Monday, 26 November 2012

'Go Go Gu!' - The Natural Energy Gel Substitute

I have been experimenting with taking on carbs during my long runs since I started running over 8 miles at a stretch - the proper science indicates that it enhances performance; Alison science says that it makes sure I can make it to the end.

A popular method of achieving this is by ingesting one or more of the myriad of carb gels available, predominately wrapped in day-glo packets containing all sorts of un-pronounceable chemicals which the fantastic calls 'marketing fluff'. The more I read, the more confused I became as to which was the best gel and as I generally prefer the natural route to nutrition I've decided to try and make my own carb gel substitute. And it shall be known as 'Go Go Gu'!

There are several resources suggesting recipes to replicate the branded gels based on combining two or more types of carbohydrate e.g. maltodextrin, dextrose and fructose so that the body can process more carbs overall (click here for the science) plus something to make it taste nice, for example: fruit purée, lemon juice or vanilla. 
These recipes are usually an economical endeavour aiming to replicate a shop-bought energy gel which can be over £1 a go (and you need several per long run). I didn't really want to shell out on sacks of sugary chemicals from the off so I narrowed my research with a more natural theme and came across this simple statement:
'Bananas are a naturally efficient and convenient food for runners to use as fuel. Their high carbohydrate content makes them good sources of energy. They're rich in potassium and magnesium, minerals that runners lose as they sweat. They also have chemical properties that help control stomach pain from nerves and reduce the risk of stomach upsets'
And so the humble banana is not only the perfect running fuel but the average shop-bought energy gel has around 100 calories and an average sized banana is roughly 95 calories - uncanny
Carrying four bananas in some bespoke ammo belt however, seems impractical and even if I could, I still haven't mastered the run-chew-breathe-at-the-same-time trick. 
To overcome these issues, mushing it up seemed like the best way to make it easily ingestible and gel-like and to add interest, viscosity, a few extra calories and presumably a different carb source (glucose vs. natural fructose in the banana), I added a heaped teaspoon of Creme de Marron (chestnut spread with vanilla) that I found in France. 
It tasted great!

My Go Go Gu (GGG) was initially dispensed from a small plastic container which proved tricky to use mid-run. I subsequently came across a suggestion on a mountain bike forum which advocated silicone tubes - only available in the UK from Lakeland. With them, it is possible to squeeze my GGG (Formula #1) into my mouth whilst running, not have to chew very much and wash it down with a sip of water. 
As it stands, I'm happy with Formula #1 but it takes up too much volume - one small GoToob plus one medium GoToob currently delivers only one banana-dose, and as I might need 4-6 doses for the marathon I am going to experiment with dehydrating the mix by cooking gently and/or substituting some banana for nut butter and honey to increase its energy by volume. 

If only I could find someone extolling the virtues of cake with tea as healthy running fuel... all I'd need would be a blender and my Camelbak :)


  1. Well, may I make a suggestion...? (well, I'm going to like it or not! ;-) ) Why use carbohydrate to fuel your runs? If you are looking for a stable, even, long duration fuel to burn, why not use fat?

    You could just knock back some slugs of double-cream or eat some macadamia nuts or if you really want to make something yourself, how about some pemmican (

    Much better fuel (fat has 9 cals per gram compared to carbs only 4 cals - so more dense, so less needed in volume for the same amount of fuel) in general and healthier to boot!!

    Ed P

  2. Hey Ed!

    Glad to see you're following - that's very cool :)
    Thanks for your comment and suggestion... I must respond. Aside from the act of glugging double cream and chewing some tallow-covered hunks of dehydrated meat making me want to gag, there are good (as far as I have found) reasons to allow carbs to predominate in exercise fuelling.
    One biggie is that the brain needs sugar and as soon as it thinks there isn't any, you crash out. Another is that although you can train your body to burn body fat and to a certain extent this is a good thing as it can give you longevity in endurance events, fat cannot be metabolised at a fast enough rate to fuel hard training or fast paces and you still need sugar to keep the brain happy.
    So, whilst it makes total sense that small amounts of high calorie fat is more portable and you need less to intake the same number of calories, it doesn't seem to be something advocated by many runners or even pro Ironmen for that matter:

    I also found this quote that summarises fat ingestion whilst exercising thus:
    "This leaves fat as another potential ergogenic aid, but ingesting 'normal' fat has several major disadvantages from an exercise point of view. For one thing, it can only be converted into energy slowly, taking about 3-4 hours to pass even into the bloodstream. For another, it also has an inhibitory effect on gastric emptying, and thus will delay fluid and carbohydrate uptake." (

    On the other hand, if you ingest medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are artificially made from coconut oil whilst exercising, these are a fat source that can be quickly used by the body. However they must still be consumed with carbs and the jury is still out on efficacy. It all sounds a bit too 'elite athlete' for me!

    In short, carbs win.
    Alison x