When it comes to performance nutrition there are no shortages of options for the athlete looking at a boost during a ride or a run. GU and Clif are the two most recognizable manufacturers in this space, leading to endless heated debates over one single question: which company makes the best energy gels and chews?
That question is often argued from a very subjective standpoint. The same as if someone was trying to convince another that green is clearly a better color than blue. As you would expect, both GU and Clif have loads of data supporting how their products are superior down to the molecular level. But just like the best color depends on the person, the best gel or chew will ultimately boil down to how it makes a person feel during an intense activity, which will be unique to each consumer.
We’ve used multiple products from each manufacturer over the course of two month, with trial activities ranging from casual lunch trail runs to full fledged mountain bike races to half-trail marathons and everything in between. After extensive testing, here are our entirely subjective “green is best” conclusions:
- Pricing: We’ll actually start with about the most objective item, and that is price. GU and Clif’s energy gels and chews are, as you would expect, about the same price. Typically they can be had for around $1.50-$2.50/pack, with the price heading upwards to $2.50-$3.00 for GU’s Roctane gels (more on those in a moment).
- Nutrition: For the most part, each product from the two companies offer different amounts of similar nutrition, mainly carbs, sodium and sometimes caffeine. GU pulls ahead in this portion by also adding a heavy dose of Amino Acids in each of their products, which aim to help reduce muscle fatigue. If you care about something being organic, Clif also offers that as an option with select products.
- Consumability: Yes, we totally made that word up, but the question remains: how does each product go down, especially in the middle of a high-intensity activity. Much of this comes down to the flavors you’ve selected- rich chocolate vs something fruity. That said, Clif definitely makes a better tasting product across the board. And while that may seem like a somewhat arbitrary point, when you’re consuming four or five of these during long-haul activities, the ability to actually want to eat them is important.
- Best Performing Energy Chew: In the end, Clif’s double sodium Margarita flavored ‘BLOKS’ edged out GU’s chews. The taste was unmatched, but the extra sodium (paired with a lot of water during running- that’s important), helped avoid any muscle cramps while delivering the energy needed to finish the activities. It’s worth pointing out that for all other flavors there was no major noticeable difference in athletic performance between GU and Clif. Each performed just as they said they would.
- Best Performing Energy Gel: This one isn’t even close. GU’s high-performance Roctane variation of energy gels are in a class of their own, delivering shocking amounts of energy that outlasts not only Clif’s products, but even GU’s other gels and chews. In fact, Roctane Gels were my go-to during my last half trail marathon, in which I felt like I could have done another 5 or 6 miles pretty easily after crossing the finish line with some Roctane left in my system. No competition- if you’re looking for energy during long, high intensity activities, Roctane is the answer.
In fact, GU has done such a good job with their Roctane Gels that I see it presenting a conundrum for the company. The rest of their products work well, but there would be no reason to use those when you can have the energy delivery and longevity of their Roctane products. They really are just that good.
The heavy dosing of Amino Acids, caffeine and sodium in Roctane gels clearly means business and if you’re looking to perform your best, that’s exactly the blueprint you should be looking for. Just one tip with the Roctane products from my own experience. Due to the extra high sodium levels, they’ll require more water than you normally consume to work at peak efficiency, so make sure you pack a lot of H2O to compliment the gels.
Get a box of 24 GU Roctane energy gels for $60 at GU Energy’s website. Shop using the link below and Outdoor Gear Reviews will get a share of the purchase to help us keep running!