I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I love a good pie. For Thanksgiving, I usually make three or four of them. My dad loves cherry pie and chocolate pie so I make both of those and it’s just not Thanksgiving without a good pecan or pumpkin pie (or both). For Mother’s Day this year, I made an incredible Lemon Meringue Pie. And, yes, it was vegan! It takes quite a bit of vegan magic to make a lemon meringue without eggs, but as you can see in the photo above, mine turned out so beautifully. It was decadent and delicious and completely over the top.
So when I went to mix up a batch of new gels, I remembered that pie and thought it would make a great gel flavor. It’s sweet without being too sweet, with a hint of vanilla and salt. I took it on my 20-miler yesterday and it was smooth and easy on my tummy.
This recipe covers all bases: maltodextrin for quick carb absorption, and a little glucose and fructose to make sure all the carbohydrate pathways are being utiltized. You can choose to add caffeine or not.
1/16 teaspoon Morton's Lite salt (or sub regular salt)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons of water
1/2 tablet of a 200mg caffeine pill, crushed (optional)
Mix all ingredients except caffeine if using, in a liquid measuring cup with a spout.
Add one tablespoon of water at first and stir. I prefer my gels on the runny side so they are smoother to swallow so I add a second tablespoon of water.
Pour into a gel flask and add caffeine powder, if using.
If you have a FoodSaver, make 2 small gel-sized bags, stand bags upright in a glass, fill, add 1/4 tablet of caffeine to each gel if using, and seal without vacuuming. Mark a small tear line with a Sharpie near the top of the bag and make a tiny cut, being careful not to cut through the seal.
Well, that didn’t take long. I really didn’t want to make a gel out of maltodextrin. Without really knowing much about it, maltodextrin just seems like a weird laboratory concoction that companies must use because it’s cheap or shelf-stable or something. It can’t possibly be good for you and it’s about as far from a whole food as it gets.
What in the world is maltodextrin anyway? It’s a powder that is created from a starch (usually corn, but any starch can be used, like wheat or tapioca) by adding some acids and enzymes. It is technically a complex carbohydrate, but it acts even faster than simple sugar in the body. When you are exercising hard, you want the fastest fuel available (in other words, something with a super-high glycemic index) to get glucose to your muscles and maltodextrin is it.
For a really in-depth analysis of carbohydrates specifically for running, check out The Science of Energy Gels. I love this site! Jonathan Savage has broken down exactly what the most popular and obscure gels are made of and what they do in the body. One of the many eye-opening things I’ve learned is that the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates only refers to how heavy the molecule is, not how fast the carb hits the bloodstream. Small molecules are simple and big molecules are complex. But as Savage writes, “This division into simple and complex is unfortunately crap (biochemistry term meaning ‘not useful’).” So simple carbs like fructose have a low glycemic index and are slow to digest while maltodextrin digests quickly. And it’s even faster than pure glucose.
But speed of digestion is only part of the story. Ever wondered why every commercial gel pack instructs you to drink water with it? That’s because in order to process the carbohydrate, your body needs a certain amount of water and each type of carb requires a different amount. Maltodextrin requires six times less water than glucose and frutose!
This is the part that convinced me to try it.
Why does the amount of water matter? Obviously you are going to be drinking fluids during a marathon, so is this really even an issue? YES! A gel with 20 grams of maltodextrin (and nothing else) requires 2.2 ounces of water to become isotonic (fancy word for becoming the same concentration as your blood and therefore absorbable) and a gel made with fructose or glucose needs a whopping 12.8 ounces! If you take 2 gels an hour, you’ll need to fill your stomach with 2 and a half pints of water, just to absorb the gel. If not, it will just sit in your stomach, probably causing all sorts of gastro issues. Not to mention that means you need to stop 6 times an hour at water stations and drink the entire 4 ounce cup without spilling. Yeah, right.
So why do I add fructose at all? Since there are different pathways in the body to metabolize fructose, adding a little to either maltodextrin or glucose allows you to absorb more calories of carb per hour than either carb alone. More calories per hour means more energy! I’m willing to trade drinking a little extra water for more calories.
So where do you get maltodextrin? You can buy an 8-pound tub on Amazon, which would make about 181 gels for $23. I chose to go to my local homebrew supply store and buy 8 ounces for $1.50, just to be sure I liked it. It works out to be about the same per pound, so I’ll support local.
