Alternatives to Processed Energy Gels
Energy gels are a great and convenient source of energy and carbohydrates for endurance athletes, especially those who participate in long distance races. Conventional sport-specific gels are created from maltodexrin, which is derived from the starch found in potatoes, rice, wheat or, most commonly, corn. Although maltodexrin is natural, it takes a large amount of processing to derive the substance from starch and, in turn, it becomes stripped of natural taste and must be mixed with man-made products.
More recently, athletes have been turning to alternatives that are more natural when it comes to fueling their bodies. Because of this, over processed energy gels are becoming less and less desirable and individuals are seeking healthier, more natural products. One of these energy sources can be found in natural sugar substances that are both minimally processed and maintain their sweet flavor. These “natural energy gels” also have higher doses of vitamins and minerals that help to add to the overall natural, healthy experience.
Alternative #1: Maple Syrup
Maple syrup, believe it or not, has many benefits beyond making morning waffles delicious. Maple syrup is actually very nutrient dense for a product that is mainly composed of sugar – there is a tremendous amount of healthy fats, iron, manganese, potassium, and sodium, all of which help the body perform at its highest level. When considering maple syrup as an energy gel alternative, make sure to look for pure maple syrup since most grocery store brands will also contain corn syrup and other preservative.
Alternative #2: Dates
Dates, a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, offer athletes a quick and energizing boost. This food is easily digested by most people and is a great solid food alternative to the other products in this list. This makes dates great for a mid-run or race fuel boost on the go, not to mention they contain anti-inflammatory tannins and metabolism supporting Vitamin B. It is important to note, however, that dates are also high in fiber, which can help to speed up the digestive system so make sure to use them in moderation.
Alternative #3: Honey
Honey has been used to energize athletes since the Greek Olympics and is considered the original energy gel. Honey contains both fructose and glucose to give you energy while also containing water and trace amounts of iron, manganese, and Vitamin B6 for added health benefits. Since honey naturally has a low glycemic index, the sugars in honey are digested much slower than those found in energy gels, helping to keep the energy levels of endurance athletes high. Like maple syrup, it is important to look for pure honey – processed honey has had the bee pollen removed, ultimately stripping it of many benefits.
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