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By Gear Patrol Reader Kirk Ward

When walking into your favorite running, biking, or sporting goods store, you’re usually confronted with a variety of powders, gels, bars, etc. that promise to make you RUN FASTER, GO FURTHER, LIFT A SMALL AIRPLANE, CLIMB MT. EVEREST (cue Powerthirst YouTube clip). The claims can get confusing, so we’re here to break down what’s best based on the type of activity you’re into and when you should injest your chosen enhancer.

If any of you are like me, you can’t eat much before a race for fear of inducing a dreaded side-stitch cramp. For those of you lucky enough not to deal with this, I envy you. To help make sure your body has enough energy for your race without loading up your stomach, look into taking one the following before the beginning of your race or activity.

Hit the jump for my recommendations and to add your own.

GU Energy Gel

orange_burstGU Energy Gel packets are small and easily portable, containing a 100-calorie shot of electrolytes and caffeine to help give you a boost before you start physial activity. Taken 15 minutes before the gun, GU will give you the extra pep to start out on the right foot. You can visit GU’s website to understand the intricacies of how GU helps, but the bottom line is that it’s 100 calories made up of carbs, natural fructose, and caffeine, so it won’t sit on your stomach while you’re on the move. Be forewarned, they are a little thick, sporting a consistency between liquid and pudding. For the more hardcore, GU has recently come out with Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Gel.

When to take: Before activity, During activity

Favorite Flavors: Lemon Sublime, Chocolate Outrage

Cost: $24 for Box

PowerBar PERFORMANCE Bar

1273597We’ll get this out of the way early on, yes the consistency of Powerbar’s namesake leaves a lot to be desired, but they get the job done. As mentioned previously, sticking with around 100 calories will help to avoid side-stitches from digestion complications, especially if you’re going to be running. To do this with a Powerbar, you should only plan on eating about half of it as the entire bar will give you 240 calories.

When to take: Before activity

Favorite Flavors: Chocolate, Honey Roasted Nut

Cost: $15 per box (12 Bars per Box)

CLIF SHOT BLOKS & PowerBar GEL BLASTS

clif_shot_bloksThese are products are very similar in shape, benefit, and size so it’s fair to review them together. The basic appeal here is that these are small, jelly-like tablets are easy to pop in while you’re riding your bike or dodging fellow runners.

CLIF BLOKS come in packs of three for a total of 100 calories (30 per BLOK). I have found that they can become sticky and clumped together if left in the heat (like locked inside your blazing car) or out of their packaging for too long. If you are going to take these with you on a ride, try to leave them in their package until you are ready to eat.

power_bar_gel_blastsPowerBar GEL BLASTS come in packs of six for a total of 130 calories (about 20 per GEL BLAST). As the GEL BLASTS have a liquid center and a are coated with a soft outer shell, they do not become sticky if they are out of their packaging which makes it easier to have them ready to pop in while on a bike.

CLIF provides a wider range of flavors, while PowerBar sticks with two.

When to take: During activity

Favorite Flavors: Lemon (PowerBar), Mountain Berry (CLIF)

Cost: Clif Shot Bloks $30 for 18 pack, Gel Blasts $19 for 18 pack

PowerBar ENERGIZE Bar

powerbar_energizeOne place that the PowerBar ENERGIZE bar differs from their PERFORMANCE bar is the consistency. Softer and easier to chew, the ENERGIZE bars are aimed more toward light, fruit tastes and mimic the consistency of a “solid smoothie,” as seen through the three flavors available. A good use for these is on a long bike ride, where you can take a big bite and let it sit in your cheek, leeching off of it for extended periods of time while replenishing your energy stores.

When to take: During activity

Favorite Flavors: Berry Blast Fruit Smoothie

Cost: $16 for 12 bars

ACCELERADE Powder

accelerade-lemonade-familyYou may think that ACCELERADE is built just like the other sports drinks, and that if you’ve had one you’ve had them all. That’s where you’re wrong. ACCELERADE is a sports drink, but it’s built for both endurance and recovery by supplying you with a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Do you know how much protein those other sports drinks have? None. Getting adequate protein back into your body after a long run or ride will help you to maintain or replenish muscle that may have been lost.

When to take: During activity, After activity

Favorite Flavors: Fruit Punch, Lemonade

Cost: $30 for 4lbs

CLIF Bar

clifbarsI’m not going to lie to you about CLIF Bars; I just think they taste good. Whenever hungry after a run, bike, game, whatever, I’m hopeful that I’ve packed a CLIF to munch on. The flavors are great and diverse while the bars are big enough to tide you over for a while. With a solid 240 calories and 9g of protein, you’ll definitely feel like you’ve got something on your stomach after polishing one off.

When to take: After activity

Favorite Flavors: They’re all good, but the best are Blueberry Crisp, Oatmeal Raisin Walnut and White Chocolate Macadamia.

Cost: $31 for 24 bars

WATER

Agua. H20. Whatever the name you want to give it, water is the most important part to your preparations (and maintenance, and recovery). Make sure to load up on water throughout the day and you’ll never get to the dreaded point of dehydration. While sports drinks and energy packs can help as a supplement, water is Mother Nature’s way to keep you moving.

We’d love to know what you do to power up. Leave us a comment.

Kirk Ward has commented on at least one post (outside of contests), submitted several articles, and follows @gearpatrol on Twitter, and/or one of the crew members. He is also one of our biggest advocates, telling his friends about the site all the time.