There are a lot of sports nutrition experts out there, and I’m not one of them. As with everything in my life, I’m learning all this as I go along, in a self-study or distance learning kind of way. In a minute, I’m going to talk about energy gels, but first…
This morning, I went to Trek World, an event at which Trek launched their 2014 range. I think the press were there yesterday, so this Saturday thing for the public was a kind of side-effect, since it was all set up. It was my second visit to the maze-like Silverstone circuit this year. My daughter and I had a wander round the bikes. She liked the look of a Lexa in Leopard Blue. I liked the look of the new Domane 4.5, which is a much better colour than the 2013 model, as is the 4.3, which is now in a more fetching blue and white, as opposed to the 2013’s dull grey/black. We also watched a demonstration of a precision bike fit, which was impressive in revealing just how easy it is to make yourself uncomfortable on a bike. I couldn’t help noticing that a largely middle-aged male audience was watching a super-fit 21-year-old get fitted for a bike. It would actually have been far more interesting to watch someone whose body is about as knackered as mine get such a fitting. The guy being fitted could hold a yoga position for a minute: when I tried to same position at home, I lasted 15 seconds.
The good news from the comfort point of view is that my latest pair of cycling shoes, Bontrager Multisports, seem to be working out quite well. I’ve been on a couple of 20k loops, and today stretched that to 25k. The first outing, I experienced some knee pain, because I’d got one of the cleats inadvertently twisted . But the second was better, and today, after 25km, my feet still felt fine. Following the bike fit demo, I even think I’ve got the cleats positioned more or less correctly. My plan is to get one of those heat-mouldable insoles for them when I can afford it.
So, gels. I’ve been adding High 5 Zero tablets to my drinks for a while. These give you the sweet taste without the calories, the theory being that you can trick your brain into releasing stored sugar. SiS do a similar tablet, and I’ve tried theirs too (lemon flavour, quite subtle). You’re supposed to end up with a so-called isotonic drink which replaces minerals and fluid without adding calories. I’ve avoided the grapefruit flavours (a) because I hate grapefruit and (b) because I’m on statins.
But sometimes you want calories. I often cheat by diluting my zero tablet with half a bottle of a sugary energy drink, too. So rather than drinking it neat, I dilute about 250ml of a cherry- or similar flavoured drink with 500ml of water and a tablet. But this is probably not the best way to get calories. I’ve sometimes eaten a few fig rolls before a ride, or a home-made flapjack. The other day, I tried a Clif bar, which was delicious, but made me think I’d have to wait about an hour for it to digest. This is the case with all such foods: you always have to plan ahead, which is not always that easy when timing your outings.
Which brings us to energy gels, which come in a form you can eat as you ride, and which give measured dose of calories in the form of carbohydrate, which presumably digest quicker than a flapjack and are less likely to make a mess of your cycling jersey than a banana.
The SiS gels come in 60ml packets, and are isotonic, which means you don’t need to consume them with water. This is convenient, and they seem to go down quite easily. The flavours are barely detectable, the merest hint only, which suits me. It feels a little Sci-Fi, like you’re eating Soylent Green or something. They’re not unpleasant in the mouth, barely sweet to taste, and give a measured quantity of carbs/calories. You get 87 calories from 22g of carbohydrate in a 60ml gel. Because of their blandness, they do go down easily and you don’t need to drink anything.
SiS do gels in several variants, including some with caffeine, and others with nitrates. My way of getting nitrates is to drink some beetroot juice an hour or so before I go out. My way of getting caffeine is something called coffee, which not many people have heard of, but which I think is probably the future of caffeinated drinks. The SiS nitrate gel doesn’t have many calories, so they’re for a different purpose than the energy gels.
The Torq gel, in contrast, is not isotonic, and is in fact shockingly sweet. Maybe the rhubarb and custard was a mistake (I bought 20, so I’m stuck with them). They’re 45g, but they give 114 calories and more than 28g of carbohydrate in the form of maltodextrin and fructose, which Torq claim is absorbed more efficiently. So you get a bit more energy but you also need to consume water, both to take the taste away and make it work properly. Torq suggest between 330 and 500 ml, depending on how hot it is. Well, that means on a two hour ride I’d be consuming about a third of the water I can carry in two bottles for just one gel. This seems like madness, especially as they recommend one gel every 20 minutes. I’m unlikely to do three an hour, though.
In short, I like the SiS gels better, but for now I’ll mix and match on my forthcoming longer rides. I’ve also got some SiS powdered energy drink, which I’m waiting to try till I’m in France.
By the way, if you do use gels, make sure you take the wrappers home or bin them responsibly. Don’t throw them at the side of the road, which is the kind of thing motorists do with their McDonald’s packages.