When you step up your running or cycling distance and duration, you realize that those efforts that last over an hour can be especially tough if you’re not fueling your body appropriately.
The effect of gels can help reduce your time to exhaustion, lower your risk of ‘bonking’ during a race or long training run, and generally help reduce the effect of fatigue by providing you with a boost of sugars (carbs) to help fuel your body on long runs and rides.
To help you choose the best running gels for you, we’re sharing our reviews of the best energy gels and chews available for supporting endurance training and racing, from half-marathons to ultramarathons, and endurance cycling events, triathlons, and Ironman.
The video above shares insights on what energy gels actually are, what’s in them, how to use them while running (or cycling), and some more experience-backed knowledge from our tests.
Keep reading to see our list of the best energy gels for running – the ones we consider to be the best after testing them extensively.
What are energy gels?
Energy gels are essentially small packets containing a mixture of sugars to help provide energy to your body during long endurance efforts.
Gels generally come in one of two types, either those using simple sugar blends to provide carbs, or those that use more ‘real food’ ingredients as the primary source of sugars.
While the latter tend to be more expensive per packet, they can be more enjoyable to consume and may offer more nutritional benefits.
When should you use running gels or chews (or gummies)?
You may want to take them with you on training runs and races that last over an hour, and many people find that it’s good to take on one gel every 30 minutes or so. Each brand provides guidance on the frequency and daily allowances for its products.
They’re also available with other ingredients, including electrolytes, caffeine, and amino acid supplements, so it’s helpful to check the nutritional information to ensure that if any of these are important to you, you have a suitable amount in your chosen nutrition products.
The best energy gels for running and cycling
Huma Chia Energy Gels
- Calories: 100
- Carbohydrates: 22-25g
- Sodium: 105-240mg
- Cost: $30 for a 12-pack ($2.50 each)
Huma gels are marketed as being stomach-friendly, real food energy gels for endurance exercise. Carbs come from finely-milled Chia seeds, they’re caffeine, gluten and dairy-free, and vegan-friendly.
These energy gels taste very natural and go down very easily due to the texture, and just the right amount of sweetness. They are also very reasonably priced which is a big win in our books!
These gels are available in a range of fruity flavors, such as strawberry, lemonade, and – a personal favorite – mango, as well as more indulgent flavors like chocolate and mocha.
If you’re a salty sweater, you may also want to check out Huma Plus gels, which are essentially the same but with double the electrolytes, to help you replenish those lost salts and minimize your risk of cramping.
Maurten Nutrition Gel 100
- Calories: 100
- Carbohydrates: 25mg
- Sodium: 34mg
- Cost: $43 for a 12-pack ($3.60 each)
One of the true innovators in sports nutrition and receiving rave reviews, Maurten has used hydrogel technology to develop carbohydrate fuel that is designed to be easier for the body to absorb during endurance efforts.
Their gels are part of a range of solid, gel, and drink mix nutrition products – but unlike other gels on this list, which are more like thick liquids, they’re a much more gel-like consistency.
In fact, I would almost go as far as saying they are on their way to being jello, or jelly texture – this makes Maurten the least messy energy gel on our list.
They have a clean taste and you shouldn’t experience any gut bombs or upset stomach with these due to the way it is absorbed into the body.
Plus, they’re made with only six ingredients with no added colorants, preservatives or flavors.
Maurten gels are also available in a caffeinated version.
Spring Energy Gels
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- Calories: From 90 to 250 depending on the product
- Carbohydrates: From 17 to 45+
- Sodium: Varies
- Cost: $37 for a 10-pack ($3.70 each)
Spring Energy specializes in fueling athletes with plant-based, real-food ingredients, rather than just simple sugars.
They offer a range of gels, drink mixes, and pre and post-workout nutrition for endurance athletes, each with a different mix of nutrients.
The fruity Canaberry flavor is one of their most popular gels for all distances. This vegan gel contains 17g carbs, 60g sodium and 100 calories.
