Make Your Own Energy Gel (With Chia Seeds!)

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.

iStock 000014880463XSmall 300x199At 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.

Electrolyte Mix:

  • 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

Orange Pineapple Chia Performance GelIngredients:

  • 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.

When Tim’s not in “mad food scientist” mode, you can find him on his blog at MidpackRunner.com, or follow him on your social network of choice.

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Comments

  1. Well done Tim! Look forward to trying it out this weekend.

  2. What’s fruit pectin and where can I get it?

  3. Brown rice syrup is the primary ingredient in the Cliff brand energy gels, and those are much more natural than the other types of gels on the market.

    Do you think substituting brewed green tea for the water would work? It could add a touch of caffeine/flavor to the mix.

    • As gels go, I do like the Clif Shots. But they’re just so expensive when compared to making them yourself.

      I’ve thought about adding green tea concentrate in place of the water, since that seems to be what Clif uses for caffeine. I’m not sure how the added acid would affect the pectin though. If I recall chemistry correctly, the acid would cause the pectin to gel more firmly – more like an energy jelly than a GU.

      Good question, Matt!

      • I can’t speak to commercial green tea concentrate or extract, but if you are brewing it at home from leaves, the acid shouldn’t be an issue – Especially since you are controlling the ratio of water to tea. If the gel seems too thick during the cooking process, add a couple teaspoons of additional water or tea until it reaches a thinner consistency.

  4. Interesting! Nice economical value! Where can I find salt substitute? And how do you carry that gel around during a race? Zippered bags? I imagine that could get messy!

    • Hi, Julie! Good question!

      You can find salt substitute in most grocery stores. Basically, you’re looking for salt made with potassium chloride, not sodium chloride. It’s sometimes called Lite or low-sodium salt. I personally use Morton’s Lite mixture.

      As for carrying it, Matt suggested using Ziploc bags. If you don’t mind the extra weight, Target sells 1-3 oz travel bottles on the cheap (my preference). You can also search Amazon for “gel flask” if you’d prefer something that’ll hold closer to 6 oz.

      • Thanks for this post! I like chia fresca and am excited to try this energy gel. I have used salt, sugar and baking soda as an emergency electrolyte replacement…but why the potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride?

      • Heidi Leisinger says:

        our local craft store carries 2″x3″ ‘ziplock’ bags. 100ct for $1.13. They are essentially the same size as GU packets.

    • I put my homemade gel into regular sandwich bags separated into 1oz portions and knot it down tight. Then when I want to consume the gel I just bite off the tip and squeeze it out just like the commercial type

  5. DK Burnaby says:

    I have tried the plain chia mixed with water gelatinous concoction, and it wasn’t too bad – so I can only imagine that this fruity version would be pretty good! Nice article!

    • Hey, DK!

      I know some people hate the texture of the plain chia & water mixture (I think I recall Matt saying as much about iskiate).

      Since you bring it up, I should note that cooking this really eliminates the distinctive texture of the iskiate. The final texture is somewhere between a jelly and a traditional performance gel. I like to have some on toast before a long run!

  6. I don’t know if this took. I want to say how much I enjoyed the column on making your own energy gel…I will have to give this a try

  7. Tim,

    This sounds like a great homemade energy shot. What are your thoughts on adding a liquid B-vitamin supplement?

    • Hi, Ryan!

      When it comes to vitamins, my recommendation is to aim for dietary sources before supplements (unless you have a noted deficiency). That said, the B-complex vitamins don’t have any noted toxicities, so I don’t see why you couldn’t add a liquid supplement.

      With the green tea extract from Matt’s comment above, and some added B-complex, you’d probably have something bordering on a 5-Hour Energy shot!

  8. Jersey Rico says:

    Hey Tim, thanks for sharing this recipe and I now I can get some real utility from my collection of chia pets! Have you tried to make the same gel using marijuana seeds?

    • I don’t know about that one, Rico. I think that must be a Jersey thing.

