Last a fall I was out on a long bike ride with a friend of mine when he asked me how much money I spent a month on the carbohydrate gels I use. It was a question I really hadn’t thought much about before, but after doing a few quick calculations in my head I was shocked. Most of the carbohydrate gels I use are organic (a word usually synonymous with expensive), and during most of the year I go through 30 packs a week which comes out to $180 a month (I am so glad my wife never looks at the American Express statements). After I got home I decided to see if I could find a way to cut my expenses by creating my own carb gels, and at the end of this article you will find a few recipes that I have used. However, before we get to the recipes I need to explain how to choose your ingredients (if you want to experiment on your own).
I am a distance cyclist and except for my winter rides in the snow I seldom take a ride of under two hours. On long rides I normally burn between 900 and 1,000 calories an hour (based on my weight and speed). As a result, I try to consume 300 calories an hour (including 60 grams of carbohydrates). I get 100 calories an hour from my sports hydration mix and the other 200 calories from carb gels (and bananas when available). Most commercial carb gels offer a mixture of both simple and complex carbs and have 100 calories, along with 20 to 30 grams of carbs, and cost anywhere from $1.20 to $3.00 per package. Store-bought energy gels also have about 45mg sodium and 35mg potassium per serving. Simple carbs give a quick shot of energy, while complex carbs provide a slower release of energy. If your gel is composed entirely of simple carbs you will feel a quick rush of energy, followed by a sinking feeling a few minutes later.
You can make your own carbohydrate gels with just a few inexpensive ingredients—and it will only cost you around .30¢ per serving! As a bonus, your gels will always be fresh and free from unwanted chemicals. Here is a quick breakdown of the main ingredients that I use in my gels…
Brown Rice Syrup has 65 calories per tablespoon (21g) and 16 grams of carbohydrates. Brown rice syrup has a Glycemic Index of 25 and is composed of about 50% complex carbohydrates, 45% maltose, and 3% glucose. I buy Now Foods Organic Brown Rice Syrup from a local grocery store (it’s in their health food department) and it sells for under $5 for a 16-ounce container.
Raw Honey is a 100% simple sugar and has a Glycemic Index of 58. Honey has 64 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 17 grams of carbohydrates. Simple sugars can elevate your blood sugar very quickly, so you don’t want to take too much at one time. By the way, make sure you buy raw honey and not the processed garbage that comes in the cute bear containers.
Light Agave Nectar has 60 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 16 grams of carbohydrates, with a Glycemic Index of 11. Maple Syrup has 53 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 13 grams of carbohydrates, with a Glycemic Index of 54. Blackstrap Molasses has 45 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 11g of carbohydrates, along with 15mg of sodium and 500mg of potassium. Blackstrap molasses has a Glycemic Index of 55. Since blackstrap molasses has a strong flavor you should probably start with just a bit of it and work your way up!
Now for the recipes—I wish I could take credit for all of these, but most of them are recipes that I’ve cobbled together from other cyclists. However, the first recipe is mostly mine and it is my favorite!
Blue Ribbon Butterscotch Candy
Mix 8 tablespoons brown rice syrup, 2 tablespoons light agave nectar, 1 tablespoon warm water, 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1/4 tablespoon Morton Lite Salt Mixture, and about 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt. This mixture provides about 100 calories per 1.5 tablespoon. A ¼ teaspoon of Morton Lite Salt Mixture has 290mg sodium and 350mg potassium (I use this as an easy way to get potassium into my gels). This is my favorite homemade gel—and as the name implies, it tastes like butterscotch candy (and is highly addictive).
Honey GOO Recipe
This recipe comes from HomeGOO, a company that sells incredibly low-priced flasks for carb gels. Mix 4 ounces of raw honey, one tablespoon organic blackstrap molasses, 1/8 teaspoon sea salt, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. This recipe will approximately fill a 6-ounce flask.
Down And Dirty
I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it is very easy to make and has a mild taste. Mix 3/4 cup of brown rice syrup, 1/2 cup of agave nectar, 1/2 cup of raw honey, and 1/2 tsp of sea salt.
Finding A Flask
HomeGOO sells two different reusable flasks. The five-ounce Goo Flask is a 5.5 inch tall BPA free plastic container with a leak proof, push-pull valve. The flexible six-ounce Goo Flask is made from ultra-lightweight BPA free plastic and collapses as you consume the gel. It also has a push/pull drink spout with removable cap, though the cap really isn’t necessary. These bottles are easy to wash by hand and are dishwasher safe.
HomeGOO sells the five ounce flask for only .99¢, which means that if you only used in one time you still saved money over the cost of buying prepackaged gels. The six-ounce flask sells for $3 and should last a very long time. If you are into endurance sports you owe it to yourself to try these flasks!