The provision of exogenous carbohydrate (CHO) in the form of energy gels is regularly practiced among endurance and team sport athletes. However, in those instances where athletes ingest suboptimal fluid intake, consuming gels during exercise may lead to gastrointestinal (GI) problems when the nutritional composition of the gel is not aligned with promoting gastric emptying. Accordingly, the aim of the current study was to quantify the degree of diversity in nutritional composition of commercially available CHO gels intended for use in the global sports nutrition market. We surveyed 31 product ranges (incorporating 51 flavor variants) from 23 brands (Accelerade, CNP, High5, GU, Hammer, Maxim, Clif, USN, Mule, Multipower, Nectar, Carb-Boom, Power Bar, Lucozade, Shotz, TORQ, Dextro, Kinetica, SiS, Zipvit, Maxifuel, Gatorade and Squeezy). Gels differed markedly in serving size (50 ± 22 g: 29–120), energy density (2.34 ± 0.7 kcal/g: 0.83–3.40), energy content (105 ± 24 kcal: 78–204), CHO content (26 ± 6 g: 18–51) and free sugar content (9.3 ± 7.0 g: 0.6–26.8). Most notably, gels displayed extreme variation in osmolality (4424 ± 2883 mmol/kg: 303–10,135) thereby having obvious implications for both GI discomfort and the total fluid intake likely required to optimize CHO delivery and oxidation. The large diversity of nutritional composition of commercially available CHO gels illustrate that not all gels should be considered the same. Sports nutrition practitioners should therefore consider the aforementioned variables to make better-informed decisions regarding which gel product best suits the athlete’s specific fueling and hydration requirements.
Zhang and O’Kennedy are with the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK. Morton is with the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK.