Fuel in the Mountains: Gu vs. Hammer Gel

Posted by piphunt on July 12, 2012 in Adventures of Pip, skiing |

When coach suggested that Hadley and I do a little experiment between Gu and Hammer Gel during our trip in the Tetons two weeks ago. I wasn’t exactly excited by the prospect. This should come as a surprise, I love food. I know. Weird right?


The long slog

The rules:

Nothing but Gu during the duration of the approach, skin, and ski. Follow the directions for consumption (how much, how often, and followed by water), and eat a good meal after we ski West Hourglass. Repeat the following day but use Hammer Gel instead.

The verdict:

Day 1:

Gu is way tastier than I remember. Despite the fact that I missed chewing my food, it was an effective way to stay fueled throughout the day. However, this may have been due to Coach’s rules to follow the recommendations to a T. Eating every hour taught me more about what my body needs than the effectiveness of Gu.


Hadley and I set an alarm every hour after 5:15. Whenever the alarm rang, we  stopped, reGued, and drank water. Usually, I eat every 2 or so hours when hiking and drink whenever I feel thirsty or we stop to re-group, I’m guessing that this is less than every hour. Despite my hesitation to pump my body full of sugar every hour, I felt stronger, experienced stable energy, clear thinking, and none of the negative thoughts that come with long slogs, especially if you are negligent about refueling and staying dehydrated. I never realized until this Gu experiment that I may have been negligent  am negligent about my refueling habits on long excursions. I never realized how many calories my body needs to sustain itself in the backcountry.


The most surprising benefit of Gu? I didn’t return to camp famished. I usually come home, ready to chew my arm off or stab anybody who gets in the way of my next meal. Instead, I managed to put-up the tent, set up our cooking area, walk to the creek and focus on rehydrating before I even felt remotely hungry. Instead of bingeing on everything and anything that I could get my hands on, I consumed a normal, rational amount of salami, an apple, and a handful of almonds. Weird.

Favorite Flavour: Vanilla Orange


Day 2:

I still felt the effects of effective refueling the day before, and woke up with a normal level of hunger. This was particularly helpful since our camp fuel had blown away in the night and we had to scramble together what we could for breakfast. I had also packed enough food for my “usual” hunger levels during this type of trip, so I had plenty left over from the previous day.


When the first alarm for Hammer Gel went off, Hadley and I both reached for the apple cinnamon, the most breakfast-like of the variety, and sucked it down. Ugh. More gel. We’re not sure if it was due to the 9th gel in less than 24 hour period of if the consistency of the Hammer Gel’s is different than the Gu, but gels were rapidly loosing their appeal. We stopped for four more before turning around on the Middle Teton, dreaming of  the chewy, salty, crunchy, food to be found at Dornan’s.


The Hammer Gels were just as effective as the Gu, especially when it came to keeping hunger and nasty, hanger at bay, and energy levels stable. Hammer Gel also requires you to drink water, so it helped keep us hydrated. But nothing but gels on day two of a longer adventure is an easy way to burn out on this effective fuel. Therefore, I am noting that my preference for Gu may have more to do with my emotional attachment that I was experiencing on the second day.


Best Flavour: Montana Huckleberry


Would I do it again?

Gels definitely have their place in the endurance athlete’s refueling needs. However, I now need to do a comparison between gels and real food with the same rules. This trip taught me that my previous experiences with eating real food may not have been inadequate, and therefore are not applicable to the comparison. Gels are primarily carbohydrates, ie. sugar, which provides quick glucose to replenish Glycogen stores to muscles, but I am curious if this need for constant glucose during extensive exercise is needed primarily in people who are (completely or partially) Leptin and or Insulin resistant. Does the fat-adapted person need to constantly refuel with simple carbohydrates such as sport drinks, gels and gummy snacks? Or can they use carbohydrates from starchy vegetable and good sources of fat for the same purpose?


What is the hormonal effect of eating sugar every hour even/if one is exercising?



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