Saturday, June 18, 2011

Homemade Energy Gels / GU

I decided to break into Homebrewing this past weekend.

But, as much as I like beer, that wasn't the goal.  As many of my friends know, I have a tendency to go a little bit whacko with regards to my hobbies so my wife is decidedly grateful I haven't decided to brew my own beer.  I'm sure she would have nightmares about some brewing mechanism taking over our garage like the Hive Queen's Lair in Aliens, its piping stretching over my poker table and hockey gear like some marriage killing hobby monster.

Instead I opted to try my hand at some homemade GU gel.  Over the last month as my mileage has increased I have gotten more and more irritated at the notion of shelling out over a buck a pop for GU, Cliffshots, Hammergels or stinger packets.  It just started to seem utterly ridiculous to me given that essentially all they consist of are carbs.  So a little bit of research and some tinkering in the kitchen last week led to my home recipe that I hope some of you might make use of.

The first thing I realized, is that honey is already about an 85% solution.  It really only lacks some sodium and potassium.  Potassium is to sodium as vitamin D is to calcium, which is to say that in order for one to achieve its purpose the other must be present.  Finding some sodium is obviously easy, just add some salt, but potassium was another matter.  As it turns out, Molasses is a fantastic source of potassium and sodium.  It also happens to be in about the right proportion for my purposes.  Specifically, backstrap molasses is what we're looking for here.  In addition, I found some brown rice syrup, which is LOADED with carbs and is typically used as a sugar replacement.

Before I discuss the final product however, let me discuss a few things that DIDN'T work.

I began with a honey base, and added some brown sugar and salt along with low heat on the stove.  All was well thus far.  I decided that because I was heading out the next day on a 20 miler and didn't have time to run to the store, I would try and make what I could with what was in the house.  A blue form of Gatorade was therefore the best source of potassium I could find.  Adding a little of that resulted in something I can only describe as a partially frozen and crystalized loogie that tasted like a half rancid otter pop.  Fail.  This thing was absolutely awful.  I was disheartened.

The next stage of development included the same base, but I thought adding a shot of espresso would work better.  No potassium, but it would be a quick fix solution in any case.  I don't exactly have an espresso machine, but I do have one of these babies:

So essentially what I did was put the setting on espresso shot and hoped for the best. It actually came out okay, although I wouldn't consider it espresso.  After adding it to the mixture though, the end-product was something like overly sweetened burnt coffee.  For those that have ever been in the military and remember the condensed coffee that used to come in the tubes and was used to make the instant coffee in the field, you know exactly the flavor of which I speak.  I decided that there was no way I was going to be able to choke this down during a run.  Crash and burn.

So, after two successive failures I remained cautiously hopeful that I could salvage this disaster.  The next day I went to my local Whole Foods and tried to get exactly what I needed.  Here's what I managed to acquire:

1 Jar Local Honey
1 Jar Brown Rice Syrup
1 Jar Blackstrap Molasses
1 Cute Honey Bear of Honey (for testing purposes, the local honey is expensive yo)

Total cost: About 22 bucks (I could have knocked off a few bucks as I discovered that the local honey was available 3 dollars cheaper at my local farmer's market)

(Wifey recommended the local honey in an attempt to combat some allergies.  To be honest, it seems to be working, whether it's a placebo effect or not I have no idea.)

So here was the final recipe and my review thereof:

2 tablespoon Honey
1 tablespoon Brown Rice Syrup
1 Tablespoon Molasses

Makes about 5 oz. or enough to fill up a small travel shampoo bottle.

My review?  Well, there is no question that this stuff is sweet.  I should also caveat this with the fact that the Army has provided me with an iron will where food is concerned.  I love and appreciate fine food, but I can eat crap if crap is what is placed before me.  That said, I thought this mixture was pretty tasty.  It was MUCH better than any artificially flavored GU or energy gels I've had in the past.  This, was success.  The taste was a bit like a ginger snap cookie dipped in honey and well, me likey. The Brown rice syrup added a certain thickness that I don't think honey would have had on its own.  I suppose I could have added a dash of salt too I suppose, but it seemed to me that the molasses had all of the sodium that I might need.  I still intend to use an electrolyte tab of some kind so the carbs were the most important factor IMO.

