Make Your Own Energy Gel: Red Tart Cherry & Chia Seed



Is anyone else grossed out by commercial carbohydrate gels? With my half marathon training in full swing, I’ve recently been hitting those longer runs where I could really use a little extra energy, but there’s just something extremely unappealing about the pre-packaged sugar goo that’s usually spiked with manufactured vitamins (plus, I can taste the vitamins in the gel). So I decided I needed to make an all-natural energy gel with real ingredients that my body would easily recognize as a source of energy. My two magic ingredients: red tart cherries and chia seeds.


You’re probably wondering, “What’s the big deal with red tart cherries?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Tart cherries are different than sweet cherries in other ways than the obvious flavor component: they’re high in anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound thought to possibly reduce muscle damage during strenuous exercise. If you’re feeling extra scientific, you can read this article about a study on long-distance running and drinking cherry juice. My gel recipe doesn’t use nearly as many cherries as the study (nor are you consuming them for seven days), but it still utilizes the same beneficial ingredient.


The chia seeds act as the gelling agent, absorbing much of the liquids from the cherries and orange juice, and their healthy omega-3 fats and protein content digest slower than carbs, giving a steady supply of energy. Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run mentions that the Tarahumara Indians used chia seeds during their hunting ultra runs through the desert, where they would chase their prey to exhaustion. Even though you aren’t chasing down your dinner; I’m sure you can still appreciate having extended energy on your run.


The nutrition of this recipe compares to your typical store-bought energy gel: about 100 calories, 24 g carbs, 60 mg sodium, and 55 mg potassium. There is slightly more gel in my version, but it tastes better, so you won’t mind.




24 Responses to Make Your Own Energy Gel: Red Tart Cherry & Chia Seed

  1. Patti Landers says:

    Nice writing, Ryan. I am enjoying your blog.

  2. Derrick says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of tart cherries and chia for a long time but I never thought of combining them. I can’t wait to try this!

  3. Rhett says:

    I’ve been making my own chia frescas for pre-run nutrition by using Trader Joe’s Tart Cherry Juice for the liquid, which has a great ingredient list: 100% tart cherry juice.

    I like the salt and the orange juice for potassium components of your recipe, and I too am pretty grossed out using the convenient GU packs. I’m gonna give your recipe a shot. Thanks for posting!

    • Ryan Baggett MA, RD says:

      I’ve thought about getting the tart cherry juice for convenience, but I am unsure how it’s processed. If it gets heated to kill possible bacteria I worry the heat would destroy some of the beneficial compounds. Do you know if it’s cold-pressed treated or pasteurized?

  4. […] found a recipe for a DIY energy gel, of sorts, made from tart cherries and chia seeds. This will more than likely be my next endeavor, […]

  5. […] cherry and chia seed energy gel, full of antioxidants and anti inflammatory properties. Author: I.Run.On.Nutrition Recipe type: Energy […]

  6. Bart says:

    Thanks for the natural gel recipe, I hate sucking down the store bought gels. Find weight lifting workouts for runners at

  7. I’ve been able to buy tart cherry juice concentrate online but I can’t find actual tart cherries anywhere, not even at Whole Foods. Where do you get yours?

    • Ryan Baggett MA, RD says:

      A grocery store here in Oklahoma City called Buy 4 Less has frozen red tart cherries year round. The recipe would still work with the juice, you just may need to add a bit more chia seeds to make it thicker, since juice is thinner than the actual fruit!

    • Rachel says:

      I’ve not had any luck finding fresh or frozen out here in the sticks but my local Walmart sells Oregon brand canned tart cherries in tart cherry juice in the baking aisle by the pie fillings.
      I’ll have to bring a cooler next time I drive thru. OKC :)

      • Ryan Baggett MA, RD says:

        You can clean out Buy 4 Less’s stock with a cooler haha! But canned should do the trick the same as fresh!

  8. Charlotte says:

    I love the idea of this recipe. I love chia seeds. I love red tart cherries and often add them both to my fruit smoothies. However, I’m allergic to oranges / orange juice (along with many other fruits). To get the nutritional value, do you have any suggestions to swap for the OJ?

    • Ryan Baggett MA, RD says:

      You could use sweetened vanilla almond milk instead of OJ and add 1 tsp more of honey. Almond milk has more potassium and sodium than OJ, but that’s ok! Cherry almond vanilla, sounds like a good combo to me :-)

      • Tracy says:

        I want to make this as well except instead of orange juice, I’m allergic to citrus, I will use coconut water….it’s higher in potassium anyway…what a great recipe. Been searching high and low and just do not like the store bought ones…Not only that, but they leak everywhere….I was thinking about getting these little packs….have you ever used them, Ryan??

        • Ryan Baggett MA, RD says:

          Coconut water would work great! I haven’t used the reusable gel packs, but I would imagine they would work great since they are meant to hold up well in kids lunch boxes!

  9. […] or gravy 4.       Mixed in oatmeal, yogurt or a smoothie 5.       To make homemade energy gel 6.       As a “breading” for baking chicken 7.       In a meatloaf! […]

  10. […] pudding 3.  To thicken soup or gravy 4. Mixed in oatmeal, yogurt or a smoothie 5. To make homemade energy gel 6. As a “breading” for baking chicken 7. In a meatloaf 8.  Chia seeds soaked in fruit juice […]

  11. […] 3. To thicken soup or gravy 4. Mixed in oatmeal, yogurt or a smoothie 5. To make a homemade energy gel 6. As a “breading” for baking chicken 7. In a meatloaf…no one will even notice it’s […]

  12. […] of honey and a pinch of salt. If you’re looking for a little more flavor, try an orange  or tart cherry version. Make a big batch, pour into individual baggies and freeze until the day before your next […]

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