For many years, my kayak trail snacks have consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, an apple or banana and a bottle energy water. This was great for all those riverside meals that included a stop. However, I soon found some of my trips were non-stop and I had to eat on the run.
That's when I became enticed by those little metallic lightning bolts of packaged energy gels, those super sugar jams to make all of us run faster, leap higher and paddle harder. We have seen them on display in the health aisle of grocery store. The packaging screams ENERGY with dazzling delicious and exotic flavors. Cherry Blaze, Chocolate Outrage, Vanilla Bean, Mandarin Orange and Salted Caramel. Wow! Sounds like my all my favorite ice creams. How can I resist?
They all feature convenient, easy-to-use squeeze packages—simply squeeze into mouth and follow with a bit of water. Just like the astronauts. Now I'm feeling pretty heroic. This kayak trip may not be to the moon, but were going eat like it is. Besides there is NASA like science behind these gels. Look at the ingredients. Words that I can't pronounce or even spell, listed in small print that is to hard to read. Energy, chocolate and endurance, just add water and go.
The gels are reliable, portable and convenient way of delivering carbohydrates to the body during intense exercise, said Dr James Morton, senior lecturer in exercise metabolism and nutrition at Liverpool John Moores University in an interview with The London Telegraph.
“The traditional approach was to feed carbs with fluids, but we now know now we can feed them in the form of gel and get the same results,” he says. “From a practical point of view, you don't have to carry round lots of fluid – carry the gel then use drinking stations when you need fluid.”
The gels are marketed to marathon runners and road bikers hence the term drinking station. But they are also good on hikes and paddles while carrying your own water. The gel packets fit into a pack or PFD pocket with ease. But, experts say they shouldn't stay in there long.
In reality, gels only make a difference if you're running, hiking, biking or paddling for a sufficiently long time. The process of digestion takes 45 minutes to an hour before the body can begin to use them as a fuel. A good rule is to down one before your hike or paddle and get that lift during the trip.
However, if you decided to consume the gel mid-trip your body will receive an instantaneous boost before gaining the real benefits once the sugar's of the gel have been processed in digestive system. Nutritionists say this occurs because the receptors in the mouth are linked directly back to the brain. Detecting carbohydrates, neural signals are sent telling your body it's receiving nutrients, and in turn allows you to push harder in the short term. Of course I get that from a Snickers candy bar, but try keeping that in your PFD on hot summer day.
To see if the gels would hold up on the water, I took a couple of the most popular brand along on some river outings. The Clif Shot from the makers of the Clif nutrition bar, is made from 90% organic ingredients had a sweet mellow taste. It was chocolate, so just seeing that gave me a fast-hit of energy. While the Stinger's gel made from a combination of pure honey is pretty sweet experience. GU gave a number of selections from chocolate to salted caramel. They were all a treat for me.
So all of them passed my taste and texture test with ease.
We all have different tastes. Some have caffeine, but many don't. Pick a brand and flavor that works for you. Just remember these are concentrated sport drinks. To get the full effect of the gel, make sure you drink it with water, while on the water.