Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Energy Gel Recipe

Have you ever built a huge camp fire while you’re out camping with friends or family and stepped back with an admiring look on your face and exclaimed “Now that’s a fire”? Or upon building what you deem is the world’s best sandwich you say out loud for all to envy “That’s what I call a sandwich”.

Why are we so proud of ourselves when we build, create, develop, or even destroy something? I believe it’s because we did it with our own hands. There’s a sense of pride and satisfaction that we get when we make something on our own as opposed to going down to the store and merely buying it. And as an added bonus 9 times out of 10 it’s a lot cheaper to make something than buy it.

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about all of the training rides that I have planned in preparation for doing the STP and how I’m going to have to figure out how to eat on the bike if I’m going to do a double century in a reasonable amount of time. In my case if I’m going to eat on the bike it’s going to be in the form of a gel.

If you haven’t had a gel before you don’t know what you’re missing. Gel comes in a little packet and depending on the flavor that you buy tastes like a couple bites of really delicious pudding. Mmmmmm pudding……… The amazing thing about gel is that it provides immediate energy to your legs. There have been a number of times that I’ve been out for a ride and feel like I’ve completely run out of gas and upon eating a gel I feel like I could ride another 100 miles. They are the cycling equivalent to the illusive elixir of life.

The only downside to gel is the expense. A tiny packet of gel generally cost $1.25 and on a long ride I could consume 4 or more of these life savors. That’s not bad for one ride but it adds up over time and it’s kind of a hassle to have sticky gel packets stuck in your seat bag or other places such as the side of your jersey (without you knowing it).

So, the other day I thought to myself “Mike, you should do some research and start making your own gel”. On this occasion I agreed with myself and decided to do just that. Of course I went straight to the authority on this subject, the internet (Thanks Al Gore). The first couple of searches that I did turned up a mountain of strange recipes that ranged from straight honey to mashed up berries. None of these things sounded anything like the ingredients that I see on the side of a gel packet but then I came across a great article written by someone named Travis. This article talks about some of the science behind what is in gel but in an understandable way and also offers a simple recipe. Here’s a link to this article if you’re interested in further reading which I’m sure you are.

I didn’t follow Travis’s recipe exactly because I wanted to customize it a bit so here is what I came up with.

Brown Rice Syrup (75%)
Agave Nectar (a little less than 25% of the total quantity desired)
Sea Salt (very small amount)
Fruit puree (just enough to add some flavor and color)

I really like this recipe because all of the ingredients are easy to find at the health food section of most grocery stores. Here is how I put it together.

I started by determining how much gel I wanted to make. In my case I own a gel flask which is basically a mini water bottle used to store gel. My gel flask holds ½ of a cup of gel so this is the amount that I wanted to end up with.

Then using the percentages above I filled up a 1 cup measuring cup half way. I know that’s not very technical or exact but for me it was easier just to eyeball a 1 cup measuring cup half way. For the puree I took some frozen blackberries that I picked in the park across the street from our house and put them in a food processor (fake magic bullet) and ground them up.

Since everything in this recipe is fairly thick once I had it all in my measuring cup I put it in the microwave oven for 45 seconds to heat it up. This thinned out the ingredients enough to be able to mix them up with a spoon.

Once everything was mixed up I poured the gel into my flask and put it in the refrigerator for my ride the next morning. That’s all there was too it. The total process took 20 minutes or so and that included the cleanup.

The final test

The next day I completed a 73 mile ride on some Gatorade and my flask of gel and felt great the whole ride. For a source of energy this gel worked most excellent. The only downside was since I used blackberries for flavor there was a high concentration of seeds in it. These seeds loved the nozzle of my flask and clogged it the first time I attempted to consume some gel. I finally I just took the top off of the flask. The flavor was great but I did end up spitting a lot of seeds every time I ate some.

Next time I’m going to definitely to strain the seeds out before I add the blackberries. Better yet I'd like to come up with a chocolate flavored gel. Got any ideas on how to do that? If anyone else tries to make their own gel I’d like to hear how it works for you.


Anonymous said...

I thought about making my own a few months back when I was training for my first century. Never did though, but now that I read about your success, I'm tempted to give it a try.

Also, berries are a natural alternative to ibuprofen, so as well as giving your gel a yummy flavour, they are probably helping out with your recovery too.

Big Oak said...

Wow, that's pretty cool. Thanks for the recipe and the instructions. I'm going to try that. As for the chocolate, would cocoa powder work?

Anonymous said...

You forgot the biggest downside to gels... they soak up all your body heat when placed in your jersey pocket, thereby rendering them 'soup like.'

My personal distaste for warm gel beside, I still use them and I'll have to give this a try.

jeff said...

Interesting. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the link. I might have to try this myself.

Jenny-Jenny said...

You're the man! I'm really glad it worked for you and I can't wait to try it.

Dawn said...

Way to go MJ! I would never doubt that you could do anything you set your mind to do!!

Kokorozashi said...

I'm definitely going to have to try this! I'll be riding my first century on 2 May and (if all goes well) my first 200k brevet on 26 June, so I think I'm going to expirment with these as I continue my training.

To prevent seed-related catastrophes, maybe you could adapt a trick that's used for making seedless jam:

1. Put the blackberries in some doubled-up cheesecloth (you can get it at the grocery store) over a bowl.

2. Mash the living daylights out of them.

3. Wrap up the pulp in the cheesecloth, and then squeeze every last drop of liquid out of the berries.

You can also use a foodmill, but they're a lot more expensive than cheesecloth and, from what I understand, the cheesecloth method is more reliable :) The cheesecloth method should give you all the flavor with none of the seeds!

The Old Bag said...

THANKS! It never occurred to me to look into making my own gel. Great idea!

jeff said...

Mike, I went out that day and bought the syrup, nectar, and sea salt. Found a little chocolate extract in the cupboard...??? Added a little, and it looked green, a little more darkened it up to look respectable. I've got a little longer ride planned for tomorrow, so I'll let you know how it works "in the field".

Tracy W said...

What a great idea! Thanks for posting the recipe. I'm hoping to give it a try in the next couple of weeks.

The Wisconsin Skier said...

Use a juicer instead, for this purpose one only wants the carbs or so I have been reading. The protein and fibers would be good for post-recovery.

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