The 9 Best Energy Chews, Gels, and Bars for Running of 2021, According to a Dietitian

Keep your energy levels up while you train

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Our Top Picks
With a unique combination of ingredients, it provides a mix of both simple and complex carbs for a more steady energy fuel.
Energy gels specifically engineered for athletes, these are also convenient, tasty, and affordable.
Made from simple ingredients, it’s a tasty gel that is a favorite among many long-distance runners.
More compact than many energy bars, they aren’t too sticky or crumbly, which make them a practical mid-workout option.
Soft and easy to chew, this is nature's perfect little energy bite.
Made from simple ingredients, including cane sugar and tapioca syrup, here's an energy chew that tastes like sour candy.
Users praise them for their great flavor and higher sodium content, allowing many runners to stick to these and water.
For those looking for more of a snack-like option mid-workout, these waffles are for you.
Best Unflavored Gel:
Maurten Gel 100 at Thefeed.com
Known for the unflavored option in the sports gel industry, Maurten's gels are more liquid-form than other gels and less sweet.

Energy gels, chews, and bars are designed to provide energy with easily-digested carbohydrates during endurance exercise. These products typically contain a mix of carbohydrate sources—whether from natural sources like fruit and honey or from added simple sugars like fructose and glucose—that are known to enhance performance and reduce time to exhaustion.

In general, if you’re running for 90 minutes or longer, you’ll need to consume some carbohydrates to refuel. The exact amount you need depends on your gender, size, age, and effort level, but most people need between 30 to 60 grams (120 to 240 calories) of carbohydrates per hour for runs up to 2.5 hours. Ultra endurance athletes may need even more—up to 90 grams (or 360 calories) per hour. Your muscles store enough glycogen (which is converted to energy) for shorter runs.

While the sports nutrition market used to be dominated by only a handful of brands, there are now more options to suit a range of preferences. While that may make it overwhelming to choose the best option for you, it’s great for those who might have struggled to tolerate some of the more traditional options.

The best product is the one you can tolerate and one that gives you the energy you need. Try out different products during your training (never try something new on race day!) to find what works best for you.

Below, we’ve rounded up the best energy chews, gels, and bars for running to help you choose.

Best Overall: Spring Energy Gel, Canaberry

Spring Energy Canaberry

Great taste. Consistent energy. Made from real food. Check, check, check! The unique combination of ingredients, including basmati rice, strawberries, bananas, maple syrup, and coconut water, provides a mix of both simple and complex carbs. This combo offers more steady energy instead of the big spike and crash often experienced in other gels with only simple carbs.

The use of real food ingredients may also contribute to the fact that most runners experience little-to-no gastrointestinal upset from these, which is a big win in the endurance running community. Like most gels, they don’t contain much sodium, so if you’re a sweaty runner, out for a really long run, or running in warmer weather, pair with an electrolyte drink to ensure you’re getting enough.

Overall, Spring Energy gels are a convenient way to fuel with quality ingredients and limited (if any) side effects.

Best Budget: GU Energy Original Sports Nutrition Energy Gel

A long-time leader in the energy gel market, GU energy gels offer quick energy at an affordable price in a variety of flavors. Chocolate Outrage is a favorite among many runners for its chocolate frosting-like flavor and small dose of caffeine (for those looking for a boost). But with over 25 flavors (many without caffeine), there’s an option for any palate.

Maltodextrin and fructose provide the carbohydrates in these gels, offering a very fast-acting source of energy to endurance athletes. Maltodextrin is a processed sugar with a high glycemic index, commonly used in energy products for its quick energy release and lower osmolarity, which may reduce the instances of GI intolerance like diarrhea. However, some research suggests that a high intake of maltodextrin can cause an increased risk for intestinal inflammation.

For many runners, GU energy gels offer a convenient, tasty, budget-friendly energy source on the run that is specifically engineered for athletes.

Best Flavored Gel: Honey Stinger Gold Energy Gel

Honey Stinger Gold Energy Gel

Don’t be fooled by the simple packaging, ingredient list, or lack of all the extras. Honey Stinger Gold has everything you need—and nothing more. Made from just honey, water, electrolytes, and a few B-vitamins (which support energy production), this is a tasty gel that is a favorite among many long-distance runners.

