Raw Honey vs. Maple Syrup vs. SIS Gels - Equivalent?

Wondering if the science folks have further insight they can share into the likeness or differences between using raw honey, pure maple syrup, or something like an SIS gel.

Given @ambermalika comments on recent podcasts about the gel before starting and staying on top of carbs throughout the rides I’ve been giving it a go with good results. Problem is SIS gels are not the cheapest things to get your hands on, while raw organic honey or maple syrup is. And for trainer rides little squeeze bottles can work just fine vs. out on the road logistics.

From what I have found 1 tablespoon of honey is 21grams and contains 64cal and 17g of carb.

Maple syrup is 38g for 100cal with 26g of carbs.

An SIS gel is ~60g and contains 87cal of energy, and 22g of carbs

Obviously a tablespoon of honey is not equal to 60g in an SIS gel, so even if dosed up the equivalent honey would be 180cal and 51g of carb. Pure maple syrup (not store bought) has very similar nutritional info.

Is there any practical difference between a honey/syrup gel vs. a SIS gel for trainer use?

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I have nothing to back it up apart from my own stomach and body reaction. I much prefer honey to either maple syrup and very definitely to gels, including SIS gels.

I always prefer a natural approach and gels are only ok if there is no way round it. SIS is better than most but even still it is quite nasty in my opinion compared to raw organic honey.

When on the trainer I may fuel with bananas, or small sandwiches of peanut butter & jam or even some muesli, porridge or other carby cereals.

In my water, I often add some sea salt and some potassium citrate. Sometimes I will add some raw apple juice or mango juice etc.

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Funny timing on this post. I just did Mary Austin, and decided to drink a shot of maple syrup 15 min before getting on the trainer. Seemed to work. I didn’t vomit. Or back peddle.

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Took me a minute to follow your stats, then I realized your first gram listing is volume. Being American that confused me.

I converted it to imperial measurements and equalized everything to 22g of carbs. I used Google’s built in nutrition facts for both products

Maple Syrup: 1.69 Tbps (5 tsp) is 22g of carbs and 88 calories
Honey: 1.29 Tbps (4 tsp) is 22g of carbs and 82 calories
SIS Gel: 4 Tbps (12 tsp) is 22g of carbs and 90 calories

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I’ve used maple syrup quite a bit in the last few years. One of the things I like best about it is that it’s water soluable…no sticky residue in my fuel bottle or on my bike. I’ve used it on the bike portion in a few half ironmans and it’s treated me well. I’ll make up a 3 hour bottle, measured on a kitchen scale for the correct amount of carbs I need for a ride. Sometimes I’ll mix it with maltodexterin powder to make the carb a little diverse…I feel that combo gives me immediate energy and it also has a slightly slower burn.

No stomach issues on this blend at all.

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I’ve used both honey & maple syrup (and very rarely use a gel), and I find the maple is more palatable over long periods than honey, but having both could provide a bit of variety.

Disclaimer… I’m a maple-holic. I love it so much it’s my preferred sweetener for my coffee. So if there is every a choice I’m reaching for it every time.

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UnTapped for the win! It’s sooooo good, and doesn’t upset my stomach like regular gels. If you haven’t tried it, definitely give it a go, you won’t be disappointed… assuming you like maple syrup.

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When we go on vacation we travel with these packets, just so I have some real syrup for pancakes/waffles and my morning coffee.

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What do you mean by a 3 hour bottle? Is it 3 hours worth of just maple syrup and maltodextrine, consumed like a gel? Or 3 hours worth mixed with water to make a full bottle?

It’s 3 hours worth, mixed with water. I take a sip from it regularly like I would a gel. I try to use a clear bottle so I can easily monitor the rate of consumption.

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So with all of that…
Honey looks to be a clear winner by volume. Is there anything about it that I should be concerned about? it seems to be fine on my stomach.

Honey is heavily fructose based. Fructose alone is the worst sugar option for energy gel usage (it gets complicated when mixing sugars). It’s metabolized differently than other sugars, it’s processed by your liver. In the study linked to below they measured blood sugar ratings of different sugars. Sucrose had a much faster impact on blood sugar than honey. That spike in blood sugar is what you’re looking for in an energy gel.

Maple syrup is mainly sucrose, good old table sugar. So from an effectiveness standpoint maple syrup going to do a better (faster) job as a gel than honey would.

SIS is maltodextrine based, I want to say it is metabolized even faster than sucrose, but I’m coming up empty on studies to back that up.

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Untapped, FTW! Its feels like a little treat of Saturday morning (no Scooby-Doo, though) while on the bike.

Love it.

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Anyone aware of a gel that is Glucose based?

Appreciate the further insight into this.

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That doesn’t seem to be true from a quick check on Wikipedia - note that a) maltose is two glucose molecules and sucrose is of course one fructose and one sucrose molecule. So depending on the honey it can be entirely similar to table sugar and maple syrup, or perhaps a little higher in fructose.

That said, since sucrose is 50% fructose, and most people can generally only handle 20-30g of fructose per hour without GI distress, if you are getting all your carbs from sucrose then you can’t fully utilize the glucose pathway (which usually tops out around 60g).

Most gels, and at least some of the drink mixes like EFS Pro and Maurten, rely heavily on maltodextrin, which is long chains of glucose (the length of the chain can actually make it taste less sweet, which is helpful in avoiding flavor fatigue). Enzymes in your stomach chop these long chains up quite quickly, so as far as fueling is concerned they are all pretty much straight glucose.

As far as I’m aware all the gels and drink mixes will also include some fructose, either by itself or through sucrose, and in my experience they’re in a good ratio to let you hit 80-90g of carbs an hour without GI distress… but YMMV.

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To be clear so that it helps, the type of honey i am referring to is 100% raw honey straight from beekeeper, not some store bought stuff.

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That doesn’t really change the sugar profile; it looks like the flowers the bees hit has a bigger impact. Depending on the bee keeper it may “wildflower” honey, it might be a particular varietal, but even then I don’t know how much of a conclusion you can draw about the fructose/glucose ratio of a specific bottle of honey; it varies quite a bit. To be on the safe side, though, you might go ahead and assume that it is slightly weighted toward fructose and try to get any additional carbs from strictly glucose sources.

I know this is not quite the same thing, but Stacy Sims recommends some maple syrup with a bit of salt mixed with water as a good, cheap drink mix. I tried it and liked it ok.

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Have you tried the GU French Toast flavored gels. That might be your jam.