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Western States and the First-Ever Energy Gel

A woman wearing GU Energy apparel runs an ultramarathon


It was 1989 and Laura Vaughan, a young ultrarunner from Berkeley, Cali., was in the middle of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run--a grueling trail ultramarathon that starts in Squaw Valley, Cali., and meanders its way through steep mountains and a hot, dry canyons all the way to the finish line on a high school track in Auburn.

Luckily for Laura and, it turns out, the rest of us, her father, Dr. Bill Vaughan, was a biophysicist. After watching his daughter struggle firsthand, he came to the conclusion that endurance athletes need a “portable, easily digestible and nutrient-rich” energy fuel. And so, he set out to create one.

A person makes a new nutrition product
An array of photos from Western States 100
Photos of the process of making Gu Energy Gel

Research and Development

After grueling trial and error over several years, the first-ever GU energy gel was born in 1992. The same year, Laura lined up at the Wasatch 100-Mile Endurance Run, a steep and technical ultra race in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. This time, equipped with a nutrition plan and the new GU energy gel, Laura won the race. It marked the beginning of a major shift in sports nutrition.

To make the gel, “Dr. Vaughan relied on existing scientific literature in exercise physiology, carbohydrate absorption, metabolism and osmolarity to formulate the original GU,” says GU Energy Nutritionist, Roxanne Vogel.

The very next year GU launched a brand-new sports nutrition category that’s still, to this day, lauded by amateur and professional athletes alike. And that’s because it works. GU’s formula maximizes carbohydrate absorption without gastrointestinal distress through a blend of complex and simple carbohydrates (maltodextrin and fructose). Put simply, the revolutionary gel instantly created a way for endurance athletes to take in more carbs for increased energy, delayed fatigue and therefore stronger endurance performance.

Top Fuel for Top Athletes

And the brand’s history is dappled with outstanding athletic performances to prove it. GU products were used by world-champion Ironman finishers in the mid-90s, GU fueled the legendary ultrarunner Anne Trason for multiple victories and course records and more.

Then, in the early 2000s, in line with the brand’s mission to always look for innovation, they formulated a sports drink mix, energy gummies called “Chomps” (today, they're called "Chews") and even a special GU "Roctane" blend with added amino acids and electrolytes (and sometimes caffeine) for the most demanding ultrarunning endurance events out there.

“I trust my GU nutrition strategy and in return that makes me feel confident when I toe any race or training session because it's reliable, created to optimize my training, portable and comes in excellent variety of form factors and flavors to meet the demands of any race I do,” says Magda Lewy-Boulet, an elite ultramarathoner and GU’s leading VP of Innovation, Research and Development. “Real food requires significantly more blood flow directed toward the digestive system. And that means less blood flow is available to go toward the working muscles.”

Continued Innovation

So, Supplementing with easily-digestible and nutrient-packed GU likely means better performances and an increased ability to push the upper limit of what’s possible when it comes to endurance. And that’s precisely what GU Energy aims to do: push the boundaries of sports nutrition and athletic performance.

“We’re focused on finding solutions that make athletes better,” says Brian Vaughan, Chief Endurance Officer of GU Energy. “We look to advance the industry by working with remarkable individuals to understand the limits of human performance and be part of the discussion that brings together nutrition planning, health and athleticism so that future generations can go after big, audacious goals.”