Friday, July 27, 2012

Homemade Energy Gel How-To, Why and Price

I've been getting some request for homemade energy gel. I first wrote about it when i prepared for my 2008 Ironman, and subsequently used it for 2009 Ironman. While I only did 3 Ironman distance races (and i hope i can afford to do more in the future), this Energy Gel recipe might work great to help you save cost and have something you know "what is inside".
What you will need:
1. Brown Rice Syrup - About RM20, usually comes in 500gram bottle
Brown Rice Syrup
2. Agave Syrup - About RM20 RM30, but in 250ml
2a. or Honey(make sure it's of good quality, not sugar honey) - About RM20 for the 500grams good one. 
Kamahi - New Zealand Honey
3. Salt - go for mountain salt or ORS (if it boost your psychology that it cures cramp)
Get the best salt your money can buy.
4. Flavoring, if need/wanted. A friend put in instant coffee powder - for CAFFEINE!
I recommend using 75% brown rice syrup 25 % agave syrup or honey and 1 teaspoon of sea salt (or other natural, non refined salt or oral rehydration salts ORS) per 300 grams (henceforth, refer as ONE batch). I prefer to use organic ingredients where you can find it. If not, no need to be too anal about it. Just go for less processed items.
If you are using honey, you might want to reduce the brown rice syrup to about 60% and up the honey to 40%. This is because honey in any form has lower fructose concentration. One reminder about honey - go for the best your money can buy. Cheap RM20/kg honey are usually processed honey with sugar added/substituted. 
You can also use Molasses sugar instead of brown rice syrup. If you have access to Maltodextrin, they can be used to replace brown rice syrup as well. However, they are usually sold in 25kg bag. You might want to share this out among friends if you go this path (i have 2kg left). Maltodextrin is core ingredient in all energy food, as they are cheaper than those organic ingredients. Priced at about RM10/kg, you will see why you are paying for cheap ingredient later in this post.
You can run a check on them. :)
It is also easier on the stomach for some and not as sweet. It is available only as a powder and needs to be mixed with water to form a thin paste that can replace brown rice syrup. I try to avoid maltodextrin as it is too processed for my liking now. But it makes great replacement as energy drink if mixed with some sugar drinks such as Glucose or Ribena ;-) that's another post for another day.
Blackstrap Molasses - caution if you are using this, it is an acquired taste (a bit bitter with after-taste).
How to mix it all up
1. Using a separate container, preferably glass, or in my case, i remove about 50% of the Brown Rice Syrup into another container (to be used in the next batch).
2. I add in the Agave syrup to about 80% top of the container - giving an almost 75-25 mix of the concoction. If you use honey, add up to about 90% top of the container, this will be approximate 60-40 mix. Don't need to be too anal about it.
3. Add in a teaspoon of salt (about 5grams) per 300grams of mixture - or about 1.5teaspoon if you are using the container as the measurement.
4. Heat up some water in a pot and place the container into the pot. Avoid too large of a pot as it might tip the container. You might want to use something to hold the container as it is being heated up.
Illustration purposes only - Careful not to tip it over
5. Stir slowly and carefully the mixture as the water heats up. You will notice that the syrup will start to get more fluid as the water heats up. DO NOT BOIL THE WATER. Excessive heat will change the sugar property!
6. Once the mixture are well mixed, you can usually tell when there is no two distinct layer (of syrup and agave/honey), you can remove the container and pour it into a squeeze bottle. If you want some flavour, it is time to add it in and stir to get homogeneous mixture.
Squeeze Bottles
7. You can either repeat the above for the balance of syrup (since the water already heated up) and store them for future use.
Unfortunately, as there is no races for me now, i did not make any photos, but please do imagine the above being prepared with the minimal photos I've taken (to represent the process above).
What i noticed that i failed to share in the previous year's entry was the  "logic on the use of ingredient". Here are my not so scientific, but more of my own research and understanding over the years (since 2008) to perfect the formula (to my own liking). I only make this for major races that requires extensive planning on food and nutrition and not for anything less than a 70.3 or Half-Ironman distance type of race. For adventure races that span more than a day, i would rather carry REAL food, as nothing is more satisfying than to be able to chew on something (that is not your own flesh or your teammate's ;-))
Why These Ingredients for Homemade Gel?
The logic of this mixture/concoction of carbohydrates is to provides the glucose for immediate energy, fructose for more gradually released energy and the complex carbohydrates for more sustained energy. Sound logical enough? You will just have to be curious enough to read and to understand each properties of the items being placed in making this Energy Gel.
