The body uses glycogen as it’s primary fuel source during exercise. Compared to proteins and fats, carbohydrates are broken down most easily by the stomach, and should therefore be the predominant (or only) fuel consumed during exercise. The type, intensity and duration of exercise, in addition to your own metabolism and other factors will determine what fuel types are most appropriate.
Energy gels are a convenient and space-efficient way to carry fuel with you during training or events, and are a great option for a vast majority of individuals during exercise from 1hr to multi-day events. They are readily absorbed by the body, easy to carry and easy to consume on the go, even during high-intensity exercise. Depending on the specific carbohydrates they contain, gels will provide either a short burst or more sustained energy – or a combination.
Energy gels pack a punch – offering approximately 20-25g of carbohydrates and a small amount of electrolytes per gel. Some gels (eg. GU Roctane) also offer additional protein fuel by means of amino acids. Protein is intended for longer duration events or training for increased endurance. Similarly the amount of caffeine contained in different gels can vary significantly, and range from 0mg to 80mg. Research has shown that caffeine increases performance capabilities. However, everyone responds differently (and not everyone in a positive way), so keep this in mind when trialing products containing caffeine.
Those training for longer events will often use other energy fuels in addition to gels, to add variety, with popular choices including energy bars and bananas. Flavour fatigue is another issue for some athletes, so thankfully energy gels are available in an endless range of flavours. Particularly for longer duration exercise, it can be beneficial to use a variety of flavours to increase palatability. As a rough guideline, it is recommended to take 1 gel prior to commencing exercise, and then every 30-45min during exercise. These recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt, because everyone responds differently to energy intake during exercise. You will need to consider your intake of other fuel sources including electrolytes, and practice this to find a strategy that suits you.
Pushys offers fantastic pricing on a great range of nutrition brands, including numerous different energy gels. If you’ve never used energy gels before, it’s definitely worth trying a variety of options during your training to find those that provide the best fuel for you, and support your exercise and nutritional goals.
- By Emily Donker - Pushys sponsored athlete
SIS Energy Gels
Preparing for a Marathon event involves a lot of training but one of the most important things us amateurs overlook is on the bike nutrition. Thus the important need for products such as gels on riders exceeding 2 hours. Of late I have decided to try the Science In Sport or SIS range of gels. These SIS gels are much like most gels which contain a concoction of claimed scientific researched ingredients. I won’t go into the ingredients as I can’t technically qualify pros or cons. To me the bottom line as a cyclist is the cost, value, ease of use and performance of the product.
The SIS gels come in 14 different flavours. There is one for everyone such as Apple, Apple and Blackcurrant, Berry, Blackcurrant, Blueberry, Chocolate, Cola, Double Espresso, Lemon and Lime, Lemon and Mint, Orange, Raspberry, Red Berry and finally Tropical. Each gel is 60ml in size containing 22 grams of Carbohydrates and has a isotonic formula with no real need for water in an easy open sachet.
I have used the Lemon and Lime as wall as the Blackcurrant flavours. The flavouring is not too strong and is the least thick of the gels i have ever tried. This much be due to the isotonic formula not requiring additional water to digest. Normally when taking gels it feels like chewing on a thick gooey honey textured product and water is required to wash down which is not required for the SIS range of gels. As in keeping energy stores up most athletes will be required to consume 3 per hour but with a 3 plus hour race, taking in excess of 10 gels will have to be experimented by the individual as sometimes riders experience stomach issues. I personally use gels to compliment my nutritional program but I do know riders that exist on gels alone.
To conclude in the moment of the race these gels are the easiest to digest supplying our both with a quick hit of Carbs which are easily opened. I do recommend this product.
- By Mark Brockwell - Pushys sponsored rider
Fueling your Long Ride
Getting your nutrition and hydration strategy is vital and can make a huge difference to your performance and enjoyment levels during both training and racing. Fueling long sessions is often the most difficult. You’re out training for such a long time, often without access to proper foods – limited by what you can carry in your pockets.
Fueling your body with the necessary fluids and nutrients is essential to not only ensure that you survive your training session or race without bonking, but it will mean you can recover more effectively and get back on the road to do it all again. Hydrating properly isn’t just about drinking water. Drinking plenty of electrolytes in addition to water will ensure that your body’s stores of essential minerals like sodium and magnesium are maintained and thus allow you to hydrate more effectively because they encourage the uptake of fluids into the bloodstream and cells. Excess of these minerals will be excreted, so you can’t overdo it. However, you can get into trouble from over-hydrating if you limit yourself to water. Without the necessary sodium and magnesium you gain from drinking electrolytes, your body’s fluid balance within the cells will become diluted and in severe cases your body’s functioning – both muscle and vital organs can become compromised.
Electrolyte replacement drinks are commonly available in tablet form, which is great for convenience. You can take numerous tablets with you, and simply drop them into fresh water when you fill up. This eliminates the need to take 5 bottles with you on your ride. Some electrolyte drinks are purely that – an electrolyte replacement. Other options will also include a source of energy.