As far as performance is concerned, I used it on a 12 mile run and really liked it.  I felt no discernable difference between the homemade GU and real GU in terms of performance.  As a result, I'm gonna stick with it.  Oh and one more thing, I picked up some local raspberry syrup at the farmer's market that I may try to incorporate, more recipes to come in future posts.

Have you tried this yourself?  Tried mine and loved it?  Hated it?  Lemme know.

By Marcus with 26 comments


Thanks for posting the recipe. You are far braver than I am, as I continue to shell out $$$ for gel. I could probably be convinced to give it a try if I could get a free sample...

Nice, I am a DIY kind of person. I like to save a few bucks where I can. We have looked up recipes for DIY sports drinks but have not made anything yet. Morton light salt has potassium in it here is the nutrition link

I will have to try your recipe. Thanks for sharing!

Very cool! We make molasses cookies anyway, so the rice syrup is the only thing I need to get. Thanks for sharing!

If you want to make it less sweet consider adding maltodextrin. I have quite a few recipes for homemade energy gels as well as tons of detailed information on gels at

Yeah, thanks for the recipe. I think the ratios you give work well. I'm a cyclist who has tried many gels, energy foods only to find they taste terrible or too synthetic, or leave an aftertaste. Over the years I too have resorted to making my own gels, bars, mixes to fit my liking and prefer them waaaay over store bought stuff. I tried this recipe and like it. Did a few longer rides and it works fine on my stomach also. Yeah, it's sweet. On my latest batch, I have added a bit of finely ground dark coffee and so far it tastes good and does knock sweetness down a little. Next I might try some fruit jellies or fruit syrups to change flavors for variety.

can light corn syrup be substituted for the brown rice syrup?

Many thanks, I am a whole food vegan, so I look forward to trying your recipe, but substituting the honey for agave nectar and/or maple syrup.
Happy running!

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Hi all just want to ad a gu i have made and used.I enjoy triathlon and eat paleo.I use steamed sweet potato,honey,rasins,almond butter,shredded coconut and a pinch of salt. Mix all together in a mixer.Then just spoon a small amount into a piece of clingwrap.Its good to go tell me what you think i found them fantastic in a IM i did this year.Cheers

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Thanks for this, I live in a country where Gu's are $3-4 a pop, so making something myself really appeals. How do you package your home made energy gels for consumption while running?



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Just made this with local honey. I also added about 1/8 tsp of sea salt, 1 extra table spoon of the Syrup and an extra 1/2 tablespoon of honey. I tasted it and it's FANTASTIC!! This only made 3 oz for me though. I had been looking all over the web, but you were the first to combine Brown Rice Syrup and Blackstrap Molasse, so I was really excited.
I'll be trying this out on my 8mi run tomorrow. I'm training for a 1/2 and I wanted the gels, just not the price. I can now use this any time without worry. I also got these Travel squeeze bottles for them.
Thank you!! I'm so excited for tomorrow :D

A nice little squeeze bottle for homemade gu

What is the caloric breakdown. I am so looking forward to making this. Could I also add a table spoon of maltodextrin?

Love the maltodextrin-free recipe. I added a little bit of vanilla for flavor, and some lemon (for electrolytes and flavor). This an AMAZING base recipe and I can't wait to experiment with more flavors!

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Thanks for the recipe. I will try it this weekend. I have recently found out that the number 1 ingredient in GU gel is Malodextrin. Unorganic malodextrin comes from GMO corn which has Monsanto's RoundUP ready pesticide in it. YUCK. GU Gel is in the process of converting to all organic ingredients. I won't eat it again until they do change.

Mixed and in the travel shampoo bottle ready for a run tomorrow!

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Thanks for writing this. I also was in the Army and have been out for years now, but getting back into long distance running and looking for a cheaper solution. I like the shampoo bottle idea, also I've been looking at those reusable squeezable children's food containers ( It's been 5 years since you wrote this, is this the same formula? Do you add coffee? I've considered adding a little concentrated Nescafe. I've also heard of people using Salt Substitute as it's a mixture of potassium and sodium. Anyway Thanks!

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