Are Energy Gels a Waste of Money?
Nutrition for swimmers is just as important as any other component of training and lifestyle. How can you expect to get a quality product out of your body if you don't fuel it? Our job as coaches is to educate swimmers and their parents on how best to fuel their body to get optimal performance. In this post I aim to discuss whether or not swimmers are wasting their time and money on energy gels when it comes to race day nutrition.
Energy gels as supplied by sports websites and stores are popular among many, offering an attractive way of getting carbohydrate into the bloodstream quickly whilst looking like a pro at the same time. However, these gels often come at a price. A quick google search tells you that gels are available for anywhere between £1.50 per 32g to £2.50 per 32g depending on which retailer you buy them from. Multiply this for a weekends racing and you will be emptying your wallet into your stomach for a quick boost of energy.
The science behind the energy gel isn't complicated. They are made up of raw carbohydrate (CHO) that is then absorbed rapidly into your bloodstream so it can be delivered to muscle for use almost immediately. This has benefits, it can give an extra boost of energy just before a race or during a workout.
To get maximum benefit though, you must eat the gel at the right time. Using them after races is useless, using them as snacks during the day is also useless. There is no doubt that these gels are expensive and furthermore complicated to use especially if you are giving them to swimmers aged as young as 11. There have been claims that simple snacks like raisins would be equally beneficial. With research showing that athletes who ate raisins compared to athletes who consumed gels seeing no performance decreases and no differences in physiological measures that were significant enough to cause support for gels over raisins. I will reference the full article below 1).
These findings then cause us to ask whether gels have a place at all during a weekend racing at an open meet? Why spend £1.50 for 32g of energy in a gel, when you can spend £1.50 for 500g of energy in raisins? If there are no proven performance benefits of gels over raisins, gels are just expensive forms of the same raw material just packaged in a shiny sachet with a brand name on. I would argue that gels may a have place in elite level training and endurance sports but see absolutely no point in using them during meets especially with age group swimmers!
Feel free to comment your thoughts below!
1) Kern, Mark, Christopher J. Heslin, and Robert S. Rezende. "Metabolic and performance effects of raisins versus sports gel as pre-exercise feedings in cyclists." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 21.4 (2007): 1204.