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Why do some energy gels hurt my stomach?
Energy gels are a popular, convenient way for endurance athletes at any level to take on a substantial amount of carbohydrates in a short space of time. Most aerobic exercise will see your body burning large amounts of carbohydrates as your body's primary fuel source. If you find yourself exercising for at least an hour, then there are definitely benefits to taking on some carbs in the form of a gel.
But for as long as energy gels have been around, so have some of their rather unpleasant side effects.
Just a quick Google search is all it takes to see that for many, taking energy gels can induce all manner of disruptive digestive symptoms.
No doubt some of you have been here too. Right before a race or a heavy training session, out with some friends, in the countryside or on the track, running shoes laced up or clipped into your bike, you set your mind to the task at hand, brace yourself to kick start your endeavor and then WHAM - stomach cramp. Nothing spoils a race or a training session quite like the inescapable urge to rush to a bathroom... just ask Paula Radcliffe. For many, bloating, diarrhea and cramping are an all-too-real side effect of taking energy gels (or food in general) before or during exercise.
But why is this?
Well, there are a couple of reasons why energy gels, in particular, can be difficult to er... stomach...
1. Your digestive system is at its most vulnerable during exercise
The first thing to note is that during exercise, your digestive system is at its most vulnerable. As you pound the track or the road, blood rushes away from your digestive system out to all of your hard-working muscles. To perform at your body's highest level, you need that blood working to bring oxygen and fuel to your muscles, which is great. However, as a result, your digestive system pays the price, which means that foods you would normally have no problem getting down can put you in a whole world of discomfort. During a race (as opposed to training), you're often pushing yourself to the very limit, perhaps even beyond your training, which will draw even more blood away from digestion.
2. Your gut needs water to digest Carbohydrate
The very high concentration of carbohydrates in energy gels can often compound this problem. Gels or glucose drinks that contain concentrated sources of sugar require water to aid in their digestion. Often, you'll find water in your gels at varying levels, consistency is usually a strong indicator of this. However your body will also react to the large amount of sugar by pushing more water out of your digestive tract to assist, this can often disrupt digestion, causing pain and inflammation.
3. Bloating & Gas...
Furthermore, when we take on carbohydrates, not all of it gets processed by our small intestine. A portion of it actually continues into the large intestine, fermenting to produce short-chain fatty acids and gas. This sounds pretty grim, but is actually a totally natural process that happens in all of us and is an important part of digestive health, fueling gut bacteria and protecting your intestines. For some, however, this can often result in bloating, gas and distension (ballooning), stomach cramping, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea or constipation (both if you're unlucky). Fructose, a very common ingredient in many sports nutrition products is one such carbohydrate that can often end up in your large intestine, inducing within a group of symptoms that all roughly fall under the umbrella term "code brown."
How Can I avoid these issues?
Well, there are a few ways...
- Water "The Elixir of Life" - Take on more water where possible. It sounds simple but water is your friend, it helps you ingest and digest carbohydrate more effectively.
- Find a balance between gels and solid food. Gels are convenient sources of carbohydrate and very effective too... but take on some more solid food where possible.
- Find a gel that works for you...
What makes our gels different?
Here at Kendal Mint Co., we're really passionate about our energy gels. We've worked really hard to create gels that not only deliver a top-notch blend of nutrition and bucket loads of flavour, but that are also digestion-friendly.
- The first way we've done this is through taste. Digestion begins in your mouth, and great taste is a key aspect of making a gel easy to digest. Which is why we've spent so long perfecting the taste of all our gels. We believe that our energy gels have spectacular flavour profiles that make them really enjoyable to consume. You can choose between our Citrus & Mint, Chocolate Mint, or Mint flavours. We think they're all great, but we've kept the range diverse so that there's something for everyone.
- Alongside great taste, is great texture. Our products have some of the best consistency you'll find in an energy gel. Put them alongside some of the big names in the industry, and you'll find that there's really no comparison. Our higher water content not only improves textures and consistency, making gels easier to swallow, they also significantly reduce the concentration (but not the amount) of carbohydrates as you take them on board. So you get the same boost of energy, but more water to help it down. This really helps to reduce the cramping that can often occur when you take on a high dose of carbs all in one go.
3. The final ace up our sleeve is our not-so-secret ingredient... Mint! As you might have guessed, at Kendal Mint Co. we love Mint. We love it so much, that we put Natural Peppermint Extract into every single one of our products. (Except our hats... yes they are green, but they do not contain mint!) We don't just do this because it's in our name, and not just because it's one of the key ingredients in Kendal Mint Cake. Mint is one of nature's greatest gifts to endurance athletes, and it's at the heart of our energy gels. Mint is a naturally calming and soothing herb and an anti-inflammatory. The very presence of mint in our gels acts to calm and relax your intestines like an antispasmodic. Not only that, it encourages bile to flow to the duodenum (gross we know but go with us on this). This helps to speed up and ease digestion as you take on your race fuel. In fact, Mint is so potent when it comes to reducing pain and relaxing your gut, that it's often given to patients undergoing colonoscopies to stop painful cramping.
So there you have it. Energy gels have indeed been known to cause some really painful and uncomfortable side effects in athletes who use them for sport. That's why we've spent so much time ensuring that when you take our energy gels, they're as kind to your gut as possible. If you're still not convinced, why not try them for yourself?
Right now our KMC Welcome Pack is on sale for just £12.99 and FREE Delivery! Inside you'll find a sample of all four of our energy gels, as well as our other exciting products like our Kendal Mint Cake and our recovery powders. This is a great saving and a really fantastic way to introduce yourself to our brand if you haven't already!
Haven't tried our new Minty Fresh range yet? Well you've come to the right place! This little box is packed with one of every product in the entire range! That's 2x Energy Bars, 5x Energy Gels, 1x Isotonic Drink Powder, 1x Protein Recovery Powder. PLUS you will get FREE DELIVERY on your first order. Join Team KMC and start your Kendal Mint Fuelled journey today.