Raisins vs. Energy Gels for Athletic Performance

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 the above video, 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.

This is the third of a three part video series on the latest science on dried fruit. Check out the last three here:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos here and watch my full 2012 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image credit: Chris Brown via Wikimedia Commons

Many Supplements Worse Than Useless
Best Dried Fruit For Cholesterol
Increasing Muscle Strength with Fenugreek


Michael A.
Michael A4 years ago


Ryan Yehling
Ryan Yehling4 years ago

From the words of a great scholar, "super dee duper."

Aleeza S.
Aleeza Samana4 years ago

Healthy foods are essential to have nice and supple skin. I love natural.
Recently I updated my site: http://howtobe.healthy.webs.com

Lin M
Lin M4 years ago

I'd eat raisins over the candy.

Biby C.
Biby C4 years ago

Energy bars are full of refined sugars. On my hiking trips I normally bring along mixed nuts (unsalted and unsweetened), dried fruits and raisins in place of them.

Alfonso Lopez
Alfonso Lopez4 years ago

As a Triathlete, i can tell this is good info. Thanks for posting

Aaron Bouchard
Aaron Bouchard4 years ago

Thank you

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Let's go natural

Patricia H.
Patricia H4 years ago


Irene S.
Irene S4 years ago

I´d always prefer raisins.