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Coaches Blog

The Sugars

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

A nutrition article, excellent (in a sarcastic tone).

Nutrition is a simple subject that has been over-complicated a million times over. All of us (athletes, florists, carpenters, children, dogs, salamanders, daffodils, ferns, mushrooms, amoebas, and e. coli) have to balance our calories in / calories out. If you have more calories in than out, you gain weight. If you have more calories out than in, you lose weight. That's it. Unless you eat what comes out the backside of a bull.

That aside, in this article, I'm talking about a very narrow aspect of nutrition near and dear to any IRONMAN's heart: Gel

Fun fact: bikes are older than gels. The Drasine (the first really bicycle-looking thing) was invented around 1817, while the term gel didn't pop up until 1899.

I am taking for granted that, since you are reading a Team MPI newsletter, you are familiar with gel. However, just because you know about gels doesn't mean you know that all gels are not equal. Different brands, and even different products within a brand, have different mixes of sugars. So if one gel doesn't work with you, it doesn't mean that every gel won't work with you.

Coach Adam's words to live by: "If something makes you poop violently, avoid that thing."

Since the critical difference between gels is sugar, we might as well talk about sugar. Sugars are carbohydrates; the ones in gels are more specifically saccharides. To be exact, gels are made of monosaccharides, disaccharides, and/or oligosaccharides.

The monosaccharides in gel are:



I'll avoid going down the chemistry rabbit hole, but what you need to know is monosaccharides are the simplest/smallest, and fastest-acting sugars.

The disaccharides are:




Disaccharides are made of 2 monosaccharides. For example, Sucrose is made of 1 glucose molecule bonded with 1 fructose molecule. The disaccharides take a little longer to break down.

The oligosaccharides are:


A single 'block" of Maltodextrin

An Oligosaccharide, more specifically Maltodextrin, is made up of 3-19 monosaccharide (Glucose) molecules. Similar to the disaccharide bond, just longer. Maltodextrin is slower to break down. Random fact: The length of the maltodextrin chain affects its sweetness; the shorter the chain, the sweeter it is.

So what does this all mean?

2 things:

  1. If you know a certain type of sugar does not work well with you, check the packaging and try a different sugar from the mono/di/oligo family and see how you feel.

  2. Know what to carry for different situations. I carry the smallest/simplest sugars I can in a race, so if things go bad, I want to get energy as fast as I can to make it to the next aid station. During training, I carry something heavy with Maltodextrin, so I will have enough energy to get me home.

Final thought:

It is very useful to experiment and find which sugars work the best for you and build them into your racing/training strategies. HOWEVER, if there is one thing I learned from doing Ultra racing, it is this - Eat what sounds good. If you don't want to eat something, you probably won't eat it. That is not good for 4-hour workouts/races.


Coach Adam is an IRONMAN University Certified Coach, USAT Level I Certified Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and VFS Master Bike Fitter based out of the Western Slope of Colorado. Adam has years of experience coaching beginners, juniors, elites, and clubs as well as a year focusing specifically on special needs athletes. Adam's expertise with bike fitting is extensive with over 15 years and 8,000 fits for athletes that include two world record holders, a national champion, several IRONMAN Pro/Age Groups winners and an ITU winner. Contact Adam at



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