Honey is known to have a slightly lower glycemic index than some other sources of sugar, which may help with its ability to provide more consistent energy for some athletes and reduce time to fatigue during endurance exercise.

Users describe it as “just the right amount of sweetness,” a major feat for the gel market, which is dominated by excessively sweet products that can be hard to tolerate when consuming multiple servings on longer runs.

Best Bar: Picky Bars Real Food Energy Bars

Professional triathlete Jesse Thomas and USA 5k champion Lauren Fleshman developed Picky bars to solve a gap in the sports nutrition market—a real food bar that contained balanced nutrition for endurance athletes. Enter, Picky Bars. They’re made from a mix of nuts, dates, currents, tapioca syrup, brown rice, cinnamon, and salt, and contain an adequate amount of carbohydrates (25 grams) per bar.

Beyond the stellar ingredient list, these bars are more compact than many energy bars, and aren’t too sticky or crumbly, making them a practical mid-workout option.

The fat and protein content of these bars helps them to digest more slowly than gels, which leads to a slower energy release—and potentially, the need to consume less on the run. However, that can come with an unwanted side effect for some runners with sensitive stomachs. As with any new fuel, make sure to test these out during training.

Best Whole Foods Option: Joolies Organic Pitted Medjool Dates

Medjool dates are nature's perfect little energy bite. Just two dates contain 30 grams of carbs, making them a compact and easy food to take on the run. Go for fresh dates like Joolies since they’re softer and easier to chew (a necessity mid-run!).

While dates do contain a small amount of potassium, they are sodium-free, so you’ll either want to pair with an electrolyte drink or sprinkle them with some salt. Alternatively, try stuffing them with a teaspoon of salted peanut butter for a delicious treat with slightly longer-lasting energy (if your stomach can handle it).

Best Tasting: Skratch Labs Sport Energy Chews

An energy chew that tastes like sour candy? Yes, please! Skratch Labs energy chews are made from simple ingredients, including cane sugar and tapioca syrup, and even contain 50 milligrams of caffeine from green tea extract.

They provide 18 grams of carbs per five chews, making it easy to tailor your energy intake to your individual needs, without the mess of trying to save part of a gel. They also contain about twice the amount of sodium (an essential electrolyte) per serving than most gels, making them a great all-around option to support your training.

Best Chew: Clif Bar CLIF BLOKS Salted Watermelon Energy Chews

These little watermelon-flavored chews are packed with carbs and electrolytes, providing everything you need on a long run in one tasty bite. Packed in a small sleeve, they conveniently fit in your run pack or pocket, making them a seriously convenient option. Users praise them for their great flavor and higher sodium content, which allows many runners to stick to these and water.

These chews are made with a mixture of tapioca syrup, cane sugar, and maltodextrin, providing a variety of sugar sources that are absorbed at different rates. This combo offers both quick and longer-lasting energy to endurance runners—the best of both worlds!

Best Organic: Honey Stinger Organic Waffle, Honey

Two thin waffles sandwiching a layer of honey—what’s not to love? For those looking for more of a snack-like option mid-workout, these waffles are for you. They contain a good amount of carbs (21 grams) from a variety of sugar sources with varying absorption rates.

Some runners who can’t tolerate gels report better luck with these waffles, though they do contain some fat, which can be a downside for others looking for faster absorption (all the more reason to test your fuel during training!).

Best Unflavored Gel: Maurten Gel 100

Maurten Gel 100

Maurten’s gels stand out in the sports gel industry for their unflavored option, which is great for runners who want the convenience of a little energy packet, but find flavored gels to be too sweet or artificial tasting. They are more liquid-form than other gels, which may be a slightly more appealing texture that is easier to swallow for some.

Made from a mix of fructose and glucose combined with water and electrolytes—referred to by Maurten as a hydrogel—this product may be less taxing on the stomach and better tolerated by those that typically suffer from GI distress. This combination of sugars has also been shown in research to increase time to exhaustion and improve timed trials.

