Q: Is it possible to make a workout booster like a gel or energy chew from natural foods and superfoods?
Most of us who are impassioned with sports and fitness either use energy boosters like gels regularly, or at the very least have tried them. At their best, commercial gels are primarily composed of one or two different types of sugar, since the body digests different sugars at various rates, and using multiple sugars like glucose and fructose can provide both short- and long-term energy. Additionally, gels sometimes contain some form of caffeine - which provides an obvious energy boost and increase in blood circulation - as well as stamina-supportive vitamins and electrolytes.
If you're looking at this list of ingredients and thinking it doesn't exactly seem like the most nutrient-dense fuel in the world, you're right. Gels and chews are designed to be nothing more than a high-calorie shot of energy that's easy to digest, while acting like a flow of â€œemergency cashâ€ for a tired athletes' body during long and strenuous bouts of activity. By and large, a post-workout superfood smoothie is really where you can and should get the majority of your micronutrient action.
But is it feasible to make these gels, at the very least, out of better foods? Yes, absolutely. Homemade versions have the advantage of being substantially more cost-effective (gels and chews can cost up to three dollars each), and more reliant on whole foods, which offer broader, and more naturally-derived nutrition. You'll want to use a food processor to grind ingredients together into a thick paste, then scoop this paste into reusable gel holders for the road, or even small zip lock baggies (a serving size is about a couple of tablespoons, or approximately 100 calories). You can play around endlessly with combinations and ingredient quantities - I recommend starting with smaller batches so you can see what works best for you. Here's how to make them:
Start with a sugary base: Easy to digest glucose is an athlete's best friend. Dates are one of the finest natural fruit sources of glucose, and have the advantage of not needing to be refrigerated â€¦ meaning you can take them wherever. Some athletes use dates all by themselves for energy, but to make a gel, pit the dates and puree them in a food processor - this alone should be the majority of your final gel. If you'd like a second layer of energy (slower absorption), try adding a small amount of agave syrup for the addition of fructose.
Add electrolytes: Electrolytes are a collection of important minerals that effect a tremendous amount of biological processes, including hydration and muscle function. Since electrolytes are lost through sweat, they must be replenished during strenuous activity. Adding coconut water powder to your homemade gel is an ideal way to get a balance of these crucial micronutrients (add about a half to full teaspoon per serving of gel for best results).
Use an energy buffer: While it may sound counter-intuitive, adding a small amount of certain ingredients that help slow down the release of sugars is an excellent way to ensure your shot is a little longer-lasting energy-wise. A little bit of coconut oil is one easily-digestible approach, or try using a dash or two of chia seeds, which not only contain healthy omega fats and fiber that serve as excellent buffers, but also contain naturally occurring electrolytes, too.
Incorporate blood-builders: Encouraging circulation is a smart way to ensure your body is delivering oxygen efficiently to all its moving parts (as well as making sure your gel is extra-effective!). Since chlorophyll is a fantastic way to naturally boost circulation, using a little bit of a highly condensed greens powder, like wheatgrass, is a very effective way to garner this benefit. You can also take advantage of other antioxidants which promote circulation, such as those found in cacao powder and acai powder.
Use anti-inflammatory nutrients: Any fitness professional will agree that the more biological inflammation is treated, the better the athletes' long-term performance. Incorporating anti-inflammatory nutrients can be a wide-spread approach with several types of micronutrients at work at the same time, such as the curcumin found in turmeric (use the dried ground variety for gel-making); the quercitin found in goldenberries (just blend in a handful of dried goldenberries with the dates mentioned above); or the vitamin C found in camu berries (add a pinch of camu powder for a quick boost).
Once you've blended everything into a paste, taste and adjust the ingredients as needed. If you're looking to enhance the flavor of your energy gels, simply add a little citrus zest from the rind of a lemon, lime, or orange. As long as no water is added, these gels should last a couple weeks when stored in a sealed container and refrigerated. Or, freeze for long-term storage.
Always remember to drink plenty of water when using gels!