I am often asked about alternatives to gels. Some are after a more natural or ‘real’ food product, whilst others dislike the thick, sticky consistency of a gel and may struggle getting it down. Many are adverse to the sweetness of gels, which can become particularly sickly in longer events, after taking them hour after hour. Personally, I am happy to eat gels and sip an electrolyte drink (with more sugar) in events around 7 hours. However, the longer a race, the more appealing and necessary are other sources of nutrition. ‘Flavour fatigue’ might occur towards the later stages of a race, where you simply get sick of eating the same thing over and over and seek out a different flavour, taste or texture. This is where solid food, or something savoury might be a welcome option.

I’d like to share a few homemade gel alternatives with you:

  1. Savoury gel (if you’re sick of sweet)
  2. Banana gel (if you’re looking for more natural)
  3. Rice Balls (if you’re after something more solid)


Savoury Gel

Savoury Gel

I learnt of the ‘savoury gel’ at SDA (Sports Dietitians Australia) and was intrigued. It’s base is instant mashed potato eg “Deb” (dehydrated potato with milk solids, salt, pepper and usually an emulsifier and preservative). The flavour will depend what stock powder you use eg vegetable, chicken or beef. The stock also gives these ‘gels’ a significant kick of sodium. I’ve experimented with the veggie version in training and my running partner that day will never let me live it down. Hey, it’s not for everyone. if you’re cringing at the thought of eating cold soup or a Shepard’s pie whilst running, then perhaps this one’s not for you.

Ingredients (6 serves)

  • 100 g packet of instant mash (usually brands come between 90-125g, which will do fine)
  • ½ teaspoon Massel stock powder
  • 60 g maltodextrin


  • Mix ingredients with water until the desired gel consistency.

Nutritional Information

Energy (KJ) PRO (g) FAT (g) CHO (g) Na (mg) Fibre (g)
476 3 1 22 334 2


Banana Gel

This recipe was shared with me by my good friend and ultra-runner, Maggie Jones. Although I’ve not yet tried them myself, Maggie has completed ultramarathons using these as her main fuel source, including the Buffalo Stampede Ultramarathon this year. I’m looking forward to testing them out.

Ingredients (6 serves)

  • 1 large banana
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 cup water


  • Blend all ingredients together using a food processor and divide into gel flasks


  • For ultra-endurance events eg 8 hours or more, add flaxseed oil and/or a natural protein powder. This will offer alternative fuel from fats and protein which can spare your limited stores of glycogen (carbohydrates).
  • For low FODMAP or those with fructose malabsorption, replace honey with maple syrup.

Nutritional Information

Energy (KJ) PRO (g) FAT (g) CHO (g) Na (mg) Fibre (g)
463 0.3 0 28 4 0.5


Rice Balls (Peanut, berry and coconut)

Rice Balls

Rice balls are a tasty, solid-food alternative to gels. This recipe was adapted from Allen Lim’s rice ‘portables’ (http://feedzonecookbook.com/). I’ve tweaked the ingredients to achieve a more optimal nutrition profile for endurance running. In this case, ease of digestion and maximising glucose as a fuel was priority. Specifically, fat and fibre were reduced and carbohydrates packed in. The result is a neat little ball of fuel offering 21.4 g of carbohydrates per serve.

Rice balls can be varied to suit your taste ( this recipe also comes in savoury versions, and I highly recommend the ‘bacon and egg rice slice’ version). I made these, peanut, berry and coconut balls, for the Buffalo Stampede Marathon 2014. They were a pleasant change from having gels for three hours, were quick to get down at checkpoints and didn’t cause any stomach distress.

Ingredients (makes 10 balls)

  • 1 cup Calrose rice
  • 5 cups water (to cook rice)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp 100% fruit puree (I used Rafferty’s baby food – Pear and Super Berry)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut flakes


  • Cook rice then leave to cool slightly.
  • Mix through the remaining ingredients and divide into 10 portions, roughly the size of an egg, and wrap using cling-wrap.
  • TIP: Line an egg cup with cling-wrap and fill with rice mixture to shape the balls, overfilling each one slightly. Twist the plastic at one end and fold over to secure.

Nutritional Information

Energy (KJ) PRO (g) FAT (g) CHO (g) Na (mg) Fibre (g)
466 2.1 1.5 21.4 50 0.5


If you have your own gel alternatives you’d like to share, we would love to hear from you.

For more information on Sophie, or how she can help you with your running nutrition advice head to:

website:  www.diethealthfitness.com.au

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