We all know the importance of staying hydrated while riding, but most of us do a less than stellar job replenishing carbs and electrolytes. This is one of the reasons why we bonk halfway through a ride. A 165 lb cyclist riding a 13 mph pace burns about 650 calories per hour. An energy gel packet costs about $1.25 and contains about 100-125 calories. Most people’s bodies can physically replenish about 250 calories per hour so if you are trying to replace those calories with energy gels, you’d have to spend about $3 per hour. I started doing the math on this a few weeks ago and decided it was time to start making my own homemade energy gel.
Even if you are trying to lose weight by cycling, it’s important to keep the fire stoked by replenishing carbs while out on a ride. We’ll write more on the advantages of caloric intake during a workout in the near future. Just remember, it’s vital to drink plenty of plain water to enhance absorption. According to Winston Sauber, BCC member and Expert Coach with Carmichael Training Systems, “If you wash gel down with a sports drink, you may make your gut hypertonic which will draw water into your gut via diffusion and osmosis. This leads to cramps and bloating and loss of appetite”. Here is an easy, 100% natural and as organic as you can get, recipe to make your own energy gel.
Homemade Energy Gel Recipe
Peel & puree banana in a food processor or blender with the agave. The banana will not puree very well if you put it in alone, the agave is thin enough to act as a liquid and will help smooth it out. Stir the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl. You can put it all in the food processor at once, but it may seem really thin initially since the blending process will add little air bubbles into the mix. If you do it, don’t worry, it will thicken considerably as it settles.
The salt and the banana can be skipped if you want. I add it in because I sweat out a lot of salt (gross, I know) and the banana adds both extra flavor and potassium (32mg per oz of gel). If you skip out on the banana, the gel doesn’t need to be refrigerated and will keep almost indefinitely. If you mix in the banana, I recommend keeping it cold until you depart on your ride and using it up within 7-10 days. It may keep longer than that, but I wouldn’t push it.
This combination gives a good blend of different types of carbs each with a different glycemic index. Read more about glycemic index and why it’s important. I’ve never had this stuff analyzed by a lab so these figures are approximate. This batch makes 1.75 cups of gel which is 14 oz.
The agave contains 60 calories & 16g of carbs per tablespoon, which equals 480 calories & 128g carbs per batch.
The honey also contains 60 calories, but 17g of carbs per tablespoon. 480 cal & 136g carbs per batch.
The brown rice syrup contains 75 calories & 18g of carbs per tablespoon. 900 cal & 216g carbs per batch.
A banana contains about 121 calories & 31g of carbs.
Totals per batch = 1981 calories & 511g carbs.
Of course, you’re not going to consume nearly that much on a ride, so here it is per ounce.
Each ounce contains 141.5 calories & 36.4g carbs & 32 mg of potassium. As a comparison, a PowerBar Raspberry Cream Energy Gel is 1.44oz and contains 110 calories & 27g of carbs & 20mg potassium.
Storage & Usage
Most bike shops will sell a variety of gel flasks for easy dispensing mid-ride. I use the 3oz GoToobs. They aren’t specifically made for this purpose, but they work great and are easy to clean. They are a more expensive than the 5 oz Hammer Gel Flasks, but the GoToobs work better to get the last couple drops out and seem like they will hold up better in the long run since they are made of food grade silicone instead of plastic.
One of the best deals on pre-packaged gel is the gel of the month at REI for $0.79 each. All of the ingredients in this homemade energy gel recipe are easily available right here in Boulder. Whole Foods has everything you need (so does Sunflower or Vitamin Cottage). A jar of organic brown rice syrup will set you back about $5.50 and I can get two batches per jar. Honey and Agave are about $3 per pound in the bulk aisle. 1/2 cup of honey or agave is about .4 lbs. The cost of the banana is almost negligible, but we’ll round up our figures to cover it.
The per batch costs is about $5.50. That equates to $0.39 per oz.. That’s half the price of the pre-packaged stuff on super duper sale. If you compare it to full retail it’s about 1/3 of the cost. This recipe is also 100% organic. Well, technically, honey and salt can’t be certified as organic because there is no soil involved. The environmental cost savings is significant too since you don’t have the little foil packets to throw away each time.
Try it out and let us know what you think. I’ll keep experimenting with different flavors and let you know how it goes. I’m also planning to experiment making my own sports drink mix, recovery drink mix and a caffeinated version of the gel.