The commercially available gel follows this logic too -  and you have to pay for this "lesson". Electrolytes balance, in the form of sodium and potassium will be obtained via the addition of salt or ORS to the energy mixture. As you will be taking them as they were the content will definitely be more than that of what you can find in gels. 
We are all used to a few brands of energy gel and essentially, they are all the same (function) - to provide energy. Looking into what is in my fridge stored from a few races that i entered (and collected, sometimes from the road, unopened). I removed the name of the brands as i do not want to get into some issues with these companies. Bear in mind that these company spend millions on marketing and "product research" and i spend maybe "a couple of Ringgit to surf the net and up to 5 years of personal experiences" 
First, we have the ever popular XXXGel. It typically contains iingredients such as Maltodextrin, Filtered Water, Fructose, XXX Electrolyte Blend (Sodium Chloride, Sodium Citrate, Potassium Chloride), Citric Acid (VitaminC??), Sodium Benzoate (preservative) and Potassium Sorbate (preservative) and "Natural Flavor". 
XXXGel Chocolate (with 1x Caffeine) - ingredients in other flavor might varies.
Every pack (of 41grams) provide 120 Calories, of which 15kcal from fat (and with saturated fat too, oh no!). It has total Carbs of 27 g of which sugars made up 10 g with 200 mg Sodium and 20mg Potassium as electrolytes. It cost about RM7/packet or RM17/100grams. Here is what could be of a worry, fancy marketing name such as "C2XX Carbohydrate Blend" which is essentially Maltodextrin and Fructose mix sounded like miracle energy food if you read it in one breathe ;-)
Another popular brand is the YY Energy Gel. The ingredients are Maltodextrin (Glucose Polymers), Filtered Water, Fructose, YY Amino Blend (Leucine, Valine, Histidine, Isoleucine), Sodium and Potassium citrate, GU Antioxidant Blend (Natural Vitamin E And Vitamin C), citric acid, Natural Clementine Flavor, calcium carbonate, sea salt, Contains preservatives [Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate], fumaric acid, YY Herbal Blend [Chamomile, Cola Nut (Has Caffeine), Ginger], Oleoresin Paprika (Natural Color), Pectin.
Mandarin Orange Flavor - 20mg Caffiene. Free from Bali Marathon.
Every pack of 32grams provide 100kcal of which 0kcal fat. It has 50mg sodium and 40mg potassium as electrolytes. Claimed to contain amino acid to aid in muscle functions (really, in that amount?) and even comes with their own "antioxidant blend" which is nothing more than Vitamin E and C. Again, Maltodextrin is the common main ingredient apart from fructose. Priced at RM8/pack or RM25/100grams.
The last energy gel i have in my fridge was also given free to me during last year's SCKLM. It was this brand called ZZZ, which is not very common. The ingredients are Maltodextrin, Filtered Water, Natural Flavour, Citric Acid (E330), Salt, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Benzoate (E211).
Nothing but...sugar.
Each pack of 45grams provide 117Kcal of which 0kcal fat. Sodium is 36mg and potassium is 18mg. This ZZZ only has maltodextrin as energy source and nothing else - so it will appear not to be too sweet, and you in return thinks it is "healthier". But are they? Priced at USD2.50(online) or RM8/pack, it translates to be  RM17.80/100grams.
What's the whole point of this? 
The Homemade Energy Gel made from Rice Malt Syrup provides 317kcal/100grams. Kamahi Honey packs in 325kcal/100grams. Agave syrup is not far off with 300kcal/100grams. Blackstrap Molasses has up to 240kcal/100grams. Maltodextrin gives 375kcal/100grams. What does all these meant? Answer in the table i setup below.
Energy value (kcal) and price (per 100grams) of Homemade Energy Gel
On the average, 100grams will be equivalent to about 2.5packs of commercially available gel, which meant that per serving, you are looking between 110kcal (Combo3) and 142.5kcal (Combo4) of which a good mix of simple (glucose) to complex carbs (maltose) to power you through your races will be available. If you divide the servings further (money wise), you are not paying more than RM1.50/33grams of Energy Gel. How much are you paying for yours again?
Do I get you to see why it is better to make your own gel?
1. You save more. Combined total for raw ingredient, assuming you make a Combo 1 comes up to RM50.00 at most
2.Combo 1 will make you about 750grams worth of gel, providing you 2345kcal of energy of which NONE comes from any sort of fats
3. You get the ratio you needed for the instant surge of energy (glucose) to sustainable slow burning energy (maltose) - and no bonking due to sudden loss of "sugar high".
4. You get real food into your system. NO preservatives and all natural with minimal processing. You don't need to Google up what Potassium Citrate does to you or what in the world is Sodium Benzoate and how it will help you sustain your physical activities.
5. You get to write this Blog entry.
1. Not glam. No packaging and you don't get to strap your gels to your bike to show "I am ready for the race".
2. ONE flavor only. Can get boring after the third sip. But at that price and the needed energy, who cares (i don't)
3. Messy if you try to do it the first time.
*credit to to this post is to two good buddies that has shared this recipe back in 2007 (and from there, modified a few times). A big shout out to Azmar and Laif. Thank you again Buddy.


