Long before the MBT test crew became the word smiths you've come to know and love, we lingered around the halls of various esteemed universities extending the process of higher learning for as long as humanely possible. In that time we learned a thing or two about marketing and just what it takes to earn brand recognition in this ever-moving society of ours. One of the major lessons was that establishing true staying power can happen when people start to refer to a specific brand name to identify a product. Examples include calling tissues Kleenex or photocopies Xeroxes or more recently, seeking additional information as "Googling it".
What does all of this have to do with GU you ask? Simple, they've managed to succeed in this very arena. A quick check of the internet, local bike shops, and cycling catalogs reveals there are no shortage of companies offering up energy gels, performance chews, and electrolyte tablets but whenever we hear anyone on the trail disclose their desire to suck down gel, it's almost a given that phrases like, "I could use a GU right about now" or "anyone have an extra GU in their pack?" will surface. And with good reason- after all, what are thick tasty energy gels if not gooey?
We try not to make it a habit out of reviewing food/ drink supplements here in MBT for the simple reason that the human body is very complex machine. What works wonders for one can be a disaster session for another depending on factors such as state of conditioning, metabolic rate, hydration level, stomach sensitivity and so on.
Even so, we recently had an opportunity to sample some of GU's extensive line of performance foodstuffs and came away pretty darn impressed with the products coming out of Berkley, California. We began with a few weeks of rides supplemented with the brand's perhaps best-known product, the energy gel. We had a wide plethora of flavors at our disposal and essentially two major varieties: The standard GU energy gel and the GU Roctane Ultra Endurance energy gel.
As directed, we followed the regimen of taking down a 1.1oz packet 15-minutes prior to the ride and popped another roughly ever 45-minutes during. Of course while these gels are a great source of aminos, vitamins, calories and sodium the body demands during physical exertion, they are not designed to replace fluid intake and thus we consumed water/ sports drink as usual before, during and after the ride.
With three straight weeks of using these gels during rides that ranged from tight technical east coast trail riding to 30-mile wide open community runs, we came away with a few definitive conclusions. First, GU literally has a flavor for every taste. Some of our testers claimed going in that the reason they did not like energy gels was that they tried some in the past and didn't like the aftertaste. Such concerns were squashed almost immediately as we had everything from a fruit-lovers' delight (Blueberry Pomegranate and Jet Blackberry for example), to the consummate sweet tooth on staff's weakness (Chocolate Raspberry), and even a little something for our coffee addicts (Espresso Love). Truly if you cannot find a flavor GU that works for you, you simply aren't looking hard enough.
Next is these things are undeniably convenient! They take up barely any room and boast mass that even the hardest-core weight weenies among us can tolerate. We found they tucked neatly into our hydration packs, back packs, even our baggy pockets and could be easily accessed without so much as slowing the pace during the actual ride. No need to refrigerate or special storage requirements although some of our testers said that freezing them the night before a ride so that they would be thawed but still good and cold by the time of consumption was a frosty treat they savored on hot rides.
As fate would have it, our crew even includes a few members with fairly weak stomachs who reported gut bombs (full-feeling/ decreased performance ability) with powdered supplements and energy drinks in the past. However, at the time our testing concluded, we found not a single such complaint about the GU gels. Their easy digestibility was appreciated by all in a sport where blood that normally concentrates on the stomach's ability to break down food is being used to carry oxygen to needy muscles.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the performance factor. Big dollar scientific research goes into products like these in effort to find definitive proof of performance enhancing qualities and while we cannot claim such accuracy in our findings, we did discover that everyone who used them reported an increase in energy-levels that was noticeable during the ride. We found they cleared the "mental cobwebs" of early morning exercise without the heartburn or bloating of coffee and staved off bonking during extended rides.
We should point out that not all GU energy gels are created equal. As we mentioned earlier, our testing spanned two different brands (GU & Roctane), multiple flavors and a whole variety of ingredients so be sure to check the label before purchase. Naturally the effects were more pronounced with those containing caffeine (the 2x caffeine labeled packages contain about 35mg per 1.1 oz pack). Some contained closer to 15mg and others none at all. Calories were all pretty consistent at around 100 per serving but the ratios of everything from sodium (everywhere from 50mg to 125), amino acid blends, and vitamin percentages tend to fluctuate. Again the bottom line is if in doubt, check the nutrition facts on each individual packet.
We have to close this review out by mentioning a product on the GU line that we only recently discovered as a result of this test that has earned a permanent place in our crew's packs: The GU Chomps energy chews. These little chews (and by little we mean each chew is about roughly 2 times larger than your average lunchbox fruit snack) offer all of the things we love about the gels into a slightly more filling, not to mention delicious, package. Each pack contains 4 chews and totals 30-grams but contains just the perfect blend of amino acids, antioxidants, electrolytes and simple carbs to provide a long lasting surge of well-balanced performance. We have been just enamored with the caffeinated peach tea flavor and would strongly recommend the Chomps to anyone looking for a scrumptious pre or during-ride treat that makes good on all of its claims.
For more information on these and any of GU's extensive product line, head directly to their official site: www.GuenErgy.com