Ultrarunning Edge Blog
Energy Gel Packets—A Pocket Full of Goo? Print E-mail
Written by Bruce R. Copeland   
Thursday, 29 July 2010 14:56

Today I experienced my fourth leaking energy gel packet in as many months. I've had it!!! Three different manufacturers: PowerBar, GU, and Hammer Nutrition. In every case the gel packet was not punctured; instead it was leaking from a seam in the packet or a crease where the packet was folded.

For years energy gels have been substantially overpriced—somewhere between eight and ten times the cost of the gel ingredients. Manufacturers have mostly justified these high prices on the basis of the packaging. That was fine as long as the packaging worked. I've been using gels for over seven years, and my handling of gel packets hasn't changed. If anything my usage of gel packets has declined over time. So why all of a sudden are so many gel packets leaking?

Starting today, I refuse to put up with it anymore. We now have lots of options when it comes to getting carbohydrates and electrolytes for endurance running, cycling, etc. Gel manufacturers can either start producing bullet-proof gel packages, offer a money-back guarantee, or deal with lots of very negative publicity and loss of business.

Leave a comment about your experiences with gels.

Pinole: Eat Like a Tarahumara Runner Print E-mail
Written by Bruce R. Copeland   
Thursday, 10 December 2009 17:22

The breakout bestseller "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall has stimulated a number of recent ultrarunning blog articles extolling the biomechanical virtues of Tarahumara (Raramuri) Indian running style (see e.g. Proper Running Technique Can Improve Performance, and Elements of the Perfect Trail Running Shoe). But the Tarahumara Indian approach to eating on the run is equally intriguing. These runners use pinole (a form of corn meal) as a primary energy source when distance running. Interestingly American Indians and 18th and 19th century Mountain Men (all known to rapidly cover long distances on foot) also often subsisted on pinole supplemented with pemmican or jerky. For a couple months now, I've been experimenting with pinole as my carbohydrate energy source on longer runs. For me, pinole seems to work every bit as well as—maybe better than—gel.

Pinole is easy to prepare. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, blend 2 cups corn meal, 1/3 cup honey, 0.5 teaspoon lite salt, and 0.25 teaspoon table salt. Spread the mixture uniformly on a cookie sheet (with sides) and bake for about 15 - 20 minutes until medium golden. About every 5 minutes, you will need to use a spatula to mix (breaking up any big lumps that remain) and spread the pinole on the cookie sheet. This keeps it from getting too browned, and the corn meal mixes more easily with the honey as it gets hot. When the pinole is medium golden, remove the cookie sheet from the oven and let cool. Store the pinole in a closed container at room temperature.

Corn meal contains about 160 calories per ounce by weight. So in energy terms, pinole is pretty much a direct replacement for gel on a volume basis. I find that gel flasks are a convenient way to carry pinole. Simply unscrew the flask top, and pour about an ounce volume of pinole into your mouth. Pinole tastes like a slightly sweet, crunchy version of popcorn. Chew and swallow most of it; then chase with 6 - 8 ounces of water. It takes somewhat longer to digest cornmeal than maltodextran or simple sugars, which are used in many gels. In this respect pinole is more comparable to gels based on brown rice syrup. If you're one of those runners who wait until your blood sugar starts to dive before consuming a gel, pinole probably won't work very well for you.

The Indians mix some cinnamon with their pinole. I don't particularly like cinnamon, but it does help modulate blood sugar. Regular corn meal works fine for piñole, but if you can find blue corn or one of the other maize meals, go for it!