      Ignoring the legal implications, it certainly wouldn’t improve your splits, that much is for sure.

  9. I dig this homebrew energy gel alchemy. I’m thinking about trying to figure out how to combine it with a whey supplement.

  10. KrisfromHawaii says:

    Great post — funny and informative. Going to share with all my running friends

  11. Oh yay! I’m training for my first half and the thought of putting that commercial GU chemical crap in my body flat-out scares me. Thanks SO much for this recipe! It came at a perfect time for me :)Any idea how long this concoction will last?

    • Congrats on training for your first half! It’s a big commitment, but totally worth it!

      As to the spoilage question, if you put it in a properly sanitized and sealed mason jar and store it at room temperature, it should keep unopened for about a year (or longer, if frozen – just leave room so the jar doesn’t break). Once you open it, it should keep between 2 and 4 months in the fridge. Just keep an eye out for yeast or mold build-up.

      Great question, Ali!

  12. MarcusL says:

    Hi Tim, great article! I’ve also been appalled at how expensive energy gels can be. Do you think that subtracting the fruit elements (orange/pineapple) you’d have a good neutral “base” for creating any flavor of energy gel?

    I’ve always wanted to make a Hawaii-themed Poi-based energy gel. And call them “poi pounders”. Since I usually dump a bunch of sugar into my poi before eating it, the energy-gel version might not end up tasting too different!

    • Hey, Marcus! I bet that’d be delicious! :)

      You can absolutely pull out the fruit and replace it with other fruit or solids. You may have to adjust the ratio of water and pectin to get it to set up correctly. Otherwise, with a little trial-and-error, I’m sure you could pull off “poi pounders!”

  13. That’s a very creative recipe!

    • Thanks, Jenn! I love having an excuse to play in the kitchen! I hope you enjoy it. It sounds like people have a lot of creative modifications planned already. :)

  14. Awesome! It looks like some work, but I am going to give it a shot and let you and my audience know! Thanks!

    • Thanks, GFA! It sounds more complex than it is. You also have the benefit of not having to deal with all the trial-and-error (trust me, it was mostly error :P ).

      You’ll have to send me a message and let me know how it goes!

  15. Yeah… I really need to learn (love) to cook. I enjoy reading these articles and try to imagine myself in the kitchen using and mixing this stuff. Just trying to figure out what the ingredients are (never mind the processing) is intimidating.

    I am away from home right now but when I get back I am going to devote one day a week to trying a new recepie. Hey if Julia could do 350+ (complicated) recepies in one year, surely I can do 52 in one year.

    • Hi, Cheryl! I’m actually a lot like you. I’ve only learned to cook in the last few years by watching my wife. She’s the real kitchen wiz.

      I’m sure you can get 52 recipes down in a year! Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can! ;)

  16. I’m definitely going to have to give this a try. The commercial energy gels make me feel like I’m inhaling a loogie. They are so gross that during training I only take them when I’m running more than 13 miles. I have yet to have any energy gels for a real race – I always miss the gel stops, in the zone I guess. I know it would improve my time though cause I certainly get draggy the last half.

    • Hi, Sharon!

      Totally agree about the texture. I’ve come to think of them as a necessary evil, but prefer to make my own when possible.

      You must have a serious zone to miss the gel stops. By the time I get to them, I’m always dying to refuel. What’s your secret?

  17. Love this idea. I cringe that I have such a clean diet and then ingest crap when I race. Doesn’t make sense. My 2 questions would be, can you transport this for “away” races or runs? And, though I think NMA is caffeine free, what would you suggest for a caffeinated flavor (yerba mate? green tea?).
    Thanks for this will retweet.

    • Hi, Lauren.

      I can mine like a jelly. Once it’s in a mason jar, it transports just fine. Just remember that it won’t make it through security, so it’ll have to ride checked.

      For caffeine, I’d try replacing the water with a green tea concentrate. You could alternately add a commercial green tea extract – I think that’s what Clif Shots use.

