This is a guest post from Tim Woodbury, who writes at MidpackRunner.com.
This post started with a challenge, when Doug from TheHaySay.com fired a shot across my bow.
At issue: The question of whether we could create an inexpensive, wholesome, homemade energy gel incorporating chia seeds.
Homemade energy gels are particularly difficult to get right, even without the added complexity of having to add chia, the seed that has so famously (thanks, Born to Run) been trusted by both ancient warriors and modern ultrarunners to keep them going. I wasn’t sure it could really be done. But, as always happens with runners, my naturally competitive spirit won out.
Thus, I traded my running shoes for a chef’s hat and set to work destroying the kitchen creating my masterpiece.
A sticky wicket
I suppose I should start by admitting that I don’t really care much for energy gel. In that, I agree with Matt’s aversion.
I find the texture somewhat unpleasant. And don’t get me started on the ingredients — have you ever read one of those packets? Let’s just say I’ve taken to calling gels “chemical slurry,” and giving them wide berth.
It was in the spirit of detoxifying these gels that I chose which ingredients would be allowed into my recipe.
I began with real, honest-to-goodness fruit. Since gel is predominantly sugar, it seemed like a good place to start. However, fructose takes longer to digest, and can be harder on the GI tract than other sugars. That’s why most commercial gels are predominantly maltodextrin. To overcome the limitations of the fructose, I added brown rice syrup, which is mostly maltose and glucose, and fruit pectin for dextrose.
Beyond that, the only other major components of commercial gels are electrolytes. Here’s what we’ll be using to cover that.
- ¼ tsp salt substitute
- ⅛ tsp baking soda (not baking powder)
Now, if you ever did the baking soda and vinegar volcano experiment in grade-school science, you know that the adding this mix to the acidic orange and pineapple in the recipe below may cause a small reaction. Don’t worry, that’s expected.
That reaction will neutralize some of the acid, making it more palatable in addition to reducing the gelling power of the pectin. After all, we want this to be slightly viscous.
Pineapple-orange chia energy gel
- 1 oz chia seeds
- 1 medium seedless orange
- 8 oz pineapple
- ¾ cup brown rice syrup
- ½ oz dry fruit pectin
- 1 serving electrolyte mix (above)
Mix the chia seeds with ⅜ cup of water. Stir until the chia gels thoroughly, then set aside.
Peel the orange, removing as much of the pith as possible. Combine the orange and the pineapple, including the juice, in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
Combine ½ cup of the fruit mash with the hydrated chia. It’s normal to have extra fruit mash (I had ¾ cup left over). You can freeze it until you need to make another batch of gel.
Stir in the brown rice syrup, then slowly add the pectin. Finally, stir in the electrolyte mix.
Put the mixture in a small saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. Let the mixture boil for 1 minute, then remove it from the heat and pour it directly into a sterilized ½ pint mason jar for storage.
Voila! Just when you thought it couldn’t be done.
Compare the nutrition info on that bad boy with what you get at the running store. You’ll find that it’s functionally equivalent to most commercial gels; the difference is that I can pronounce everything that went into it.
As a couple of final notes, the chia in this recipe cooks down nice and soft but still has its water-retaining properties that account for the legendary accounts of its use as an endurance-booster. Texture-wise, you can barely tell the chia’s there.
It’s also worth noting (especially for all you cheapskates like me) that gel made using this recipe costs approximately $0.66 per serving. Just try finding gel of this quality at a better price. I dare you.
What interesting flavor ideas do you No Meat Athletes have for this recipe? Would you prefer energy gel if you could control the quality (and cost) of what went into it? Leave me some love in the comments below.