Cycling Nutrition: Organic Homemade Energy Gel

posted in: Cycling News, Nutrition | 15

diy energy gelWe 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

3/4 cup of Organic Brown Rice Syrup
1/2 cup of Organic Agave Nectar
1/2 cup of Raw Honey
1 Organic Banana
1/2 tsp of Sea Salt (fine grain)

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.

Nutritional Breakdown

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.

Cost Savings

expensive-energy-gelOne 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.

  • Mike George

    This sounds great, will have to get back to Boulder to try it. You mentioned a different flavor and if you want the very best—-try therapudic grade essential oils, all organic. Many different flavors but they are all very strong as they are so pure. A few drops per batch might do it.
    If you want a caffeine boost put in the herb from South America–guarana.

  • tatkins

    Thanks for the input Mike. I’ll try out essential oils to open up the flavor options. I thought about guarana for a caffeine kick, not sure where to get it. I’ll try a few of the sports nutrition stores in town.

    Update to all readers. I tried a papaya flavored batch since it is also supposed to have a lot of potassium in it. It just didn’t turn out so well. The papaya didn’t puree very well and made the gel too thin. It also had some little papaya bits in it that really threw off the texture. I think I’m going to try mango next.

  • Nigel Cameron

    This sounds perfect, especially since it has no artificial preservatives as contained in the popular “GU.” How long can this be kept refrigerated to retard spoilage?


  • tatkins

    If you include the banana, I’ve left it in my fridge for 2 weeks without any hint of spoilage. Honey is a natural antiseptic and preservative. I haven’t tested it past 2 weeks because I always finish a batch off before then. If you tired of the banana flavor, I’ve had success mixing in some hot cocoa powder for a really great chocolate banana flavor.

    Without the banana, the gel will last almost indefinitely. All of the ingredients do not require refrigeration. Brown rice syrup can go bad if left heated for an extended period of time, but room temperate is fine.

    I started experimenting with some new flavors since I posted this recipe. I found a source of organic flavor concentrates and extracts. I’ve had really great success with Cherry and Berry flavor concentrates.

  • This is great info about how to make gels. I have been thinking about experimenting with homemade gels and this will give a good place to start. In the brown rice syrup nutrional calc, shouldn’t the calories be 900/batch and the carbs be 216g/batch?


  • tatkins

    @Paul thanks for the comment. Glad you found it useful. You are correct. I think I ran the numbers based on 1/2 cup not 3/4. I’ve updated the brown rice syrup nutrition and the whole batch totals.

  • omar

    i’m wondering about protein. Hammer folks say one must consume protein after two hours cycling. They sell Sustain of their purpose. If their position is true, how do you get the protein intake necessary from your formula (which is awesome, and I will definitely try).

  • tatkins

    Hi Omar. That’s a great question. I’ve mixed a little bit of hot cocoa powder in with the banana recipe. It tastes great and has a little protein in it and it doesn’t throw off the texture of the gel. Mixing in some whey protein powder should give you an easy way to add protein to the mix. If I remember correctly, a 4:1 ratio (grams of carbs to grams of protein) is the optimal amount. Personally, that is too much protein for my body during a work out. I do however use that ratio for my post-ride recovery drink. I haven’t perfected that recipe yet, but I’ll post it when I do.

  • Jordan Bracken

    I have been researching a organic natural recovery and energy drink. Even if you haven’t perfected the mix I was wondering if you had ideas on the matter. I don’t like lab made products and that’s all the bike shops have so if you could send a us an idea I know it’s been awhile since this thred. Thanks.

  • tatkins

    Hi Jordan,
    The best natural and organic recovery drink is chocolate milk. It’s a perfect 4:1 balance of protein and carbohydrates. If you don’t want any protein, try straight up tart cherry juice. A few different studies have shown that a certain compound in cherries reduces muscle damage, pain, and inflamation. Tart cherries have the highest concentration of it. Runners reported less soreness when drinking the juice post-workout. Knudsen makes an organic one that is available at most of the grocery stores in town. It’s really tart so I water it down 50/50. For recover, I do 8-12 oz of chocolate milk as soon as my helmet comes off, then sip on the cherry juice over the next hour or so. I’ve tried making my own recovery drink and the stuff from the lab. It’s mostly maltodextrin and whey protein isolate. You can save money over store bought but chololate milk is tastier, easier, and inexpensive. It also works just as well.

  • David Talavera

    I just made your recipe, with a cap full of Vanilla extract, some cocoa, and a palm full of coffee beans. Yumm!!

    Thanks for the base recipe..

  • tatkins

    Hi David,
    Glad you enjoyed. +1 on the vanilla, that is one of my favorites. How did you work in the coffee beans? I’ve tried using espresso level grind but it turned the texture gritty.

  • Paco

    One option for the coffee/caffeine may be to brew up some coffee and then simmer off the water until it is concentrated. For shot camping trips I’ve done this, and then added hot water back to the coffee concentrate to get a full cup. Much better than instant coffee.

  • nathan

    Quick question about the ingredients. All of these are more or less simple carbs are they not? Are you more prone to energy drops after the quick burn of the simple sugars? Dont you need some source of complex carbs for a sustained energy source? Im just trying to understand how to make my own recipe. Thanks for any help!

  • tatkins

    Hi Nathan,
    Complex vs simple carbs is a little misleading. It’s really more of a spectrum. Brown rice syrup falls on the complex side of that spectrum, but just barely. The banana adds some complexity to the mix as well. The glycemic index is often a better system since it measures impact on your blood sugar and tells you how quickly your body breaks down the carb into glucose. The lower the GI, the slower the process. Brown rice syrup is 25 which is relatively low. Agave is 30 and honey is 58. The three of them also fall in various places across the complex/simple spectrum.

    I find that this mix gives me a good balance of slow and fast burning fuel. This hinges on the assumption that you’re not starting off with an empty tank. A good pre-ride meal with a variety of carbs and GI gives me a good base to work from while the gel is mostly to maintain that balance. If I’m out for more than 3-4 hours, I need to get something more substantial and replenish a little protein. If you find yourself crashing, try increasing the ratio of the brown rice syrup or storing up some more complex carbs about 12 hours before.

    Many gel manufacturers use maltodextrin instead of brown rice syrup. It’s a bit more complex than the rice syrup but much harder to work with at home. It’s derived from corn and is a lot more processed and I don’t know of an organic option.