Analysis of 217 Energy Gels
Updated: Feb 23
This first blog post crunches the numbers on the Energy Gel Table to identify the typical nutritional profile of gels. As at mid-Jan 2020, the table had 217 energy gel products from 65 different brands.
Note, a good proportion of gel products from the same brand only differ in flavour. They comprise substantially the same presence and dosage of active ingredients, not varying (materially) in: sachet size, calories, primary carbohydrate source, caffeine, electrolytes, amino acids and vitamins.
To minimise duplication and noise in the table, we collapse homogeneous gels into the same row, marking in "column C" how many flavours the product comes in. Hence, all 217 gels are discreetly different from each other. Though, they represent a much larger universe of available gel lines, perhaps closer to 500-700.
The median* gel size is 37g, average of 42g.
The typical range, where two-thirds of all gels fall into (roughly 1 standard deviation in statistical terms), is 30-60g.
* When all gels are lined up from smallest to largest, the Median is the middle number, or 109th of 217 gels.
The median gel has 100 calories, average of 106 calories.
Two-thirds of all gels fall between 81-118 calories.
When comparing Calories to Gel Size, to establish energy density, we find that the median gel has 2.68 calories per gram (average 2.65).
This varies greatly, with two-thirds of all gels falling between 1.85-3.13 calories per gram.
The median gel has 23g of Carbohydrates (Carbs), average of 24g.
Two-thirds of all gels fall between 18-38 grams.
Looking at the sugar component, as defined by the gel's nutritional table.
The median gel has 11g of sugar, average of 12g...roughly half of the top-line carb number.
Variance is quite wider here, with two-thirds of all gels falling between 4-18 grams of sugar.
It should be noted that Maltodextrin, the most common carb source of gels, is not considered a sugar in nutritional tables. It is a polysaccharide, and gets tabulated in the topline carb number only, even though it is known to be easily and quickly digested in the body.
Fructose (e.g. fruit), Glucose (e.g. some syrups), Lactose (e.g. milk products), Sucrose (e.g. table sugar) and Maltose do come under the sugar number.
Hence, the high usage of Maltodextrin somewhat skews down the sugar total.
When comparing Carbs to Gel Size, to establish carb density, we find that the median gel has 0.64 carbs per gram (average 0.59).
Two-thirds of all gels fall between 0.39-0.73 carbs per gram.
Carbohydrate (main sources)
We first looked at which carb is the first to feature in the ingredient list.
This is a gel's largest carb source (see column Y of the Energy Gel Table):
Maltodextrin is the largest carb source of 91 gels, or 42% of the list.
Followed by Glucose (26 gels, 12%)
Glucose-Fructose Mix (16 gels, 7%)
Agave (14 gels, 6%)
Fruit (13 gels, 6%), which doesn't include straight Fructose (4 gels, 2%)
Honey (11 gels, 5%)
Rice (11 gels, 5%)
Isomaltulose (6 gels, 3%)
Dextrose (5 gels, 2%)
Next, we look at the gel's second carb source (see column Z of the Energy Gel Table).
Fructose (or a carrier of, like Fruit) is the 2nd major carb source of 40% of gels. Presumably as some manufacturers aim to achieve a 2:1 Glucose-to-Fructose balance:
Fructose (44 gels, 20%)
Fruit (41 gels, 19%)
Maltodextrin (27 gels, 12%)
Dextrose (19 gels, 9%)
Glucose (10 gels, 5%)
Rice (9 gels, 4%)
Isomaltulose (4 gels, 2%)
Honey (3 gels, 1%)
Protein, Fat & Fibre
Over 75% of gels have zero or <0.5g of protein.
The same goes for fat and fibre.
Of the 41 gels that have >0.5g of protein, the median value is 1.0g and average 2.7g, with two-thirds of these gels falling between 0.5-5.0g of protein.
Of the 40 gels that have >0.5g of fat, the median value is 1.5g and average 4.4g, with two-thirds of these gels falling between 1.0-9.0g of fat.
Of the 38 gels that have >0.5g of fibre, the median value is 1.0g and average 1.7g. Only 2 gels have >3g of fibre.
Only 15 gels (7%) have zero amounts of sodium.
The median gel has 49mg of sodium, average of 82mg.
Two-thirds of all gels fall between 11-157mg.
Note, in the table, if the gel's nutritional table states salt instead of sodium, we have converted over to sodium by dividing the salt amount by 2.5.
118 gels (54%) have zero potassium.
Of the 90 gels that have potassium, the median value is 50mg and average 87mg, with two-thirds of these gels falling between 18-169mg of potassium.
171 gels (79%) have zero magnesium.
Of the 33 gels that have magnesium, the median value is 10mg and average 41mg, with two-thirds of these gels falling between 1-63mg of magnesium.
Most brands offer gels with and without caffeine.
Of the 89 gels (41%) in the table that have caffeine, the median value is 45mg and average 53mg, with two-thirds of these gels falling between 25-90mg of caffeine.
Amino Acids and Vitamins
41 gels (19%) have some Amino Acids. Common examples include:
B-Alanine, L-Alanine, L-Arginine, Glycine, L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, Taurine, L-Valine,
75 gels (35%) have some degree of Vitamins. Typically being an array of B vitamins, Vit.C and Vit.E.
14 Gels (6%) are entirely organic.
Another 28 gels (13%) have their major ingredients, or the majority of their ingredients, as organic.
95 gels (44%) are vegan, with another 11 gels (5%) classified as being vegetarian.
125 gels (58%) are gluten free.
51 gels (24%) are lactose free.
Hopefully this breakdown is of use and interest.