So in this article, I look at do running gels work, how often to take gels in a marathon and how to carry gels during the marathon.
Running gels, if misused, can upset your stomach. However, this is not to say they are not a useful aid to your running.
Like so many tools, it knows how to implement gels throughout your marathon correctly will determine whether you are having a positive or negative experience running gels in your marathon.
How Do Running Gels Work?
The bottom line is…
Running gels are consumed by the runner to replace the depletion of carbohydrate stores that occurs as you run.
Of course, if you are running only for a short period of time, this is not an issue.
However, if you are running a marathon at some point, if you do not replace those carbohydrate stores, you will run out and…
Hit the wall or bonk…
Whatever term you prefer, the bottom line is your performance will rapidly decline.
So all runners wish to avoid this rather unpleasant scenario.
But before you rush off to buy your running gels …
Let me be clear they are not a get out of jail card for lack of training.
Because the better trained you are, the more efficient your body will be in using those carbohydrate stores.
Plus, the glycogen stores we need for running are stored in our muscles and liver; when we ingest a gel that’s not directly where it goes, it first must make it through the intestinal wall after you have ingested it and then to your muscles.
Yes, you will get a lift from the initial surge of glucose. However, this is not the same as a like for like replacement of the lost carbohydrate stores in your muscles.
You can see from the above explanation that running gels are not a magic bullet, and the timing of taking those gels is key.
How Often To Take Gels In A Marathon.
So now that you know how your body uses the carbohydrates in your body when running and how gels work, and the relative shortcomings that they take time to be absorbed and reach the all-important muscles in your body.
You are more than likely aware of how vital the timing of taking gels when running a marathon is to their success from keeping fatigued at bay and keeping your performance at its best.
Pre Race Fueling
The first thing to be aware of is that you have optimal stores of glycogen when you begin the marathon by making sure that
- You have had a good fuel intake 48 hours before the race.
- Plus, a good carb-based breakfast 4 hours before the race.
Just make sure you rehearse your meals and breakfasts before race day in training to know what works for you as a runner.
During The Marathon Fueling.
With the fact in mind that it will take time for the contents of the gel to reach your muscles, it makes sense to start consuming a gel early enough so that it has time to begin working effectively in your system.
I like to take my first gel around the 45-60 minute mark; this means that I have used some of my reserves, but I am not leaving it too late to top up my carbohydrate reserves.
This also gives your body time to deal with the sugars entering your system without overloading your body with sugars.
One of the big mistakes I see with first-time marathon runners is waiting too long to take any gels, and then as they begin to get tired, piling in the gels that deliver an initial sugar high can cause a sugar crash and intestinal distress.
Most of the gels I use deliver about 25g of carbs per sachet, and your body can absorb up to 90g per hour; however, remember your weight and body type plus your levels of efficiency as a runner will ultimately determine what you can tolerate, and this is why in my opinion its key to rehearse with your gels in your longer training runs to really get clear on what works for you and the types of gels that work for your body.
Find The Right Running Gel For You.
Not all running gels are the same.
For example, as I have gotten older, I have found overly sweet gels are too much for me. However, other runners will tolerate them much easier.
Basically, all energy gels for running are providing a similar goal to replace lost fuel.
The art is to find one that dovetails with your preferences from a physical point of view as well as just something that you can at the very least tolerate from a taste and texture point of view because often, after long periods of running, our taste buds change and something mildly unpleasant can take on another level altogether two hours into a marathon.
Tips On Using Running Gels.
When consuming energy gels, wash down with a bit of water if possible, as this gets the gels into your system quicker.
Resist the urge to wash down energy gels with a sports drink as you increase the amount of sugar getting into your system.
For me personally, that’s why I tend to keep fueling and hydration separate.
What do I mean by this?
Well, some types of race fuels don’t come in an energy gel form. Still, in liquid, and many runners love them. However, this can lead to me taking on too much liquid, whereas if I have gels and water, I am always in control of what I am consuming.
As I say, just a personal preference on my part, but yet again, I must stress these are the factors you need to be clear on before race day.