We’re also fans of the packaging these gels come in, they’re easy to tear off and have a clever system to stop the tab from completely tearing off. We hate to see litter on the trails and this is a neat solution to help stop that from happening inadvertently.
The ‘Long Haul‘ is a great choice for longer endurance efforts, with ingredients including banana, honey, peanuts, and organic chia seeds.
For a bigger carb boost, Awesome Sauce – an applesauce-inspired gel – packs in a ton of carbs (45mg) and 85mg sodium, all in a 180-calorie packet.
Honey Stinger Energy Gels
- Calories: 100-110
- Carbohydrates: 24-26mg
- Sodium: 45-50mg
- Cost: $15 for a 10-pack ($1.50 each)
The two most popular Honey Stinger energy gels are the original Gold honey gel, and their organic fruit smoothie flavor – you can get both in a variety pack using the link above.
Honey Stinger uses – you guessed it – honey as the primary sweetener and part of a sugar blend that provides you with the carb energy hit after consuming the gel.
This means that if you don’t like honey, or you couldn’t imagine eating a spoonful of honey, then you probably won’t like this energy gel.
I personally love pure honey and was surprised at how effective these gels are at improving energy gels right when you need the boost.
A caffeinated option is also available. Honey Stinger is one of the best running gels due to its smooth consistency; the same consistency that makes it a non-messy gel to eat while running.
The packets are also quite small which makes them easy to carry in your race hydration pack, and they are also easy to tear open while running.
Clif SHOT Energy Gels
- Calories: 100
- Carbohydrates: 24-25mg
- Sodium: 60mg
- Cost: $22 for an 18-gel variety pack ($1.22)
Clif SHOTS are available in a wide range of indulgent and fruity flavors, available without caffeine as well as with caffeine in doses of up to 100mg per packet.
They’re made with 100% organic cane sugar and the other ingredients are stated as 85-90% organic. They’re also one of the least expensive on this list, at a cost of around $1.22 per gel when bought in a multi-pack.
We like the innovative packaging design (a ‘litter leash’) which helps ensure they’re easy to open with teeth and one hand, plus the top tab doesn’t come loose and end up littering the ground once you tear the packet open.
As one of the thicker consistency gels on this list, Clif SHOTS are best consumed with some water to aid digestion.
Muir Real Food Energy Gel
- Calories: 100-150
- Carbohydrates: 12-23mg
- Sodium: 100mg
- Cost: $68 for a 24-pack ($2.83 each) – Use our exclusive code TRAILANDKALE10 for 10% off your order.
Muir Energy gels are vegan, organic, gluten-free, and made with 4-6 real food ingredients in each flavor.
These are truly ‘clean’ sports nutrition products at their finest, using only the stated real food ingredients and receive rave reviews from our resident plant-based ultra-runners.
Flavors are mainly fruity, including strawberry, raspberry, lemon, and blueberry. Most flavors are caffeine-free, although you can choose the ‘mate’ versions of the Cacao Almond and Cashew Vanilla flavors if you also want that caffeine hit – they each provide 90mg of caffeine.
GU Original Energy Gel
- Calories: 100
- Carbohydrates: 21-23mg
- Sodium: 50-125mg
- Cost: $35 for a 24-gel variety pack ($1.45 each)
One of the more well-known sports nutrition brands, GU Energy (pronounced ‘goo energy’) offers a wide range of gel flavors for athletes, with and without caffeine added.
Flavors include various fruits, mocha, salted caramel, and a flavor for those who don’t like much flavor, called ‘tastefully nude’. You can try out a load of flavors in one order by getting a variety pack like the fruity one shown above, or this ‘indulgent flavors‘ variety pack.
These GU gels also contain 450mg of branched-chain amino acids (‘BCAA’), which can help decrease muscle damage and mental fatigue.
Like the Clif SHOT gels, GU gels are best consumed when you have water with you, as the water will help it go down and get digested.