  1. Nice tip bro, I might just try it soon, need lots of energy gel to sustain ultraruns. Not sponsored very shiong ar..

  2. Bro, same lah. That is why motivation for the HOMEMADE stuff. :)

  3. you sponsor your own race. Good post bro. will definitely try this. and interestingly enouf, i just had the same Kamahi Honey for my sahur this morning (my first time of consuming this) and liking it. Now, I kind of know what other things that I can do with this honey. Will definitely try it for my preparation for PIBM.


  4. Anon said: you sponsor your own race. Good post bro. will definitely try this. and interestingly enouf, i just had the same Kamahi Honey for my sahur this morning (my first time of consuming this) and liking it. Now, I kind of know what other things that I can do with this honey. Will definitely try it for my preparation for PIBM.


    Stupe says: thanks. My point exactly. When we are just doing the sports out of our own pocket, it make more sense to save as much as we could. :) Try the prep of Rice Malt Syrup and Honey and see how your body reacts to it. Chances are, you will realise that it's just a physcological thing with these commercial gels!

  5. Great post. I have been experimenting a little with these and have had good results. I use my Food Saver to make little pouches. I leave the edges long so I can put in some scissor cuts and make it easy to tear off the corner. Makes me look like the 'white trash' of energy gels but this sport is already expensive and I am just getting started (just finished my first tri and am now addicted.

  6. Anon - Rightly so and said. There is no shame in being "white trash" or "yellow" in my case ;-) Glad it help!

  7. Useful tips! I love using straight raw organic honey for long runs and take sips every 30 minutes - never bonked so far! I also mix things up with DODOL - the Malaysian GU CHOMP (you heard it from me first heehe). it's convenient, single packed, and so tasty to chew on. The santan in there might give some people indigestion, but that fat gives me xtra energy!

  8. Grace - DODOL! Why had i not thought of that! WIN!

  9. menarik. nanti kena cuba. thanks bro

  10. Jeep - :) powered me through the Ironman races...:)

  11. Have you tried storing it in the fridge after preparation? How long can it keep for?

    1. The gel i made were sufficient for the race I take part in. Not sure how long it can keep. But I believe, if general hygiene (utensils included) were practiced, it can keep as long as the ingredients you use to make.

    2. Thanks for the reply, another question if you don't mind is where the hell can i get those squeeze bottles or gel flasks from? I've been looking around and it seems they're either expensive by small plastic bottle standards (4oz bottle will cost RM20+ each) or you have to buy them with a belt(even more expensive). Any idea where to look for these things for a budget conscious runner??

    3. Squeeze bottle is hard to find. I got mine from Hammer Nutrition. You might be able to buy them from the dealers and ask them to order for you. I think it is RM15 each only.