If you’ve been on the running scene for more than a minute, you’ll probably have used, seen, or at least heard of energy gels.
Runners frequently use energy gels to boost their endurance and performance during marathons.
But what are energy gels for runners, and how do they work? Most importantly, which are the best ones? We’ll be covering all of this and more in today’s article, so get ready, get set, and let’s go!
Are Gels Good for Running?
Energy gels are widely considered to be beneficial for runners. This is because energy gels are formulated with ingredients designed to replenish lost nutrients during exertion.
Specifically, energy gels replace the carbohydrates that are burned as you run. Most are packed with simple sugars to boost glycogen production. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver, where it is used to release energy.
Some gels also contain sources of protein to benefit your muscles, and it’s not uncommon for gels to contain caffeine for an energy and focus boost.
Energy gels are a good way to help yourself feel more awake and energized as the glucose levels in your brain begin to deplete.
However, it should be noted that some runners find certain energy gels cause stomach upsets. In this case, obviously, the gel is unlikely to improve your performance. Running with stomach cramps isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
If you know that you have a sensitive stomach, we’d recommend opting for caffeine-free formulas. Caffeine is a known stimulator of the digestive tract and is linked to stomach cramps and ulcers. Moreover, many energy gel formulas contain maltodextrin and dextrose, both of which have high glycemic indexes and can cause stomach problems, especially for people with diabetes.
Our favorite caffeine-free energy gel for runners is the Huma Chia Energy Gel. This gel is specifically formulated to be easy on the stomach, with no caffeine, dextrose, or maltodextrin.
The energy in the Huma Chia Energy Gel comes from healthy sources of carbohydrates and protein, such as fruit, brown rice syrup, and powdered chia seeds. This natural formula will also be much safer for you if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, unlike many of the other gels on the market, which are not safe to take during pregnancy.
How Long do Running Gels Take to Work?
Some energy gels can take longer to work than others, so you’ll need to check the guidelines on the packaging of your specific gel to work out how long it will take to hit.
We should stress that energy release from running gels isn’t an instantaneous process. This is because, when ingested, glycogen goes directly to the liver, not the muscles. It needs to be fully digested before it can make its way into the muscles, which can take quite a while.
The Science In Sport Isotonic Energy Gels, for instance, are known for absorbing quickly and acting fast to replenish lost nutrients. The Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels, on the other hand, are formulated for a slow, steady energy release, which means they should be taken roughly 10 minutes before exercise.
How do Runners Use Energy Gels?
Most energy gels are designed to be diluted in water, so runners typically take these supplements with the water from their water pack or bottle.
Most gels are recommended for consumption with 8 ounces of water, although some products, like the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gel, require less water.
Directions for how often to take the supplement can vary from product to product. The majority of energy gels can be taken once every 30 to 50 minutes, on average. Make sure to check the directions on your chosen product to avoid over or under consumption.
Please note that taking an energy gel with a sports drink is not recommended and can even be dangerous depending on the combination of ingredients.
How do you Carry Energy Gels in a Marathon?
Ideally, you want to take the bare minimum to a marathon in terms of supplies and accessories. Each item you carry with you will weigh you down in some capacity, and the last thing you want is to end up slowing yourself down with the very things designed to enhance your performance.
Luckily, there are several ways you can carry energy gels during a marathon so that you won’t be inconvenienced while trying to beat your PB.
Some runners choose to use a running backpack on marathon day to keep all their supplies in one convenient place. However, running with a backpack, no matter how small, can be cumbersome, so this method isn’t for everyone.
Another popular method of transporting energy gels during a method is safety-pinning the gel to the inside of your runner’s shorts. As you can see, these bestselling GU Energy Original Sports Nutrition Energy Gels have a convenient, protruding lip at the top of the packet, perfect for slipping a safety pin through.
When Should you Start Using Running Gels?
It’s ultimately up to you when you want to start using running gels.
Some runners prefer to take their supplements pre-emptively, before the marathon begins. This is definitely one way to ensure that you start out strong.
However, ideally, you should consume a small, carbohydrate-heavy meal a few hours beforehand to fuel yourself for the start of the race, so taking a pre-marathon shot isn’t always necessary.
Other runners prefer to start taking their running gel once they begin to flag during the race. Taking energy gel shots only as needed as opposed to pre-emptively is a good way to make sure you’re not overloading your digestive system with simple sugars, caffeine, and other substances.
However, the downside to this method is that if you take the energy gel only once you start to feel tired, you may have to wait a while for the supplement to take effect.
How Many Gels Should I Take During a Marathon?
The number of gels you should take with you on marathon day largely depends on the length of your marathon. You will also need to take into consideration your gel’s directions for use.
To calculate how many gels you should bring with you, the best thing to do is divide your average time for the length of the marathon by the minimum recommended time between shot intakes.
So, if your average marathon time is 5 hours and you’re using the Huma Plus (Double Electrolytes) Chia Energy Gel, you’ll divide 5 hours by 30 minutes, which is the minimum recommended time between shots.
That means you can expect to take a maximum of 10 shots during your marathon, so you should take 10 gels with you to be safe, although you don’t have to use all of them if you don’t feel the need.
Well, there you have it! Now you know how energy gels work, how they benefit runners, and how they should be used during marathon races.
Hopefully, some of the products we’ve suggested today have caught your eye and will help you to cross the finish line feeling alert and energized!
Remember to check your product guidelines and ingredients list carefully before consumption to ensure that you’re taking the right quantities and that all ingredients contained in the formula are safe and compatible with your health and wellness requirements.