  18. I tried an energy gel for the first time this weekend and it was horrible. I ended up throwing it up on the Texas state capitol with only 1.5 miles to go. I’ll stick with the chews or make my own! thanks for the recipe!

    • Hi, Bridget.

      Gels can be tricky. I’m very particular about what I put in my body on a long run. That’s why I prefer to make my own – I can exclude ingredients that I know disagree with me.

      On a side note, you didn’t get arrested for messing with Texas? ;)

  19. If I keep my gel in the refrigerator, is it safe to take with me on long runs or bike rides? I have a half iron man coming up in April, if this works for me, I want to use this gel. I will not have a way to refrigerate it which means it will be sitting on my bike or in my bag in transition.

    • Good question, Kelly!

      If it were me, I would feel comfortable leaving it out for the duration of the event. This mixture is fairly acidic and is mostly sugar, which provides a reasonably inhospitable environment for bacteria and mold. Also, April shouldn’t be too hot in most places, so the weather won’t accelerate spoilage.

      I assume based on the ironmen (ironwomen?) I know, that you’d reasonably complete a half-ironman in no more than 10-12 hours (or, at least, that’s how slow I think I’d be ;)). I’ve accidentally left food out for that long before with no trouble. However, to be safe, I’d discard anything left over afterward.

      Just keep in mind that I’m not a an expert, so use your own best judgement on this.

  20. Hmmm, sounds like something to make to take cycling

  21. Hi!! Can I use sea salt in this recipe? Not sure how I feel about using a salt “substitute.” Love the blog, thanks a bunch!

    • Hi, Ashley!

      You could absolutely use sea salt instead. However, salt substitute isn’t inherently bad. It’s just potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. And it’s typically what doctors will recommend for patients with sodium sensitivity.

      The only thing to pay attention to if you decide to go with sea salt instead: the sodium-to-potassium ratio. If there’s not more potassium than sodium, you risk unbalancing the electrolyte mix.

  22. Thanks, Tim! The timing on this is ironic. Before I saw this post, I just happened to be in my kitchen this weekend experimenting with making a chia gel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the right consistency (pectin will definitely help). I’m now going to give your recipe a try, but I have a couple questions:

    1.) Is there any value in grinding the chia seeds before mixing them in? I’ve found contradictory info on the web, with some sites saying you can get more nutrition from the ground seeds (like flax). But other sources say there’s no need to grind.

    2.) How did you calculate/generate the Nutrition Facts for your gel? I’d like to try different variations (berries, mango, maybe agave instead of brown rice syrup), and it’d be great to see how they stack up nutritionally for bang for the buck.

    Thanks!

    • Hi, David! I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe.

      Unlike flax, chia has a permeable seed coat, so you don’t have to grind it to get the full nutritional benefit.

      As for the nutrition facts, I used NutritionData.com’s recipe analyzer. Once you sign up, it’s in the menu under “My ND > My Recipes.” There are only two major drawbacks to the tool:

      First, they seem to favor processed food over natural(how many pages of orange junk food do I have to sort through to find an orange?).

      And, second, they don’t have data on everything. I often have to enter nutrition data for ingredients manually.

      Does anyone know of a better tool?

  23. This is great! I will need to know where to get the pectin but other than that I will certainly try this! Apple blend up pretty good when sliced. I also put agave in a chia mix which is pretty good.

    I would imagine you can put any of the mixes in an ice tray covered with plastic wrap pop them in the freezer and take out only what you need when you need them to train. They should be thawed out when you are on the road / trail.

  24. John Warner says:

    THANK YOU! This is exciting, looking forward to doing this asap!

  25. Sounds great! Can’t wait to test this recipe. ;)

  26. YEAH! Just made it and it turned out great! I’m a total gel newbie, I’ve only tasted the commercial stuff once and it was so disgusting, I was like a cat on a hot tin roof until I tracked down a bottle of water :)

    I’m sure there’s room for experimentation with the pectin. I’m in Austria, and can’t find pure pectin, only a mix with fructose, ascorbate and plant-based fat.

