Is your energy gel actually slowing you down?

August 24, 2017

As an active runner and Naturopathic Doctor, I hear a lot of talk about energy gel and goo’s especially from my running and cycling clients. The challenge they find is that there is so much information and marketing out there, they don’t know which ones to choose? And what if that little package of power was causing more harm than good?

I remember the first running convention I went to and how excited I was to check out all the products on the market.  My excitement slowly diminished as I went from vendor to vendor reading labels and claims. It seemed that every gel or energy supplement included maltodextrin in its ingredient list…even the organic name brands!  Perplexed, I made a mission to find a healthier alternative.

Maltodextrin is most commonly derived from corn or wheat depending on the manufacturing origination.  It is a polysaccharide starch.  This carb is attractive. It’s glycemic index far surpasses that of white sugar which makes it easily and quickly absorbed into the system without dehydrating endurance athletes.  This coupled with it’s affordable manufacturing costs leaves it a very desirable ingredient in everything from energy gel to, nutrition bars, and many meal replacement shakes. While it can have big benefits for quick energy, it can also be harmful to the digestive system with major performance side effects.

When a patient comes to see me, my goal is to help them improve their health complaints.  Through physical examination and consultation, I often find that the digestive system is overlooked when it comes to athletic performance and that what we ingest can be a major contributor to our symptoms.  When an athlete thinks of becoming stronger, faster and preventing injuries it is essential to look at their musculoskeletal system, but what will really drive results is looking at their health in the context of their entire body, specifically the neurophysiological connections and the health of the gastrointestinal system.

Many people in today’s world are sensitive to genetically modified corn and wheat.  When these foods are consumed, inflammatory pathways are stimulated.  This can both hinder our absorption and performance.  A 2015 study by Nickerson, Chanin and McDonald stated the additive maltodextrin “impairs cellular anti-bacterial responses and suppresses intestinal anti-microbial defense mechanisms”.  This study was geared towards those with irritable bowel syndrome, but what does this mean for the general public? Part of the anti-microbial defense system that is being suppressed is our natural gut flora, or probiotics. These warriors help to modulate inflammatory cytokines IL-1 and IL-2. Without this regulation, our inflammation levels are harder to control, leading to increased injuries and longer healing times.

Instead of relying on the claims on the package, monitor your own performance. The next time you pop an energy gel, pay attention to your symptoms, especially your digestive system:

  • Do you feel gassy or bloated?
  • Has your energy changed?
  • Do you have a mental or physical crash shortly after?
  • Has your mood changed?
  • Do you have a headache?
  • Has your performance changed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider other options, such as making your own energy supplement.  It isn’t as hard or time consuming as one might think.  Simply adding 2 tbsp’s of 100% Maple Syrup to your water or even putting it in a ziplock bag, or reusable squeeze pack.

Why maple syrup?  Not only is it Canadian, but you can check out the nutritional charts from

Many people report, that 100% pure maple syrup provides energy support with less of a crash.  It proves vitamins and minerals such as manganese, riboflavin, zinc and in lesser quantities magnesium, calcium and potassium and upwards of 65 antioxidants!

You can get creative with your energy gel recipes.  Try adding lemon or lime, a pinch of Himalayan Sea Salt and a pinch of Turmeric!

The point is, we need to look beyond the symptoms and look for physiological connections.  I can help you assess your environment for performance limiting factors like maltodetextrin. Improving your gastrointestinal absorption will allow your body to circulate the tools it needs to recover and excel!


Dr. Jennifer Tanner, has a broad, evidence based practice with a focus on sports and performance based medicine. Being a marathon runner and having been a competitive equestrian, an active lifestyle is important. Dr. Tanner uses a variety of tools including Acupuncture and Clinical Nutrition, putting an emphasis on “food as medicine” and addressing the root causes of inflammation . In conjunction with the Integrative Health team, Dr. Tanner is thrilled to help people achieve an optimal state of health and pursue their performance based health goals!

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