Real Food Versus Gels How Do You Fuel Your Long Runs?
So when are gels good or bad.
Here’s my take on it, in the perfect world, you are better off eating food that has complex sugars/carbs; however, if you are running for 4 hours or so and have pre fueled with real food before running, gels are a great short term replacement for many runners as long as their stomachs can tolerate them.
However, my feeling is the longer you are out there, be it in a marathon or ultra-marathon. For many, real food has to happen as the body gets overloaded with the simple sugars from too many gels.
However, these foods are as numerous as there are runners, and it comes back to the old chestnut of testing in training and sees what works for you as a runner.
How Do You Carry Gels During Marathon?
One of the silly challenges I find when training with gels and hydration or running a marathon race…
It is how to carry gels during a marathon or long training run.
I often wear a hydration pack with some pockets to store energy gels; however, sometimes, it feels too much in the summer.
To be candid don’t like running with too much stuff or less I have to
So I took a look at…
Are Running Belts Worth It?
There are many running belts, and if they are worth it, they will depend on two key factors.
- Buying the right running belt.
- Your requirements as a runner.
So let’s look at running belts.
Are Running Belts Comfortable?
This, for me personally, is a huge thing; this is why I went for the Naked Running Band running belt, it was not the cheapest I looked at, but I could get a tape measure and measure where I wanted to wear it; for me, it’s lower down towards my hip area than too high on my stomach.
But I understand this is a personal choice.
Running Belts Need To Be Secure & Comfortable
Plus, I wanted something that did not shift what I was moving around and make me feel uncomfortable or lopsided.
So my tip would be to measure where you want to wear the running belt and where you feel it will be most comfortable.
Then look for a running belt with the type of storage that you require…
Is it just car keys, or will you wish to store water and running gels like myself?
Are Running Belts Or Armbands Better?
Armbands, in my opinion, are great for listening to music via your phone, but they are flawed if you want to carry more than that.
Plus and this is just personal taste and opinion.
Runners should really use their arms to propel themselves forward. I have even written an article on the importance of upper body strength for runners.
So with that in mind, I am not personally happy with something weighing my arm down, plus it’s weighing only one arm for me that would impact my running performance.
However, as I say, that’s just a personal point of view.
Some Energy Gels For Running I Have Used And Liked.
Maurten Energy Gels.
These were recommended to me by my running coach
These gels have what is called a natural hydrogel….
What’s That? Well, this is how Maurten explains it..
Hydrogel enables a smooth transportation of carbohydrates through the stomach to the intestine where the water, salt and carbohydrates are absorbed
Texture And Taste Wise.
For me a mix between something that is a gel consistency and solid …. weird but pleasant.
Uber neutral taste and a good boost of 25g of carbs per gel.
I really liked these but boy are they expensive, but for me, they work.
The present gel I am using. What attracted me to this was Ucans use of something they called super starch and no added sugars.
What Is Super Starch?
A proprietary key ingredient SuperStarch is a low-glycemic, complex carbohydrate made by a patented cooking method applied to a specific strain of non-GMO corn.
As I mentioned as I have got older my body seems to be less effective at dealing with high loads of sugar and I tend to get sugar highs but also lows.
When I have used these gels they have less of an immediate impact however the positive impact seems to last longer, I only have to take a gel every hour which I like too.
At the moment there is not a massive choice of flavours, its Orange and that’s it plus the packs are pretty big but both these potential negatives are for me outweighed by the steady release of the starch and how it sits within my stomach.
Not the cheapest running gel on the market but well worth a look in my opinion.
CHIA ENERGY GEL By 33Fuel.
I have used these too, I have to say I really liked the idea of the combination of Chia seeds and natural ingredients for that slow release of energy and the other benefit I liked is they arrive dry-packed so you add the liquid of your own choosing from coconut water right up to coffee !
All this with just 4 ingredients..
Ingredients: Organic Chia Seeds, Coconut palm sugar, Organic vanilla, Himalayan pink salt
Great price point too.