DIY Chocolate Energy Gel
Let’s face it: energy gels are expensive.
Whether you go for PowerGel, Gu, Hammer Gel, or one of the myriad similar products on the market, you’re looking at $1.50 a pop or more (unless you can swing a really big bulk purchase, or you have the Bike Industry’s Writ of Indenture — err, a shop discount).
On a long, hard ride, you might go through three gels or more — and every one of those gels comes with trash attached.
To cut down on waste, you can order bulk-packaged gels from companies like Hammer Nutrition and something like a Hammer Flask. But the bulk gel still runs about $1 an ounce on Amazon (before shipping).
The ready-made stuff is perfectly good — I have absolutely nothing against it. That said, you can cut the cost in half (or better) by making your own.
I will state for the record, up front, that as a member of a food co-op, I am able to buy organic cocoa powder at phenomenal price. That said, any cocoa powder will do the trick, and you don’t need much per batch.
I recommend using dutch-processed cocoa powder: it has a smoother, milder flavor that will make for a more enjoyable gel. Most grocery stores carry it, and a standard-sized package should only run you about $5 or so. Better still, you can also make awesome hot cocoa from it!
Important Note: Make sure you get cocoa powder, not cocoa mix. Cocoa mix is just fine for making hot chocolate, but if you use it to make the gel, it will be too sweet.
Here are the ingredients that went into my gel recipe:
- 2 tablespoons ‘Agave in the Raw’ agave nectar
- 1 tablespoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- .5 teaspoon Vanilla extract
- .25 teaspoon corn starch (optional)
- one pinch Morton’s Lite Salt
I found the agave nectar at Kroger in the baking aisle. You can also get it in their organic food section, but it’s more expensive there, and the stuff in the baking aisle is also organic, etc. I paid about $5.50 for 18 ounces.
I already had the rest of the ingredients on hand. To buy all of them might cost you as much as buying 20 ounces of Hammer Gel on Amazon, but except for the agave nectar, you’ll get more than 20 ounces’ worth of gel out of the rest of the ingredients, and buying additional agave should only cost you about $6 or so.
Here’s how it all goes together:
- Measure out Agave nectar.
Depending on how much I’m making, I measure mine directly into a quarter or half-cup measure marked for tablespoon divisions. However, if you can remember that half a cup equals eight tablespoons and a quarter cup equals four, you can do it easily enough with any measuring cup of appropriate size.
- Add the cocoa powder. If you’re making more than one serving, I definitely suggest adding one tablespoon at a time; it’s easier to mix in that way.
- When the cocoa powder is well blended with the nectar, add the vanilla extract and stir well.
- Next, stir in the salt. Morton’s Lite Salt is a good electrolyte blend that includes potassium and magnesium as well as sodium. You can also use it to make DIY sports drinks.
- Finally, if you want to, add the corn starch. It’ll thicken the gel a bit and make the flavor a bit less intensely sweet.
If you plan to use a flask with a bite valve to hold your gel, though, you might want to skip the cornstarch — my batch of gel was too thick to make it through my flask’s bite valve, so I had to pop the cap off and just slurp it out of the container, which was a bit messy.
This recipe is pretty flexible — you can add mint or orange extract to mix things up a bit, or swap the cocoa powder for carob powder or another primary flavoring. You can also add instant coffee crystals to the mix for a little extra caffeine kick. Maybe next time I’ll try adding a little prepared coffee to thin the gel a bit.
I used a Hydrapak Softflask for my gel; it was perfect except for the fact that the gel didn’t want to go through the bite valve.
A Hammer Flask might have been a better choice.
I’m going to see if I can get a pop-up valve (like the one on the Hammer Flask) for the Softflask that might be a little more cooperative. Adding a little water to the gel might also help.
My cost for this gel is less than $0.50 per serving — a major savings versus the ready-made stuff — and I can customize it to my needs.
As for the flavor? It’s great — like chocolate pudding, exactly what I was aiming for. It kept me going strong during the Death March.