For those who need a little jolt on the run, Maurten recently added a caffeinated line with 100 milligrams of caffeine, about as much as one cup of coffee.

Final Verdict

For a convenient, real-food source of energy that tastes great and is generally well-tolerated, try Spring Energy Gel in Canaberry (view at Amazon). This energy gel offers great taste, steady energy without the crash, and a combo of both simple and complex carbs that won't upset your stomach.

What to Look for in Energy Chews, Gels, and Bars for Runners

Carbohydrates

Check for a mix of different carbohydrate sources as research shows better performance when carbohydrate sources are combined. Carbohydrates should be the primary—if not only—macronutrient providing calories in your product, as that is the energy source your body needs mid-run.

The carbohydrates from these products primarily come from quick-absorbing, simple sugars, which when consumed in high amounts can have an osmotic effect, drawing water into your gut and causing GI issues like diarrhea.

Find a product and serving size that has enough carbohydrates to fuel your workout but not too many to cause stomach discomfort. Individual tolerance levels vary, so test out different products and amounts to see what works best for you.

Electrolytes

While all electrolytes—including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium—play a role in muscle contraction, sodium is the primary electrolyte lost through sweat during exercise. If you’re relying on your gel or chew to provide electrolytes, look for options with more sodium (around 100 milligrams per serving).

Fat

Fat is generally a nutrient to limit during running as it slows digestion and can cause some GI discomfort when exercising. However, if you are looking for a slower and longer-lasting energy release, you may want to pick an option with some fat.

Protein

Similar to fat, protein should be limited during workouts as it is slower to digest. Focus on replenishing with a protein snack post-workout.

Other Additives

Some products add caffeine, which may or may not be beneficial (this is very individual). Others provide branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), which may be helpful in reducing fatigue, but more research is needed on the benefits of supplemental BCAAs for runners.

In general, other ingredients that don’t provide either carbohydrates or sodium are unnecessary and may be better avoided.

FAQs

When do I need to refuel during a workout, and how much should I consume?

According to the position statement of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s recommended that for exercise between one to 2.5 hours, you should consume between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrates.

For efforts longer than 2.5 hours, you may need up to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. It’s unlikely you need to refuel during exercise under one hour.

I have a sensitive stomach. Can I still use gels, chews, and bars while running?

Yes, even those with a sensitive stomach should still consume quickly absorbing (aka easily digested) carbohydrates during runs longer than 60 to 90 minutes. Finding the right option often takes some trial and error. Research also shows that the gut is highly adaptable, meaning you can train it to accept fuel on the run. So, even if something doesn’t work well the first time, you may be able to train your gut to accept it. This is why it’s important to test out fueling options during training and practice during different types of runs and weather conditions (heat can make it more difficult to consume energy).

Choose options that contain a mixture of carbohydrate sources and test out different sources, flavors, and forms. Those with a sensitive stomach often need to avoid any products with fat and fiber as they can slow digestion too much during physical activity. Caffeine can send some people running to the bathroom, so caffeine-free options may be the better choice!

What Experts Say

"Look for gels and/or chews that contain a mix of carbohydrate sources (most sports supplements provide this) to ensure tolerance and aid in maximum absorption while exercising. Take into consideration that many sports gels/chews also contain additional ingredients like caffeine or amino acids which may or may not be appropriate for your individual needs.

Sports gels/chews also contain electrolytes, but when exercising in extreme temperatures or for long periods of time, choosing to hydrate with an electrolyte replacement like a sports drink or water plus an additional source of electrolytes is beneficial for replacing what's lost through sweat. Once you find the best chew/gel for you, make sure you like the taste! The key is to find a source of carbs that you enjoy and can tolerate to ensure you're getting enough during long training sessions."—Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDN

Why Trust Verywell Fit?

As a registered dietitian, Sarah Anzlovar is constantly reviewing the latest sports nutrition research and keeping tabs on new products on the market. She counsels many active people, from first-time marathoners to ultra endurance athletes in her private practice, and helps them choose the best fuel for before, during, and after workouts to improve performance and recovery.

As a runner, triathlete, and indoor cycling instructor, Sarah has personally tested many of these products and uses them during her training.

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Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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