Wednesday, June 08, 2011

How to make your own energy gel

Last winter, long-time running pal Eric posted a link to some ultra buddies of his who had experimented with making their own energy gel. These guys wanted to find an alternative to paying $1.25 for a 1 oz foil pouch ($20/pound)which also generates litter. My interest in processes coupled with my general tight-wadded-ness let to curiosity and experimentation. Their posts provided a rough idea of how to emulate the ingredients in many of the popular gels but it weren't repeatable. So, I experimented and here’s the exact recipe you can use right now.

The Specialized Ingredients

The key ingredient in most gels is a carbohydrate called maltodextrin. This base material is sold under a number of trade names, often at nutrition or health food stores. I found one, CarboGain locally. Do your own search. The key thing is to check the label and make sure the content is 100% maltodextrin. It’s a white powder that looks a lot like flour and has virtually no taste to the tongue. This is THE main ingredient. A 2 pound jar will last you quite a while. It cost me about $12 plus local tax.

The other ingredient you’ll need is fructose, often called “fruit sugar”. It’s different from normal sugar. You can often find it near the maltodextrin in the nutrition store. You may also find it in some grocery stores. It sells for a dollar or two per pound.

Maltodextrin, Fructose

The other items you already have or can find at any grocery store.

I've worked up two versions of what I call, for fun, "JoeGel". One flows easily, the other is more pasty, like the gels we buy in foil packs.

The Recipe—Fluid Version

Here’s how you make 4 oz of JoeGel.

½ Cup Maltodextrin
2 Tablespoons Fructose
¼ teaspoon Salt
¼ Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Water
½ teaspoon Vodka or Gin
¼ teaspoon Lemon Juice or other flavoring

Combine Maltodextrin, Fructose and Salt in a bowl. Stir well with a fork to eliminate any lumps. Put water in a small saucepan. Heat water until it steams but do not let it boil; reduce heat to simmer once it steams. Add about 1/3 of the dry contents to the water; stir with fork until all lumps disappear. Add vodka/gin and flavoring. Add another 1/3 of the dry mix, stirring until all lumps disappear. Add the remainder of the dry mix, stirring to dissolve all lumps. When dissolved, remove from heat, pour into a coffee mug and refrigerate. When cooled, the material should flow with the thickness of warm honey. Transfer to final container.

The Recipe—Gelatinous Version

½ Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Maltodextrin
2 Tablespoons Fructose
¼ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Pectin
¼ Cup Water
½ teaspoon Vodka or Gin
¼ teaspoon Lemon Juice or other flavoring

Combine Maltodextrin, Fructose, Salt and Pectin in a bowl. Stir well with a fork to eliminate any lumps. Put water in a small saucepan. Heat water until it steams but do not let it boil; reduce heat to simmer once it steams. Add about 1/3 of the dry contents to the water; stir with fork until all lumps disappear. Add vodka/gin and flavoring. Add another 1/3 of the dry mix, stirring until all lumps disappear. Add the remainder of the dry mix, stirring to dissolve all lumps. When dissolved, remove from heat, pour into a coffee mug and refrigerate overnight. When cooled, the material should have the consistency of cool molasses. Transfer to final container.

How the recipe works

Once you make JoeGel, you’ll see it is merely a suspension of a lot of carbs into a small amount of water. It’s amazing to me just how much dry ingredient dissolves into such a small amount of water. By varying the ratios a bit, you can dial in the concentration best for you. The vodka/gin acts as a stabilizing agent and removes any lasting bitterness. The flavoring simply adds some taste. I like the taste of lemon best; I’ve also tried strawberry and nothing. Others have used almond, vanilla and other fruit or vegetable flavors. Experiment and find something you like.

I find it takes me about 15 minutes to make a batch, from getting the ingredients out to finishing the clean up.

I have not experimented with how long JoeGel will stay "fresh"; I've always used it within 4 or 5 days of making it. Since it is so easy to make, I just make what I'll need for a race or long training run and don't bother to keep it around.

How to carry it

This turned out to be the biggest problem to solve! How do you get the gel into a leak-proof, reopenable, compact form to fit in the pocket of running shorts? Sealing foil pouches just isn’t practical. I tried little plastic pouches for the gel version but couldn't make them handle well.

