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Race nutrition: how to make your own running gels

Cost-saving and controlling your ingredients are just two good reasons to experiment with these tried-and-true homemade gel recipes

runner wearing hydration vest with gel

Ask any runner what they use to fuel their long runs and races, and gels will be a common answer.  But not every runner can find what they’re looking for in a gel, leaving them without a preferred race-day option.

Enter home-made gels: there are several benefits of forgoing store-bought products and making your own. It will require planning (you’ll need to find a method of storage, such as a hand-held flask), but if you’re a runner who performs better with whole-food ingredients as fuel, this is worth trying. Homemade gels also cost less; with the average gel costing anywhere from $3 to $5, this is a more affordable option

Control your ingredients 

By making your own gels, you control exactly what goes into them. This a great way to avoid added sugar and hidden ingredients. or people with celiac disease, dairy, soy or additive allergies, buying gels can be a challenge. Making your own comes with confidence in what you’re consuming.

Natural foods like salt, maple syrup, dates, dried cherries and honey are typically easy on the stomach, great-tasting and provide the nutrients essential to any good gel.

For runners who need a little more than all-natural ingredients can provide, adding maltodextrin to your home-made recipe helps elevate your gel. A complex carbohydrate, maltodextrin’s structure allows for a gradual release of energy, making it a great option for mid-exercise fuel. It’s usually easier on the GI tract than something like fructose. Typically derived from vegetable starches, maltodextrin also provides that gel consistency that helps it go down easily mid-run. You can purchase it quite affordably in bulk online.

Cherry Pie Energy Gel

This recipe is easy to follow and uses a simple combination of almonds, pitted dates, dried cherries, and sea salt.

  • 1 cup almonds, roasted or not
    1 cup pitted dates (medjool, preferably)*
    1 cup dried cherries
    pinch of sea salt
    *(If the fruit is really tough, soak it in warm water for a few minutes, then drain and use)

Combine the ingredients in a food processor and pulse for about a minute until it comes together. I like to take the mixture and roll it tightly into a log on a piece of plastic wrap, then pop it in the freezer for about an hour. When it is frozen, take it out, unwrap and slice into little rounds. Then you can keep them in the fridge or freezer and pop a few before, during or after a run. You can also form them into bars if you like by pressing the mixture into a plastic or parchment lined 8X8 baking dish and cut into bars or squares of whatever size you like.


Sweet Coconut Energy Gel

This recipe has a few more steps and ingredients, but the dates, honey, agave, molasses and fruit provide clean-burning carbohydrates with varying glycemic index, while the salt and banana provide electrolytes. The added papaya helps aid digestion–a plus for runners who struggle with tummy issues.

  • 5 medjool dates
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup dulse
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp agave
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp papaya
  • 1 tsp maca powder


Soak the dates in water for a few hours. Mix the soaked dates with the other ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Add the energy gel into two large (3 oz.) squeezable containers. Consume the gels on your workout. (6 oz. is more than enough for a three-hour run.)

Pineapple Orange Chia Seed Gel

This recipe contains chia seeds, an all-natural alternative to help mould the gels, and uses baking soda and salt as electrolytes.

  • 1 oz. chia seeds
  • 1 medium seedless orange
  • 8 oz. pineapple
  • ¾ cup brown rice syrup
  • ½ oz. dry fruit pectin
  • 1 serving electrolyte mix (above)

Mix the chia seeds with ⅜ cup of water. Stir until the chia jells thoroughly, then set aside.

Peel the orange, removing as much of the pith as possible. Combine the orange and the pineapple, including the juice, in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

Combine ½ cup of the fruit mash with the hydrated chia. It’s normal to have extra fruit mash (I had ¾ cup left over). You can freeze it until you need to make another batch of gel.

Stir in the brown rice syrup, then slowly add the pectin. Finally, stir in the electrolyte mix.

Put the mixture in a small saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. Let the mixture boil for 1 minute, then remove it from the heat and pour it directly into a sterilized ½ pint mason jar for storage.


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