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“GU’d” Nutrition

GU Energy Gels are made by GU Energy Labs of Berkeley, California. GU Energy Labs is the granddaddy in the industry having been around since 1991. “GU’s”, as we affectionately call them, pack 100 calories in a 32g serving and come in a variety of flavors. All flavors are of average viscosity (“GU-ey”), but thicken as the temperature drops. On a cold spring ride, I reveled in the novelty of chewing my GU’s – Texture is an important dimension of taste!

Like all gels, most of the calories in GU come from carbohydrates (20-25g), specifically a mixture of maltodextrin (70-80%) and fructose (20-30%). Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate made of glucose polymer while fructose is a simple sugar (a monosaccharide). Complex carbohydrates take longer to metabolize than simple sugars, thus the combination of simple and complex sugars provides an immediate and sustained energy boost.

Certain flavors such as Peanut Butter and Chocolate Outage derive a portion of their caloric count from fat (~2g) that is likely associated with the natural flavoring additives (peanut butter and dark chocolate, respectively).

All flavors contain a good dose of electrolytes (sodium, 40-65mg and potassium, 35-60mg) to replenish depleted salt levels.

GU’s also contain the GU Amino Blend, a proprietary amino acid cocktail consisting of Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine and Histidine. These are essential amino acids meaning we must consume them as the human body cannot make them biosynthetically. Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine are also branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). While opinions on amino acid supplementation vary, GU alleges that the GU Amino Blend will combat muscle fatigue, assist carbohydrate metabolism and maintain mental focus.

Every GU contains vitamins C and E. Vitamins C and E are involved in free radical detoxification pathways. Free radicals are damaging chemical species that are believed to be produced as by-products of metabolic stress.

GU’s also contain the GU Herbal Blend that comprises chamomile, ginger, and in some flavors, cola nut (a source of caffeine). For many endurance athletes, stomach and digestion issues are exacerbated during long periods of exertion. Chamomile and ginger are natural substances that may help alleviate digestion-related issues in some individuals.

Certain flavors of GU contain caffeine while others do not. Caffeine is a stimulant, which for some, may reduce perceived effort. I prefer caffeinated gels in moderation and will pack these separately from my non-caffeinated gels. During the inaugural Ironman Mont Tremblant, I mistakenly pulled the non-caffeinated gels from my special needs bag when I intended to grab the caffeinated ones. A short while later, I nodded off while running and nearly fell in to a ditch adjacent the railway bed. The moral here is that as a regular coffee drinker, my body is accustomed to regular does of caffeine and there are benefits to its use. However, caffeine is not for everyone – It is a diuretic and may be problematic if dehydration or excessive urination is an issue.

In my opinion, the various GU flavors are very “GU’d”. Peanut butter tastes and has the consistency of peanut butter (not much of a stretch since it contains peanut butter). Espresso Love (2X caffeine) gave me enough energy and buzz to get me home on numerous 6 hour saddle days. Jet Blackberry (also 2X caffeine) and Tri-Berry reminds me of distilled, melted Freezy (which is a good thing). If I close my eyes while eating Chocolate Outage, I can almost convince myself I am eating Duncan Hines frosting. While I enjoyed Mint Chocolate on occasion, the minty aftertaste and pasty-consistency is reminiscent of toothpaste. Notwithstanding, your training partners will appreciate your minty-fresh breath.

Having consumed over 20 gels during Ironman distance races, I am easily excited by new flavors. Salted Caramel was a new flavor for 2014 that quickly became my favorite. It could easily substitute for ice cream topping and the caffeine kick is a plus. One training partner told me he spreads Salted Caramel GU on toast! While I suspect he was being facetious, I may or may not have tried this.

Finally, I found the packaging to be user-friendly. The foil tab is easily torn from either side of the package facilitated by adjacent indentations. For triathletes that tape gels to their bike, GU is perfect due to the robust tab and slim profile. Personally, I tape caffeinated gels to the bike while leaving the non-caffeinated gels in the stem bag. With this set-up, I can easily dose myself with caffeine as needed.

Glenn Ikeda
Team Running Free – Ajax

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