If you ever meet me at an event, theres a good chance that, like Dr Who, I’ll have a bag or three of Jelly Babies in my pack. That’s Tom Baker era Dr Who, obviously. Jelly Babies are something I’d guess most UK folk have tried as children but there’s a few interesting facts that perhaps not many people know. For example, Jelly Babies were originally launched by Bassett’s of Sheffield in 1918 to celebrate the end of World War One and were originally called “Peace Babies”. They became known as Jelly Babies after they were relaunched in 1953.
Did you also know that one of the ingredients of Jelly Babies is Stinging Nettle?
I was interested to find out what people took with them as snacks during the Lakeland race. The checkpoints were reasonably well stocked if a little lacking in savoury food but most people would take extra food with them. At the pre-race talk, Joss Naylor told us he only ate “real food”; Women’s winner Gaynor Prior took bacon sandwiches and 9th place Barry Murray (a nutritionist) took protein shakes and homemade “Baz Bars”. Terry Conway, however, implied in his blog that he subsisted solely on energy gels which would allow him to meet his hourly calorie and carb requirements. Some numbers: a 45g Lucozade Energy Gel gives 123kCal and has 30g of carbohydrate. It’s primary ingredient is glucose syrup. (Source)
I’ll admit that the main reason I’ve always taken Jelly Babies on races rather than gels is because I can’t stand the taste of gels – I personally think they taste rancid. But, out of curiosity and to see what I might be missing out on (gels are expensive so have to be good, right?), I peeked at the back of bag of Jelly Babies and read the nutrition label. Lo and behold, it turns out that 36g of Jelly Babies (about 6 pieces) contains 120kCal and 28g of carbohydrate and it’s primary ingredient is also glucose syrup. So 36g of Jelly Babies is comparable to a single 45g energy gel. But then things get a little more interesting; where 100g of energy gel has only trace amounts of protein, 100g of Jelly Babies contains 3.5g (presumably from the bovine gelatine – Jelly Babies aren’t suitable for vegetarians by the way). That’s the same amount of protein as you’ll find in 100ml of cow’s milk. Why is this significant?
At this point I should highlight the fact that I am not a nutritionist. The following does not constitute advice, merely some musings based on the GCSE biology I studied over 20 years ago, reading a sports nutrition book by the suitably named Anita Bean and this article about the protein needs of endurance runners. However, this is the internet where everyone is an expert so let’s roll!
During extended periods of exercise, lean muscle tissue in the body will undergo gluconeogenesis which will essentially turn the protein into carbohydrates for use as fuel after the initial glycogen (carbohydrate) reserves have gone. An intake of protein is supposed to help offset this process and maintain performance. You see where I’m going with this don’t you. So while Jelly Babies offer the same amount of sugar-based fuel as energy gels, they are also a source of protein too. Do they contain enough protein to counterbalance the effects of gluconeogenesis? I don’t know – more research (aka Google searches) needed.
The other ingredients of Jelly Babies are quite exciting too. There’s some sodium (although not much, only about 0.01g per 100g but more than the trace amount in gels), concentrated fruit juice (which probably doesn’t contain any of the antioxidants or vitamins of normal fruit) and, finally, concentrated extract of the aforementioned Stinging Nettle as well as Black Carrot, Spinach and Tumeric.
- Black Carrot has anti-bacterial and anti-fungicidal properties
- Stinging Nettle and Tumeric have anti-inflammatory properties
- Popeye eats spinach
Again, however, I’m sure that there’s not enough of any of these in Jelly Babies to be of any discernible benefit – but no matter how miniscule the chance, there’s a greater possibility than there is with energy gels which have none of these ingredients at all. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to Jelly Babies is the same as that of energy gels – they’re made of glucose syrup, therefore a source of simple carbohydrates: great for an immediate energy release but less preferable than the steady, slow energy release that complex carbs provide. (I say “one” of the downsides because I assume there have to be more!)
I should also point out that, in 2007, the new owners of Basset’s (that’d be Cadbury’s) announced that they were only going to use natural colours and ingredients in their sweets – so you don’t have to worry about all those E numbers either.
Jelly Babies aren’t to everyones taste but they suit mine and for now they’ll remain an essential part of my racing kit. Which is lucky as I’ve just bought six bags of them! This segues nicely to another reason I prefer Jelly Babies over energy gels: as of the time of writing, a bag of Basset’s Jelly Babies are currently half price in my local supermarket and are selling for 74p. That’s 74p for 214g of Jelly Babies or, roughly, about 36 pieces. That’s the equivalent of 6 Lucozade Energy gels which, according to the link above (at time of writing) retail at 89p each. Yummy for your mouth and your wallet.