Other GU gels worth trying
GU Roctane has more electrolytes and branched-chain amino acids, so may appeal for those more ultra-endurance efforts where you need to replenish more body salts and want to take on those extra amino acids to help decrease muscle damage.
The Strawberry-Kiwi and Vanilla-Orange flavors of the GU Roctane are particularly nice. They are, however, more expensive, costing $53 for a 24-gel variety pack.
Running energy chews/energy gummies
When it comes to running energy chews, it will come as no surprise that most of the brands listed above also offer energy chews.
Chews may appeal to you if you don’t like the consistency or potential for the mess that can come with eating gels while running or cycling.
They’re also great for consuming while riding a bike, as you can eat the gummies one by one rather than needing to eat an entire gel in one go to get your hand safely back on the handlebars as quickly as possible.
Some of the most popular energy chews to check out are:
How to choose the best energy gels (or chews) for you
For most, finding the best energy gel for your body’s needs and training style means you have to do some testing of a few different brands and products until you find one that you like the best.
The gels and chews in this list are all highly rated and offer something a little different – even if it’s just their unique flavors and textures, that vary between the brands.
As these running fuels are inexpensive if you buy just a few at a time, you can have some fun trying out which ones work best for you on your longer training runs, so when it comes to race day you have your endurance nutrition dialed in to work for you the way you need it to.
Key factors to consider when testing chews and gels are:
Portability and packaging design – how easy are they to open, with minimal mess, while you’re running.
Flavor – some flavors can be inoffensive, others delicious, others… very polarizing! For example – you will not find me consuming licorice-flavored sports nutrition any time soon!
Consistency – gels can range from very thin and liquid-like in consistency (which may be easier to swallow) to very thick and gooey, which can be less messy. Chews can also be a great option especially for cycling if you don’t like gels’ potential for mess.
Nutritional mix – most gels will offer a similar amount of grams of carbs, but they can vary in terms of the mix of sugar types as well as other nutrients that may have been added in. Additionally, some brands produce vegan chews and gels – we’ve highlighted those that do, in this list.
Real food or simple sugars – yes, some gels are actually made with real food, rather than more simple sugars! These can be beneficial for your digestion as well as the profile of energy released after consuming them.
Digestion – does a particular brand affect your digestion or give you any GI issues? For example, some people prefer to avoid gels with caffeine in them if they’re sensitive to it.
Advantages of gels with electrolytes
You may want to consider gels with electrolytes if you tend to sweat a lot when you’re running or cycling, as these can help you replenish those body salts and help reduce muscle cramps while running.
On the topic of cramping, if this is a big issue for you then as well as gels, you may want to consider a dedicated salt tablet such as these SaltStick tablets, which our sweaty founder has found to be extremely helpful for running ultramarathons in the California heat!
In this guide, we’ve included links to where you can buy each brand of gel and chews, with a focus on where to buy variety and multi-packs so you have a selection of flavors to try, although it’s worth knowing that you can buy most of these gels individually or in single-flavor multi-packs if you prefer.
About caffeine in running gels
Including (or at least as an option, offering) caffeine in energy gels has been more popular among the larger sports nutrition brands for quite some time. The rationale for this is that including caffeine will give the athlete an extra energy boost.
However, we’re not big fans of taking caffeine in our sports nutrition (we prefer a well-made espresso drink in the morning, thank you very much), as caffeine can affect heart rate and sleep patterns, especially if you’re consuming multiple gels later in the day during your training run or race.
For this reason, most of the gels featured on this list are caffeine-free, and where possible we’ve included links to the caffeine-free, rather than caffeinated versions of the gels and chews.
Alternatives to energy gels and chews
If you’re looking for new sports nutrition options to try for your long runs, rides, and Ironman-plus distance efforts, then also consider powdered energy drink mixes such as Tailwind, energy bars, and snacks such as Honey Stinger Waffles, as well as real food such as fruit and nuts!
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide to the best running gels, if you have any questions please leave them in the comments below.