianapolis Monumental later this year, I will bring Boom! with me on my training runs.

One Response to Which Gel is Best for Runners?

  1. Greg Jesensky May 18, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    Thanks for this review!

    One brand I tried when I first started long runs was Stinger. It is made with honey. I figured it would be easiest on on my GI. It wasn’t. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me as I got an instant upset stomach after consuming. I switched to GU then to GU Roctaine and found that these are more tolerable.

    I will pick up some Hammer and Boom to try though – maybe these will be even better for me.

    ~ Run with joy!

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