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how do energy gels work

Can energy gels really improve athletic performance?

02 Feb 2023 • 2 min read

Originally developed for elite endurance runners and cyclists, energy gels (or running gels) are now a popular nutrition aid for fitness enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a convenient way to keep your energy levels raised during extended periods of exercise, energy gels take some beating.

How do energy gels work?

When we exercise, our bodies convert carbohydrates into energy. The longer we’re active, the more carbohydrates we burn. In addition, sweating also causes us to lose electrolytes – essential salts and minerals that help regulate our nerve and muscle function.1 As a result, when we exercise for prolonged periods of time, we need to find a way to quickly recharge to keep our bodies moving. That’s how energy gels can help.

3 reasons to use energy gels

  1. They’re on-the-go friendly. Ideal to stuff into your bum bag or pocket.
  2. They contain fast-acting, easily absorbable carbohydrates.
  3. Electrolytes provide quick fuel replacement.

Should I use energy gels to help me workout?

Energy gels aren’t for everyone or every workout.  For example, for workouts under an hour, your body should have an ample reserve of carbohydrates to use as natural fuel. However, for workouts exceeding an hour, your natural energy levels will start to dip. It’s during these longer sessions that energy gels can provide a useful top-up.2

Are energy gels good for you?

When taken correctly, energy gels can help your body perform better during exercise.3 But it’s easy to get it wrong. Energy gels should typically be taken during or directly before activity. This is because they work by increasing your blood sugar levels fast. If you take them too long before you exercise, your body might experience a sugar crash. This can make you feel tired and lethargic. Obviously, this is exactly the opposite of what you want.

Are energy gels bad for you?

Our advice is to always follow the instructions and take them as recommended. For example, most gels should be taken with water. And to prevent any potential GI issues caused by the high sugar content, avoid combining them with energy-heavy sports drinks.

Is it safe to double your dose for an enhanced boost? It sounds tempting but DON’T do this. Far from improving your performance, taking too many gels will send your blood sugar levels pinballing. And the associated stomach discomfort is the last thing you want while you’re out for a long run or ride.

What are the best energy gels?

Are you new to energy gels? Maybe you’re wondering what’s the best running energy gel or if there are specific energy gels for cycling? It may be that you have a specific interest in SIS gels (or conversely SIS-free gels)? Whatever your situation, the huge range can be overwhelming. From gels with added caffeine, to others with zero added sweeteners. Varieties that are suitable for a vegan diet and isotonic options that you can take without water.

To help you weigh up your options, each item in our online store has all the need-to-know product information, ingredients and allergens information. Plus, independent reviews from real customers provide feedback on taste, texture and performance.

3 of our best energy gel options

These are three of our best-selling gels. Notably, they’re all rated 5 stars by our customers, with many featuring in Coach Magazine Best Running Gels 2020 review.

TORQ Energy Gel

TORG Energy Gels are rated 5* by customers across all flavour options. They’re packed with five key electrolytes and are gentle on the stomach.

Jimmys Ride - 5/5 stars
“Does not taste synthetic nor does it have the debilitating effect on the system that other gels can have. It tastes great and the effect on my energy level was spectacular.” 

Key ingredients: Maltodextrin, Water, Fructose, Electrolytes, Citric Acid, Natural Flavour, Preservative.

Good to know: No artificial sweeteners or colours. No allergens. 

Available in: Rhubarb & Custard, Strawberry Yoghurt, Raspberry Ripple, Apple Crumble.

SiS Energy + Caffeine Gel

This carbohydrate gel with caffeine and sweetener helps reduce tiredness by delivering an intense boost of energy.

Laulau1910 - 5/5 stars
“I bought this product a couple of weeks ago. I use it for long runs ( >10miles). It has a nice taste and keeps you going! For me, it doesn't make me feel pain in the stomach as opposite to other products. I would recommend it!”

Key ingredients: Water, Maltodextrin, Elderberry Juice Powder, Natural Flavouring, Gelling Agents, Acidity Regulators, Caffeine (75mg), Preservatives, Sweetener, Sodium Chloride, Antioxidant.

Good to know: Vegan friendly. Named favourite flavour in Coach Magazine gel review. High caffeine content. Not for those under the age of 16 or pregnant women.

Available in: Rhubarb & Custard, Strawberry Yoghurt, Raspberry Ripple, Apple Crumble.

High5 Energy Gel Taster Kit

These gels are light and refreshing thanks to real fruit juice content. They also have a smooth consistency. This taster kit is great for energy gel newcomers.

Normyboy - 5/5 stars 
“It’s vegan and works as described, I am a long distance runner and they help with my energy levels”

Key ingredients: Glucose Syrup, Water, Maltodextrin, Acidity Regulators, Sodium Chloride, Preservatives, Natural Flavourings.

Good to know: Vegan friendly. Made with real fruit juice.

Available in: Eight different flavours in one convenient pack.

Summary: Energy gels could help you workout for longer

Energy gels can be a convenient and effective way to help improve workout performance with scientific sports nutrition. Remember to read the label and use as recommended.

Best energy gels...

High5 Cycle Kit
4.88/5 stars(8)


SiS GO Isotonic Energy Gel Orange 60ml
4.65/5 stars(46)


The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 14 May 2021

What to eat after a workout and before

Now you know about energy gels, what about diet? From fibre to nitrates and amino acids, we look at the best superfoods to help you along with your fitness regime.


Bhupesh Panchal


Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: April 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
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