Fueling your ride is also essential to ensure you have sufficient energy and can perform at your best for the entire session or race. Eating some relatively simple carbohydrates beforehand can help, particularly if you’re riding early after fasting overnight. Some people really struggle to take on food during exercise. In such cases, fueling with electrolyte drink containing energy can be beneficial, but usually isn’t enough. Energy gels, bars and chews are usually quite easily digested. They’ve been manufactured to contain energy sources that are essentially already broken down, such that they’re more quickly absorbed and taken up by the body. They’re also designed specifically for the purpose of being eaten on the go. They’re relatively small and easy to open such that you can take on fuel without disrupting your ride. Those with cast iron stomachs can eat almost anything, and some people choose to eat more ‘normal’ food such as bananas and sandwiches. These options generally provide more energy, but also take longer to digest.
Choosing your own hydration and nutrition strategy can be difficult –everyone is different with regard to what they like to eat/drink and what their body can tolerate. If you’re just progressing to more endurance training/events, or you’ve struggled with your strategy for a long time, it’s best to purchase a heap of different products so that you can trial them and find out what works for you.
Regardless of how you choose to fuel your ride, you should do a rough calculation of your expected energy expenditure, or the time you’ll be out on the road, and ensure you take enough with you. Bonking is not a pleasant experience!
- By Emily Donker - Pushys sponsored rider
5+ tips to make you a faster rider
- Breakfast Always eat before starting your morning training. Sleeping depletes the liver’s store of glycogen, which is the major store of carbohydrate for blood sugar regulation. When this is reduced, your blood sugar level drops and fatigue sets in, making concentration difficult – particularly disadvantageous if you’re using your training session to learn a new technique. Look for foods high in carbohydrate, low in protein and low in fat and, so you don’t compromise on your sleep, choose foods you can eat on the go such as a jam sandwich or sports bar.
- Bioflavonoids Bioflavonoids are naturally occurring chemicals found in foods, which have been shown to protect against heart disease and high blood pressure, and regulate blood sugar levels. However, for already healthy athletes the big benefit may be that they also stimulate the production of mitochondria in the muscle. Mitochondria are the engine rooms of muscle cells, and the more you have, the bigger the engine. Bioflavonoids are found in fruit, veg and salad, so rather than having five portions a day, you’ll need to eat double that.
- Prawns Prawns are a fantastic source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. They’re also an excellent food source of the amino acid beta alanine, which has a number of roles in the body. It’s a fuel for the creation of a dipeptide called carnosine, which is a potent antioxidant and works in the muscle to increase the ability of the body to cope with the acid produced by exercise. Beta alanine can also increase your ventilatory threshold and improve sprint performance.
- Protein Protein improves your post-ride recovery – try a yoghurt after a short ride or a milkshake or carbohydrate-and-protein recovery drink after a longer effort. However, don't overdo it – anyone eating a balanced diet and taking in enough calories is already likely to be consuming enough protein. (Cyclists need just 1.2-1.4g of protein per kilo of bodyweight per day.) There's also evidence that too much protein can have an appetite-suppressing effect, which may prevent you eating enough carbohydrate to keep your glycogen levels topped up.
- Milk If there is such thing as a superfood it’s got to be milk. It’s an amazing source of protein, contains good carbohydrate and provides a range of vitamins and minerals. When you’re training hard, drink one to two pints a day. This sounds a lot, but you’ll feel the difference when you recover quicker and get through tough training blocks.
During a training ride: What do I have?
There are many pre-drink and post-drink mixes on the market along with many other bars, powders and gels that are said to help an athlete during training or in events. It is truly a trial and error operation. Some people are known to benefit from having certain drinks, gels and bars while others couldn’t bare to think about consuming it. In the end it’s about personal taste and what we believe benefits us during training or at events.
Ricky: I usually eat a high carbohydrate “snack” (such as a banana) while getting ready before my ride, run or swim. During training rides and at races I bring gels and pre-mixed rehydration drinks with me. When in races your adrenalin is pumping, but when it comes to the long distance events fatigue likes to kick in and this is when I whip out my gels to help keep me going. These are great to have on a ride not only because of their size but because of it’s ability to help me along. It may all be mental… but this mind thinks it helps. No doubt everyone should have water with them training or not training! With mixed rehydration drinks…it has just been a trial and error situation to find what flavour I like the most. I went through quite a few options to get to what I thought was the nicest tasting option, I have very fussy taste buds! Get trialling and I am sure you will be happily surprised at how they can help you during training and in events.
Take Advantage of the Rehydration Stations at events
Drink stations are set up along the course of every endurance race for your benefit; nevertheless, there is a bit of skill involved in grabbing a cup and drinking while on the run. Here are a couple of tips to help you get the most out of the rehydration stations:
- Practice during training – Drinking on the run can be harder than you realise, especially if you don’t plan on slowing down. Practice grabbing a cup from a table (or volunteer) and manoeuvring it to your mouth for a drink without slowing down, allowing you to maintain a competitive pace without compromising hydration.
- Slow down – Slow down, to a walk if necessary, to make sure you are able to have a proper drink, rather than just a sip. Losing a couple of seconds to achieve a sufficient drink break is preferable to becoming dehydrated.
- Take a drink at every station – Even if you do not feel thirsty it is important to have a drink at every station, as the effects of dehydration can begin to set in before thirst appears, significantly affecting your performance.