Raisins vs. Energy Gels for Athletic Performance

Today's Blog--

After about an hour of strenuous exercise, long-distance athletes can really start to deplete their glycogen stores, the body’s source of quick energy. Studies dating back to the ’30s found that by hooking athletes on a treadmill up to an IV drip of sugar water, you could delay fatigue, and that drinking sugar water could help as well.  So the sports supplement industry has come up with an array of energy shots, gels, bars, and chews—even sports jelly beans, used (what a coincidence) by the Jelly Belly Cycling Team. In fact the Jelly Belly Candy Company paid for a study that found that said jellybeans could shave 4 or 5 seconds off of a 10km cycling trial compared to sports drinks or gels. But what about compared to a natural, nutrient-rich source of energy such as raisins?

As I explain in my 3-min video Raisins vs. Jelly Beans for Athletic Performance, athletes are so heavily marketed to that they may be left with the impression that specially designed supplements are essential for optimal performance. Yet cheaper, healthier alternatives may be overlooked. A research team at Louisiana State University tested low-cost, natural food products rich in carbs such as sun-dried raisins to see if they had the potential to improve performance to a similar degree. Raisins are described as a nutritious, convenient, palatable, cost-effective source of concentrated carbohydrates. But do they work as well?

The researchers found they work just as well. Trained cyclists and triathletes put raisins to the test against sports jelly beans and arrived at the same competitive times and achieved the same power output. San Diego State University researchers stacked raisins up against commercial sports gels and arrived at the same conclusion: same respiratory exchange, carb and fat oxidation, and energy expenditure. In fact the only significant difference was in “hedonic scores.” In scoring the pleasantness of the contenders, raisins beat out the jelly beans. Compared to jelly beans with flavors like “extreme watermelon” there was a greater preference for just plain raisin-flavored raisins.

Beans, Beans, Good for Your Heart—but only the non-jelly variety! Other sports supplements may be worse than just a waste of money. See, for example my videos Heterocyclic Amines in Eggs, Cheese, and Creatine? and Heavy Metals in Protein Powder Supplements.

Compare the antioxidant content of raisins to other dried fruits in my videos Dried Apples Versus Cholesterol and Better Than Goji Berries.

For more on the latest science surrounding on dried fruit, check out:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image credit: Soerfm via Wikimedia Commons

  • ldm

    Correct. I received some energy gels with my last Half Marathon goody bag. I thought, “Why not give this little pack a try?” especially since they are free. I have never once had explosive diarrhea with high fiber raisins and water but these energy gels “are the bomb”, the bomb in my intestines. Had to detour to the bathroom twice during my run. Definitely ADDED time to my finish. Nasty stuff.

    • Hilarie Heinz Petersen

      Agreed! I use dried fruit for cycling. if I use the sports “nutrition” products I’m guaranteed GI distress!!!

  • elsie blanche

    Raisins, dates, lots of energy for me. But dates I prefer.

    I have a question regarding vegan DHA supplement. I decided to give one a try, vegan DHA, and have taken it a few times. My concern is that it contains vitamin E as an added ingredient. Every DHA product at Whole Foods, and other places I have checked, has vegan DHA’s with the added E. Should this be a concern of mine? I seem to remember you saying vitamin E supplements are a no-no. And I’ve read that it doesn’t matter if it is the natural or synthetic form, they both shouldn’t be supplemented. But I’d like to give this DHA thing a trial period to see how it goes. Any advice on the E? Are you personally concerned about the vitamin E in your DHA supplement (if your supplement does in fact have the E)? Thanks, Dr. Greger.

    • Toxins

      How much percent does it contribute to your total intake? it should say on the label

      • elsie blanche

        It does not list a vitamin E percentage. On the ingredient label it lists: natural mixed tocopherols, d-alpha tocopherols.

        I will have to call the company for a %. This is the vegan “Algae Omega” by Nordic Naturals.
        If the majority of the vitamin E in my diet comes from real food, and if the % in this DHA supplement is small, is this vitamin E
        added to the supplement still a concern, according to the science out there?

        • Toxins

          If is small, I do not think its a major cause for concern. I think the issue with vitamin E supplements is that people take them in 100% or more doses.

  • Eli

    What about a Ketogenic diet (see eatingacademy.org)? Dr. Peter Attia has a lot of research that shows you can last longer when the body is using fat instead of glycogen? Just curious what your thoughts on this are…thanks :)

    • Toxins

      Ketogenic diets have shown to be effective in the short term for people with epilepsy but long term on ketosis entails far more ill effects.
      Here is an E book by Dr. Greger

  • Eli

    Sorry, the correct site is eatingacademy.com…

  • rjr

    IF you are using pure carbohydrates alone, this may be true. But if you want to maximize your performance, add a little protein (and raisins lose on that one).


  • Martin Miller Poynter

    What about sodium loss through sweat?

  • Hilarie Heinz Petersen

    I like dried tart cherries, dried mangos, dried bananas, or dried pears. I like to mix them up- they’re my rocket fuel!

  • jimmy


    • Veganrunner

      Hi jimmy,
      Natural Vitamin E? What are you talking about? In supplement form or in the foods we eat? Are you saying you take a Vit E supplement? And if Dr Greger doesn’t go along with supplements he is a disinformation specialist?

  • JohnC

    Not sure if raisins or dates are so good for your teeth, however.