Power Fuel: How CPG Companies Can Develop Better Energy Gels for Endurance Athletes

develop better energy gels for endurance athletes
Energy gels are becoming increasingly popular as more athletes train for endurance events. CPG companies can develop better energy gels that appeal to a more diverse consumer base.
Image Source: Flickr User John Rees

A few decades ago, the only people who completed marathons were the most serious runners. Today, endurance events are increasingly popular among everyday athletes. Weekend warriors who once stuck to road 5Ks and leisurely bike rides are now tackling half-marathons, marathons, triathlons and cycling tours. Many of these athletes fuel their training and races with energy gels. As more people compete in endurance events, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies can capitalize on the growing demand for energy gels by developing new and better formulations that appeal to a more diverse base of customers.

How Better Energy Gels Can Improve Athletic Performance

The fundamental purpose of energy gels is to replenish an athlete’s carbohydrate stores, which are depleted during endurance events. The average athlete can only run for about ninety minutes at half-marathon pace or two hours at marathon pace before running out of muscle glycogen.1 If athletes don’t refuel with carbohydrates, they will “hit the wall,” forcing them to slow down, walk or even drop out of a race. Energy gels provide a source of carbohydrates, but not all formulations are created equal.

Gels can contain a wide range of sugars, each of which has a different effect on the body. Simple sugars like fructose and sucrose provide an immediate burst of energy, while long-chain complex carbohydrates facilitate more sustained energy release. Finding the right balance of these sugars can significantly improve performance. If a gel contains multiple carbohydrate sources, athletes can absorb more fuel per hour, which helps maintain energy levels.2 Certain combinations of carbohydrates can also be easier for the stomach to handle, reducing the chance of mid-race digestive distress.

Energy gels can also include additional ingredients that give athletes the extra edge they need to meet their performance goals—whether they are looking to shave seconds off their personal best time, win their age group or just finish the race. Added electrolytes can replace those lost in sweat, while caffeine and B vitamins can improve energy levels. Branched-chain amino acids may be able to fight mental fatigue and reduce muscle damage.3

Developers can vary the levels of some of these ingredients in order to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse group of endurance athletes. For instance, athletes who are “salty sweaters”—that is, they lose more sodium in sweat than others4—need gels with more electrolytes. The right caffeine level in a gel depends on the athlete’s tolerance: runners who normally drink three cups of coffee before heading into the office each morning may need a gel with extra caffeine, while other athletes avoid it altogether in order to prevent stomach trouble. CPG companies can appeal to a more diverse consumer base by developing different formulations to meet different athletes’ needs.

It can be tricky for formulations developers to choose ingredient combinations that optimize functionality. One solution is to use formulations development software, which makes it easier to organize ingredient data and to test possible combinations. By efficiently integrating physical and functional data, it can help researchers design energy gels that give athletes the performance boost they need to reach their potential.

Appealing to a More Diverse Base of Customers

As more athletes compete in endurance events, developers will see increasing demand for formulations that meet specific dietary needs. For instance, more athletes will be looking for energy gels that are vegan, kosher, halal or gluten-free. There is also a growing trend toward “clean eating” among health-conscious athletes, which means that there is greater demand for gels that include all-natural, organic and non-GMO ingredients. Again, appropriate software can help CPG companies develop energy gels that meet the dietary needs of a diverse base of consumers without sacrificing performance benefits. Formulations software makes it easier to organize and integrate ingredient data and streamlines the testing process for unique energy gel formulations.

Another way for CPG companies to improve energy gel formulations is with regard to flavors. In the past, elite athletes who were concerned primarily with performance were willing to put up with sickeningly sweet or virtually tasteless energy gels, but everyday athletes want energy gels that taste good. Running or cycling isn’t as fun for everyday athletes when they have to eat something that tastes bad every few miles, so when choosing an energy gel, flavor is an important consideration. In fact, flavor can be a motivator for many athletes. It’s a lot easier to get out the door for a twenty-mile training run or to push through the next five miles of cycling when there’s a fun energy gel flavor like Mocha or Banana Split on the horizon. At the same time, formulations developers need to be sure that new flavors do not affect the fundamental functionality of the energy gel. Formulations software can increase the efficiency of the testing process in order to ensure that companies are investing in the development of energy gels that bolster performance and taste great.

The Importance of Packaging Energy Gels for Convenience

The packaging of an energy gel can be almost as important as the contents and there are several ways that CPG companies can improve the packaging of energy gels in order to make them more convenient. One possibility is to vary the gel pouch size because smaller athletes and those in shorter races may need less fuel than others. A half-marathoner might need to take half a gel in order to avoid hitting the wall, but eyeballing it mid-run can be a challenge, especially halfway through a tough race. On the other hand, athletes who compete in longer events may want large gel packages with more concentrated formulations so that they don’t have to take multiple gels at a time. By varying size, CPG companies can help meet the needs of very different runners.

Packaging improvements can also simplify the overall process of refueling. There’s nothing more frustrating than struggling to open an energy gel while trying to balance on a bike or maintain marathon pace. To make matters worse, some energy gels are too hard to squeeze out of the package, so a lot of precious fuel gets stuck at the bottom. Finally, there’s the question of disposal. Many athletes don’t want to carry around a sticky wrapper, but trash cans aren’t always convenient, especially when training in the mountains for a 50K trail run. Biodegradable gel pouches could help solve this problem.

In order to make these improvements happen, formulations scientists need to be able to work closely with packing developers. Technology like electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) can help researchers in different departments integrate their results. They can share experimental results in real-time in order to determine whether a proposed packaging option is compatible with the gel formulation it is designed to contain. Athletes will appreciate a product that emphasizes both nutritional and practical functionality.

BIOVIA offers several technologies that can help your company develop energy gels that appeal to a diverse group of everyday athletes. The BIOVIA Formulations Solution provides innovative software that can help CPG companies maximize energy gel quality and streamline formulations testing. BIOVIA Notebook can help organize and integrate data within a lab and across departments, facilitating the overall optimization of the product. Contact us today to learn more about how our technology can help your company energize the energy gel market.

  1. “Everything You Need to Know About Energy Gels,” January 18, 2016, http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/nutrition/everything-you-need-to-know-about-energy-gels_44642
  2. “Energy Gels 101,” May 14, 2013, http://www.runnersworld.com/fuel-school/energy-gels-101
  3. “Effects of branched chain amino acids in endurance sports: a review,” November 16, 2014, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25617538
  4. “Are You a Salty Sweater?” March 18, 2009, http://www.runnersworld.com/ask-the-sports-dietitian/are-you-a-salty-sweater