There are a huge number of gels, supplements and snacks on the market: we tried a small selection, and here’s what we thought
Bars and snacks
Frank snack bars
Multipack of 20 for £17
The creation of former Everton footballer (and vegan) Neil Robinson, these are really rather tasty. They are made from oats, dates and other dried fruit and a small amount of chocolate. The texture is quite dense and cakey, even fudgey, but they are a fairly light snack, at 119 calories. Each 35g bar has around 4g of protein – and plenty of carbs, of course. I’ve found these great for a mid-afternoon snack if I am running in the evening. The orange and chocolate flavour is, I think, the nicest.
119 calories, 3.96g protein, 23.3g carbs of which 14.62g sugars
Multipack of 18 for £13.99 or in supermarkets and shops nationwide
Nakd bars seem to be appearing everywhere now, in supermarkets and corner stores. They consist of raw fruit and nuts – like the Frank bars they are vegan, and also gluten-free. The balance of ingredients obviously depends on the flavour, but my favourite, the chocolate mint, has 48% dates, 29% cashew nuts, 17% raisins and 6% cocoa. That obviously means it has some protein, from the nuts (compared to a cereal bar, say) though also quite a lot of natural sugar. Then again, most fruit-based bars do. They are a little drier in texture than the Frank bars. A decent snack, though. As an aside, they are also great for giving to small children who crave chocolate …
135 calories, 3g protein, 17g of carbs of which 15g is sugars
Trek protein bars
12 for £13.99 or in healthfood shops
These are more of a substantial snack – the company even bills them as a possible breakfast on the go. Certainly they are filling, and contain around 11-12g of protein in a 68g bar. They are also pretty tasty – though it helps if you are a fan, as I am, of peanut butter. I wouldn’t recommend them too soon before a run, as they are too substantial and would give me a stitch, but they would be a good refuelling snack after a long run or gym session: particularly for people who are not fans of protein drinks or shakes. Again, these are vegan and gluten free.
239 calories, 11g protein, 33g carbs of which 26g sugars
£1.39 from snowandrock.com or find a retailer here
These also have 11g of protein in each bar, and they also come in peanut butter flavour … essentially many of these products are indeed interchangeable, so your preference will probably just come down to what texture you prefer. These are quite moreish (whether that’s a good thing or not is debateable) but also a bit dry – I would certainly want to drink something with them. A good fuelling product for a long cycle ride.
254 calories, 11g protein, 37g carbs, of which 21g sugars
Chia charge flapjacks
£1.50 from runningfood.co.uk
Another year, another superfood. This one – chia seeds – does come with quite the running pedigree though – it’s the fuel of choice of the Tarahumara people in Mexico, subjects of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. And the flapjack is very tasty indeed, but also very substantial. Chia seeds are supposed to be great for you, packed with Omega 3s and the like, but there’s not a lot of protein in this bar compared to the carbs. Very tasty, but definitely one to either eat in two gos, or after a pretty heavy training session.
378 calories, 5g protein, 44g carbs of which 23g sugars
Urban fruit dried cherries
100g bag around £1.97 but currently two for £3 in Asda and Tesco
As a snack, dried fruit is obviously pretty loaded with sugar, albeit “natural” fruit sugars. But sometimes that’s just what you need to get you through the day or pick you up for your run. Some long-distance runners even swear by dried fruit as a mid-run fuel, though I’ve never tried this myself. Of all the dried fruit I’ve tried (and that’s a fairly long list) the best I’ve found is Urban Fruit. It just seems a bit less dry than many of the supermarket own-brands, and more full of fresh fruit flavour.
287 calories, 2g protein, 76g carbs of which 59g sugars
Science in Sport Go gels
From £1.29 from scienceinsport.com (or £8 for a mixed eight) or many running/sports shops
The gel marketplace is an increasingly crowded one, but the SiS gels stand out as the superior product, and the best tasting. Others may offer a similar makeup of carbs, but the great thing about the SiS gels is how easy they are to take: they are designed to be taken without water, and they deliver on this promise. The texture is much thinner and more liquid than any other gel we tried, and the flavours (all fruit) are pleasant too. I particularly like the berry flavour with caffeine, which gives just the right boost without sending you into caffeine-overdrive. Perfect for runs of over an hour, when you need to replenish carbs, or long cycle rides. I can’t now imagine using any other gel.
21.5g carbs, 50mg caffeine (in berry flavour) – non-caffeinated gels have c. 20g carbs
We also tried Torq gels, Hammer gels, GU energy gels and Clif shot gels. All certainly delivered the requisite amount of carbs, but all also really needed to be consumed with water – making them fine for cyclists with a water bottle but a bit of a tricky one for runners, unless you run with a large bottle. Some of the flavours were also a bit baffling (and occasionally disgusting) to me. Rhubarb and custard? Chocolate? Strawberry yoghurt? Really?
Worth mentioning separately as these are quite a different product, are the Clif shot blocks, which are jelly-like cubes. As mentioned in the video, I am incapable of chewing and running at the same time, but I can see these would be good for cyclists or other endurance sports, where you have a bottle of water to hand.
Again, this is a hugely crowded marketplace so here are just a few products we liked – or think you should avoid.
Around £3 for a four pack
I could not manage more than about three sips of this. No liquid should be this colour. It may have the right rehydrating ingredients in it, but why must it look like it could fuel a supertanker – or possibly a Smurf? Could they not at least try to make it look healthy?
4-7g carbs, 46mg-115mg of sodium per 100ml
Nuun active hydration
£6 for a tube (or savings on multipacks)
Again this essentially replaces what you lose in sweat – but with the advantage that there’s not a lot else in it – namely sugar, which is found in rather too many “sports drinks”. Each tablet is only about eight calories. The flavours are rather nice – quite subdued, which is a good thing in my book. Strawberry lemonade was my favourite. If you like to add something to your water (and plenty of people don’t, of course) then this is a good option – nicely portable and pleasant tasting. I also like the fact that the company doesn’t make any claims to do anything other than rehydrate you, given the amount of hyperbole in this field, their take is pleasingly understated.
Tablet makes up to provide 360g sodium, 50mg potassium, 25mg magnesium, 13 mg calcium
£3 for three sachets
Another chia seed product (see the flapjack bars above) these are a nice “natural” option – essentially you are just drinking some chia seeds in water with raspberry flavour. Whether or not this would have any real impact on your running is moot, really – it’s a pleasant way to hydrate using natural ingredients and without a tonne of sugar.
As we mention in the video, most of these are convenience products, and contain nothing that a good balanced diet or “real” food snack wouldn’t provide. It’s particularly worth noting that there’s an increasing body of research behind the boosting power of beetroot juice – so try adding some to a smoothie. Cherry, too, is worth a try.