Enough science! Here’s the recipe for chocolate. Sub a teaspoon of lemon or lime juice for the vanilla and cocoa for a citrus flavor. For peanut butter, swap the cocoa for 2 teaspoons of peanut butter powder like PB Fit.
350mg (1/32 teaspoon) Morton's Lite Salt (optional, but good for potassium. Omit or sub salt if you don't care about it)
1/4 teaspoon cocoa
7.5g (about 1.5 teaspoons) agave
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water (you may prefer more or less, so add slowly!)
If you have a digital scale, it is much easier and more accurate to weigh the maltodextrin and agave rather than measure. Mix all the dry ingredients first then add the wet, going very slowly with the water. Maltodextrin becomes a liquid very easily (that's the point!), so add more or less water depending on your preference. Seal in a custom made FoodSaver bag or fill a gel flask.
Cuisine: Endurance Gel |
This gel requires about 10 ounces of water to become isotonic (absorbable). Use less agave if you want to drink less water.
Calories: 99, Carbohydrate: 25.2g, Sodium: 233.5mg, Potassium 87.5
Last weekend was my son’s seventh birthday. Instead of a cake, he wanted apple pie. So I found a recipe for mason jar hand pies and went to work.
They turned out so cute and were so great for a party! No plates or forks to deal with. So yummy. And with the leftovers, I crumbled a few into my homemade vanilla ice cream (coconut-milk based) and made apple pie ice cream. Dangerously good.
As I was making the apple pie filling, I thought, this would be so good as an endurance gel! I couldn’t find anything online to use as a base recipe, so I made my own. I think I have a new favorite!
Your body can only handle so much sugar during long distance running, but it has been shown that a 2:1 mix of glucose to fructose allows your body to absorb more than either source alone. Plain corn syrup (not high-fructose) is a cheap and easily available source. Agave syrup is anywhere from 50-90% fructose (it’s hard to pin that number down since processing varies), so I like to use a mix of those syrups in my gels. They both have a light texture that is easy to swallow on a run, rather than a thick, toothpasty feel that some commercial gels have.
Instead of chopping apples and boiling them down for syrup, I bought a can of frozen apple juice concentrate (55% fructose, 20% sucrose, 25% glucose) and it worked beautifully. With the addition some salt for sodium and some cinnamon and ginger for flavor and potential anti-cramp powers, I had some seriously tasty fuel for pennies. Because the apple juice concentrate has so much sugar, this gel has more calories than my usual recipe with the same volume, which I think is a good thing. Less to carry!
I hate gels. When I first started running and started learning about fueling runs, the whole idea of sucking down lab-created maltodextrin and mysterious “natural flavors” didn’t sit well with me. I became plant-based because I wanted to eat whole, unprocessed plants. Gels don’t fit into that plan. Still, when I picked up some free samples at a race expo, I thought I should at least try one. So during a run, I ripped open a Clif gel and immediately gagged. I felt like I had filled my mouth with sickly sweet vanilla toothpaste. It coated my teeth and glued itself to my tongue. Ick. There had to be something better.
My first race foods were not gels at all. I packed a Ziplock bag full of dried tart cherries or dates. Tart cherries are good for inflammation and dates have a perfect balance of carbs and potassium. Real, whole foods are still my first choice on a long trail run. The only problem with using them while racing is I started being able to run faster. Chewing and breathing at the same time wasn’t working out so well anymore.
So I tried blending the dried fruit with water and adding a little salt for the sodium. Success! Dates are a classic vegan standby for caramel and become close to fudge when you add cocoa. The first of my gels were born: Salted Tart Cherry Gel, Salted Caramel Gel, and my favorite, Brownie Batter Gel. These are great options for racing and I filled my gel flask with Brownie Batter for the 2014 Chicago Marathon.
They have a thinner consistency than many store-bought gels, they taste great, and they are real food. Be sure to blend very well with a decent blender to achieve a smooth gel. If your dried fruit seems very dry, you can try soaking it in water the night before.
4 medjool dates with the pits removed, soaked overnight if not already soft
4 ounces of water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon cocoa powder
Blend all ingredients very well. I prefer to use an immersion blender since that's the easiest to clean, especially for small quantities. Add more liquid as desired to create the consistency that you like. Once the gel is smooth, pour into a gel flask, food-safe silicone travel bottle, or seal in custom FoodSaver bags.