I ultimately opted to use the fluid version of JoeGel because I could easily put it into one of two carriers. For short runs, I picked up a small 3 oz shampoo travel container at a local discount store. For longer runs, I fill as much as I need in one of the 10 oz bottles on my water belt. A nice benefit of this is the complete lack of litter. The bottles also clean up easily.

I never have found a container to carry the gel version in a way I can also eat easily while running. If you find something, let me know, I'll add it here.

I’ve found I use about 1.5 oz of JoeGel per hour of distance running. Your mileage may vary.

Types of Containers for Fluid Version

How to modify JoeGel

I give you a starting point. If it looks like fun, play with it. I’d suggest the first thing to do is experiment with the flavor. By changing the kind and amount of flavor, you can get most any type and strength of flavor you’d like. If your stomach is sensitive, play with the carb mix…less fructose, more malt or vice-versa…thinner or thicker. My guess is you can find some proportion which will work for you.

Let me know how it works!

I hope this is helpful for you. Let me know how it works, either here or direct to me (see the sidebar).

And, as always, persevere.

14 comments:

Backofpack said...

Joe,
This is how Eric carries it:
http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/hammer-flask.hf.html

I was thinking the gin/vodka was too kill pain, and that you might need a lot more of it!

Wes said...

bwahahahaha! I sense the engineer in you on this one :-) Yea, I was thinking that I'd let it cool before adding the gin. You know. So the alcohol doesn't burn off!

Karen said...

Two Questions with comments, Joe:

1) What is the volume of one recipe in your coffee mug? Your liquids measure slightly more than 1/4 cup but you coax a huge amount of sugars into your supersaturated solution. I"m guessing you get much more than one cup in the end.

The small amount of alcohol really changes the properties of the water allowing it to dissolve more of the sugars. What happens if you double the alcohol? Just wondering!

2) Have you registered your product name? You don't want infringement issues later one!!

Karen

Joe said...

Karen, thanks for the chemical input...I count on your for that, sis!!

1. I end up with a little over 1/2 cup of JoeGel. The sugars "shrink" when they dissolve.

I didn't know that alcohol served to alter the H2O properties...others had written it had more to do with altering the taste. I'll try it with doubling the gin and see if it absorbs more/faster or alters the taste. Other pals of mine just plain want more booze in their sugar!!

2. Ha! No registration there... there won't be much interest and I'm a "public domain" guy anyway!!

Thanks, Karen, you are awesome!

Sarah said...

Thanks for posting! I may try this at some point. I like the caffeinated gels so I wonder if you could substitute the water with some strong coffee.

I was going to mention the hammer gel flask too. Also this one: http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/gel-bot-soft-flask.gbsf.html

Darrell said...

Kinda neat stuff there, Joe. I wonder about making a chocolate one? Have you tried it without the alcohol?

Joe said...

Darrell, chocolate is a good idea. I haven't tried it. But 1 or 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder in the dry ingredients would be fun to try. Have to check on how it would sit on the stomach.

No, I have not tried it w/o the alcohol. My chemistry sister says it is vital to get the solution to saturate with the carbs. Would be interesting to experiment and see, eh?

Noel said...

This looks like it's worth a try. Do you still make it? Now you've got me thinking, how would this work with Dry Malt Extract instead of pure maltodextrin?

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe, this got me very interested, however are you sure of the 1/4 cup + 1 table spoon of water, l added about 1/2 a cup of water, still alittle thick, and ideas mate

Cheers Tristan

Jonathan Schreiner said...

@Sarah - You can purchase caffeine powder from a number of sources and could, likely, add it to this recipe quite easily.

http://www.amazon.com/Caffeine-Anhydrous-Powder-Alertness-HerbStoreUSA/dp/B0045RYE0Q

Merv48 said...

For containers, how about empty jelly Belly 'Sport Beans' packs? Once the tear strip is removed, they have a zip lock closure. Of course, you'd have to buy a pack of the bean, open enough packs to contain the amount made, and either either use the beans or give them away. They do the same thing as the gels, but not as concentrated. I mention this, because my wife got me a bunch of packs (about 24 I guess) as part of my birthday present, so, I already have the packs, if I save 'em.

Joe said...

Merv, that's a very good idea, thanks!!

Joe

Kristen said...

Instead of going to a nutritional supplements store for maltodextrin, I'd recommend going to the local homebrew store. I purchased a 1/2 lb bag (8 oz) for $1.80. I'm tempted to try this with my favorite sprayed/powdered malt extract to try to get to taste more like a condensed beer.

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