    So, for any Austrians/Germans: It worked fine with 1/2 a pack of Gelfix Super 3:1 (you can get different ratios to mix with different amounts of sugar… I chose the one that required the least sugar – or in this case brown rice syrup). It’s quite viscous, might get thicker as it cools, though.

    Now I have to go find one of these mysterious gel flasks people keep writing about. I’m gonna take some magic chia gel on my run today, though, in a ziploc bag.

    Thanks for the recipe!

  27. Thanks for the great recipe. I have been using Chia Seed gel for months now. I just gulp it down. I have been looking for ways to make a flavored gel, and your recipe is perfect. I shared it on my FB Fan Page & Twitter too.

    Those commercialized gels are horrible. I don’t want a spike, nor need it. I would prefer constant energy and without all the crap.

  28. Basit Mustafa says:

    This seems pretty interesting and I am inclined to try it. I will probably hold off on putting the chia seeds in until after it is boiled, because, as a bit of a raw foodie (I still eat the occasional cheeseburger/rack of ribs every few months because they rock), I feel strongly about not cooking away the awesomeness of our food. All the ingredients except the chia don’t strike me as unstable at higher temperatures, so I’m cool with boiling those, but I think boiling the chia is seriously compromising the antioxidant, EFA, and ancillary nutrient content that make it more than just a great buffer, but actually give it a great nutritional profile.

    Any thoughts on what this might do to texture (I’ll experiment soon, when I have a bit more time)?

  29. Sounds awesome! I’m going to cook this and will try it during my half marathon on Sunday. Using Chia seed as daily add to my nutrition already and can’t cope with gels…

    Where do I get brown rice syrup?

    Also, how long does it last? I’ll be doing my first half ironman soon and need to travel 8h by plane and will arrive 1 day in advance, climate hot and humid. Any experience on that? Does it last?

  30. I was pretty excited when I found this recipe. I have used GU because I couldn’t find Cliff around town. I hate the taste, and I hate the chemicals. I want to give this recipe a shot, but being the practical guy I am (and I’m actually a theory graduate student as it turns out), how do I *carry* my gel with me during a marathon? I haven’t read through all the comments, so my answer could be there. What do you all do?

    Thanks for all the help and great resources!

    -Jason

  31. Barbara says:

    Can’t wait to try this! I was thinking these would be better than zip lock bags. http://www.amazon.com/Kinderville-Little-Bites-Ice-Molds/dp/B002YVGNHC/ref=pd_sim_hg_1

  32. @Barbara: on one of the other recipes someone suggested these: http://www.rei.com/product/807856/humangear-gotoob-125-fl-oz-bottle-package-of-3

  33. Thanks for the recipe!

    I just made a batch but couldn’t find the brown rice syrup so I substituted with corn syrup… Any potential unforeseen issues doing this that you can think of? The other question I have is on measurements in the recipe… I used 1Tbs of pectin, 1cup of pineapple & 2 Tbs of chia since I didn’t have a way to measure ounces… Does that sound about right?

    For those with issues with eating the seeds in the gel… I blended the entire mixture after cooling and the seeds pulverized well (to the point of ground flax seed texture within the gel).

    I also wanted to give a tip/idea for what to carry this in… I saved some of the 3.x oz. squeeze apple sauce pouches (with cap) and cleaned them out and filled them with this gel using a turkey injector needle.

  34. I was experimenting this weekend with my own mix. Not sure I got everything I needed but it tasted great and fueled me on a 5+ hour ride. I should add I take salt tablets every hour on long distance rides.

    almond milk
    chia seeds
    banana
    a date (for natural sweeter)
    hemp protein
    and a bit of cacao powder for choc flavor

    I mix it all together (enough for 2 – 4 flasks) in a blender and put them in the Hammer Flasks. http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/hammer-flask.hf.html

  35. Can’t wait to try this. How long will the batch stay good? Any recommendations for transporting it on long runs? those snack size zip lock baggies I suppose.

