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Natural Alternatives to Gels


Posted by Liz Tucker of 9 Bar under Nutrition on 25 March 2014 at 12:00 AM

Sports nutrition has become so scientifically focused that the ingredients in products such as gels read more like a chemistry textbook than an edible food item.

As a research nutritionist I am all for scientific validation and from a legal point of view the health and nutritional claims regulations insist on it. However science does have one main flaw, it looks at specific things in isolation so it will analyse one key nutrient or a specific component in an individual food item such as beetroot and cherry. 

Natural Vs Man Made nutrition

Nutritionally the key to sports nutrition is energy and muscle repair. This is however what all our bodies want to achieve. You need to produce energy to function but you also have to deal with the resulting effects of oxidative stress produced during metabolism. Simply you make energy, you use it and then you are left with bi-products such as toxic waste and free radicals that damage cellular tissue if you don’t get it shifted. The more you burn the bigger the restoration job and athletes get through a lot. 

For energy there is no doubt carbs are king and the main one used in the sports world is maltodextrin. This is a cheap to make hydrolysed starch that is technically a complex carb but in reality goes through the digestive system rapidly. So it can have a low sugar content but paradoxically a high GI because it is simply ready to go energy. It seems so easy however effective energy production is not a simple case of shovelling in the carbs. The body needs a wide range of other nutrients to enable it to keep producing sustained energy and repair itself afterwards. This is the benefit of natural foods with a high nutritional density. Highly nutritious natural foods such as nuts and seeds are not mono but multi- nutritious. You don’t need to strip food down to individual components then add the odd nutrient artificially; nature has had the whole functioning on maximum sorted out for centuries. The body was designed to thrive off nutritionally diverse foods so the mantra is the more natural the ingredient the more nutrition.

It is also worth remembering that the digestive processes can take days to extract nutrients and energy. Pure carbs such as sugar or process starches may give you an instant short lived hit but any other slow release carb, protein, fatty acid, mineral or vitamin will not work on the spot. Basically to get maximum performance and recovery you need to eat healthily on a regular basis as it’s how nutrients work over time that counts. You may find an extra tweak on the day will give you an advantage but if your diet is continually under nourished and high in refined carbs, your true potential is going to allude you.

Finally one nutritional mantra does not fit all. We all compete at different levels but sports science is generally carried out at an elite level. Yes you may be very good but don’t feel pressurised by statements such as take an hour or two for recovery. Those that achieve their maximum potential have learnt to understand what does and doesn’t work for them nutritionally. If it upsets your stomach, makes you feel sick or gives you mega highs and lows then forget what it says on the packet and find what works personally for you.

Liz Tucker

Health and Nutritional Advisor and Journalist

MSc, BSc Hons, BA Hons

9bar is a great source of compact natural nutrition and energy with its unique blend of wholesome seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, poppy, sesame and hemp. Having received the stamp of approval from the lovely folk at the Vegetarian and Coeliac Societies, 9bar is also handmade with nothing but natural ingredients so it’s full of good stuff.

Tips from 9bar pro’s 

Top 3 tips to natural nutrition from Liz Tucker

  1. Select the right kind of energy source – choose foods that have a high nutritional content so every calorie counts. For example nuts and seeds may have the same energy value as a doughnut but each calorie has a nutritional density. Doughnuts are just empty calories, energy with little or no nutritional value.

  2. Come prepared – gels are very easy to consume however natural foods can be just as simple to digest so juice it, chop it, bake it or select natural ready to eat products.

  3. Look for natural highs – maintaining a healthy balanced diet rich in natural foods such as veg, fruit, nuts and seeds works because that is what the body is designed to run on. Give it the nutrition it needs and it will give you maximum energy.


We put some questions to Olympic athlete Ed Clancy  two-time Olympic Gold medalist, an Olympic Bronze medalist and five-time world champion:

In your opinion what are the benefits of consuming natural energy products like 9bar with no additives or preservatives over energy gels available on the market?

Ed ClancyEnergy drinks and gels can be quite acidic and I suffer from acid reflux so 9bar is the perfect alternative for combating that whilst also delivering a fantastic source of energy.

How does a 9bar work for you when you are taking part in endurance sport?

I use 9bar a lot when I’m training rather than racing. It breaks down slowly so doesn’t give me a sugar high which is perfect for those long hours on the road.

What are your pre / during and post-race/training energy fuelling regimes?

Pre ride - I train in the morning so have a standard breakfast, porridge, fruit that kind of thing.

During training rides - I eat up to two 9bars per hour over a session of up to 6 hours. I have to have big pockets to fit them all in!

Post Ride - I use recovery drinks focused around protein.

You can get hold of natural energy 9bars with an extra 20% off - just use the code TRIBE20 at the check out on any purchase before 31st May 2014. Check out their products at

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Sensible well written article. I've been munching on 9bars during and after exercise for a few years now and rate them highly. Taste good (a factor that is often over looked with sports foods) great sources of energy and are easy on the digestive tract.

    Jane H and Callie C encouraged this.


    Do you have them when running or just cycling Phil?


    I eat them when running and cycling. I'd never eat a whole bar in one go (even though they have reduced the size recently) but break a bit off every now and then. I highly recommend them Jane

    Jane H encouraged this.


    This reads like a promo for 9bar however I have used them and rate them highly but there are alternatives out there that are equally as good. My advice would be to do your research and see what works for you.

    Jane H and Callie C encouraged this.


    I've just discovered 9bars and I love them. I tried the nutty one and I love the texture of the nuts and seeds. Also the carob topping looks a bit like chocolate so I get to trick my eyes.


    Met up with the 9bar team at Be Fit London expo - got to try a lot of the flavours, I like the nutty one best.

    Jane H encouraged this.

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