Energy Gels Explained | What are Amino Acids?

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Photo courtesy of GU Energy on Instagram

Leucine, isoleucine, tuarine, valine…sounds like food to me! Oh wait, no it doesn’t?

If these words sound more like types of plastic than ingredients in your energy gel, this is for you. We get it, there are a lot of long words on the back of packages these days, and the box containing your favorite energy gels is no exception. Well fear not, we are here to break it down for you.

Let’s start with the basics.

Leucine, isoleucine, tuarine, and valine are amino acids, and the most common ones you’ll see in exercise nutrition. Sometimes you’ll see the exact name of the amino acid written on the nutrition label, and sometimes it will just say ‘amino acids’.

You’ll see amino acids mostly in gels intended for ultra-endurance (4 or 5+ hours) or ultra-strenuous activities, because that’s where you have the greatest benefit.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are the ‘building blocks’ of proteins, and they play a number of essential roles in the body. There’s a lot to be said for each amino acid, but we are keeping it simple here today.

Why are amino acids used in some energy gels?

Basically, as you run for a really, really long time (4 or 5+ hours), your body starts to break down muscle protein to use as fuel to keep you moving. Some research suggests that if you eat amino acids during a super long or super strenuous run (think all-out racing a marathon, or racing a marathon in the heat), replacing some of these amino acids might diminish the amount of muscle protein broken down by your body during your run.

Now, keep in mind that ultimately the jury is still out on this research, but anecdotal evidence is in favor of these theories.

What do amino acids do for your run?

Here’s the Spark Notes version about amino acids in energy gels. The main reason they are included in some gels is because they might do two things:

  1. Help you recover a little faster after you’re done running
  2. Keep you from fatiguing as quickly if you are running for more than 4 or 5 hours

Leucine, valine, and isoleucine may help reduce mental fatigue and reduce muscle damage, while taurine may help maintain performance and positive brain function.

The bottom line:

When you exercise for a really, really long time, your brain gets fuzzy and you may feel sleepy. Adding a small amount of amino acids to your fueling strategy may help prevent this. It may also help you recover faster when you are done, so that you can feel awesome tomorrow.

Shop these products: Energy Gels that Contain Amino Acids

*Note that Gu Roctane Gels contain more amino acids than Gu Energy gels. If you’re running really long, try Roctane or VFuel, both are specifically designed for ultra-strenuous activities.

Juli is known around Running Warehouse for her vast knowledge of running product, from shoes to hydration to nutrition to… well just about anything running related. With a background in food science (Read: Bachelor’s degree and an addiction to scholarly journal articles on exercise nutrition), she’s also a trail lover that fiends for long runs in beautiful places.

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