  36. What a great idea! I’m definitely going to have to make these soon.

  37. This sounds great! I’ve never made a gel before, and I’m a little nervous about it spilling. The idea of just putting servings in Ziploc bags is very appealing. I’m a little nervous about the zipper opening a little. Does ziplocs really hold liquid that well?

  38. “…and pour it directly into a sterilized ½ pint mason jar for storage.”
    How do you sterilize a mason jar? I’ve got a bunch of new mason jars I’ve never even opened. Is that good enough? In the future, how do I sterilize them?

    • Vegan Extraordinaire says:

      Most dish washers these days sterilize if you do the “heat dry” function – the steam does the trick!

  39. I made this last night in preparation for my first half marathon, but it is just too sweet! Would it be ok to add a little lemon or lime juice to make it more palatable?

  40. Vegan Extraordinaire says:

    I love the flavor of this gel!
    I have not gotten to test it for efficacy yet, but I’m excited about taking it on my long run tomorrow =
    My one critique: this could really benefit from being mixed in a blender before cooking. The chia seeds are more palatable that way :)

  41. Tonchen says:

    doesn’t boiling reduce the property’s of the ingredient.s
    and is boiling vital to the recipe

Trackbacks

  1. [...] courtesy Jason DunnYesterday, I was fortunate to be able to share my recipe for a natural, homemade chia energy gel with the folks at NoMeatAthlete. It’s a great recipe, especially for the cheap frugal among [...]

  2. [...] Tim’s basic energy gel recipe click <here>.  To make the green tea version read about the modifications [...]

  3. [...] water. I’ve seen recipes for homemade athletic energy gels based on chia seeds (such as the energy gel recipe at No Meat Athlete), and they work great in [...]

  4. [...] already fired the first shot back in March. As Fred Rogers would say, “Can you say, ‘all-natural, $0.66 energy gel?’ I know you [...]

  5. [...] week, I confess that I’m thinking more about GU vs. home-made chia-seed energy gel than I am about regular food and nutrition. On Sunday, I’m running my first half marathon with [...]

  6. [...] and tried a newly devised race-day food-and-water routine before each 3.5-miler. I also used a recipe (via No Meat Athlete) by Midpack Runner to make my own chia-seed and fruit energy gel. The day of [...]

  7. [...] Photo courtesy Uwe HermannSince I first published the recipes for my chia seed energy chews and energy gels, more than a few astute readers have contacted me with the same [...]

  8. [...] If you have more time on your hands, here’s a much more complex version. [...]

  9. [...] report, I’m currently elbow deep in chia seed. That is to say, I’m expanding on my chia gel and chew recipes – creating a full-scale e-book with do-it-yourself recipes for the thrifty [...]

  10. [...] food with a little protein (Cream of Wheat made with soy milk, typically). While running, I eat energy gels (90-120 kcals, depending on the product) at 45 minutes, and every 30 minutes [...]

  11. [...] those of you who use energy gels here is a great recipe from No Meat Athlete you can make yourself.  I plan on bringing this with me when I run my first [...]

  12. [...] bottle & drank most of the 22 ounces (plus a little table salt to replace sodium) and ate two chia-seed energy gels (at 30 minutes and at 1 hour 20 minutes). Post-race, we met up with Tim and Miles, who once again [...]

  13. Energy Gel says:

    [...] to take a ton of PowerGels or Gus. I decided to try making some based off a recipe I found from No Meat Athlete. I had everything at home already save the fruit pectin, and then threw in some cinnamon, just [...]

  14. [...] the book was going to be exclusively about performance foods – variations on my chia gels and chews. However, I’ve since changed my [...]

  15. [...] pace I wanted to for the entire distance. I wanted to be careful with fueling. I carried along my homemade energy gel in a flask. Because I actually like how it tastes (as opposed to GUs), I grabbed some every few [...]

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