To Gel or Not to Gel?

Many runners use some sort of sport nutrition during races to replenish the body of nutrients lost and to not deplete the body of energy. aka ‘bonking’

I won’t get into the science of sport’s nutrition during a race, other than to say, if you are running over 90 minutes, I would suspect you require something to help power your performance.  I’ve read multiple articles of varying responses in regards to what to do, versus what not to do and perhaps there is a tried and true science to sports nutrition on a race course.  I’ll leave that to the experts and the elite runners out there to dismantle and figure out.  For most of us though, I really think it’s up to the individual on how and when they consume nutrition on the course.  In other words, know your body!  The most important factor when using nutrition is to always test it out multiple times during training runs to make sure it agrees with you and any other nutrition you are consuming at the same time.  This includes other sports drinks, gels, bars, food, and/or gummy type nutritional candy.  I’ve done multiple training runs with different gels, liquids of varying brands, and they all seem to affect me differently in terms of stomach agreeableness.

I’ve used GU primarily during my training and races to replace the carbs and sometimes have a bottle or two of Ultima sport drink for the electrolytes.  I will say, I’m not a huge fan of the texture of eating gel but it’s the easiest for me to carry on a run.  I tend to load the packet in my mouth, and let it sit there for a few seconds before swallowing it down.  Of course, a chaser of water follows this.   Water is very important to take after a gel to ensure it dilutes in one’s system and has proper absorption for maximum benefit.  Also, not to upset the stomach.  I’ve settled on Tri-Berry as my choice of flavour and Lemon Lime as my backup plan if the Tri isn’t available.  There are other flavours of course, with or without the option of caffeine and other brands also increase potassium or sodium levels as well, but I’ve pretty much settled on those two flavours as my ‘go to’ gels.

Another key to using gels is timing.  While one may not require the gel until you’ve run your 90 minutes of exercise, you should be ingesting it well before the 90-minute mark.  My preference is to take my gel around the hour mark, and then replenish after every 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how long I’ll be running.  Of course, this is one’s personal preference.

There are so many products out there to sample and yes, they do help a runner’s performance.  The key to using them is really through trial and error.  Experiment, experiment, experiment!  Compare brands, and find your best source for your optimal performance.

What sports nutrition do you like while running?  How often do you take it?  Do you mix sport drinks with other race nutrition during your runs?


19 thoughts on “To Gel or Not to Gel?

  1. Gummy bears powered me through my marathon, and a few GU’s. I love Vanilla Bean flavor. I also love fig newtons before a run…they are light enough that they don’t mess up my stomach, and seem to provide energy. It’s always changing though. Most importantly, depends on the distance.

  2. When I use gels, I usually go for Hammer gels, Montana Huckleberry flavor is what I use. At my last race, they had powerbar gels and they were pretty good actually…just don’t get chocolate!

  3. I tried a bunch of stuff before settling on strawberry GU Chomps. I love them and my stomach tolerates them well. My only complaint is that they can “sweat” which makes my hands sticky when I grab one to eat. I am intrigued to try gummi bears though- I feel like its pretty much the same thing!

  4. I use three Clif Shot Blocks distributed throughout my run if I am running more than 7 miles. They seem to help keep my energy consistent throughout my run! Thanks for the advice 🙂

  5. I just can’t seem to force gels down, but I’m a fan of Sport Beans. The Clif Shot Blocks are good too, although I find them more cumbersome to carry unless it’s cool enough that I’ve got a jacket on (ie, winter).

  6. I tried all sorts of things. Sports drinks left my stomach in a bad state; bars that required chewing were a no go; gels were hard to come by (I live in Belgium). And then I read an article in Runner’s World about the training benefits of chocolate. I liked the sound of it, so I tried it. I bought a dark chocolate bar that broke into 4g blocks, stuffed a couple of blocks into my running and pack and off I went. I am a chocoholic, but they were perfect – not much chewing required, a good balance of sugars, a bit of caffeine, and a little dose of the fun flavonoids =)

  7. I seem to have settled on PowerBar gels–they’re a more liquidy consistency than the GUs or Clif gels, which makes them easier to go down without hard swallowing, and I think they’re also perhaps the same brand that they’ll be giving out at the NYC marathon, so I won’t risk something new if I grab one while at the race itself. Strawberry banana is my favorite flavor of theirs (and of my yogurts at home too!). Great blog btw.

  8. Good plan!! Training with the gels you may be given during your next marathon. I’ve always taken my own gels, and anything given on the race course, I save for my own day to day runs to test out. Thanks for the blog remark! 🙂 All the best to you in the NYC marathon! Glad to hear they decided to have an option for the baggage drop off! Happy Running.

  9. Sports beans are easiest on my stomach. I place one in my cheek, as though it were chewing tobacco (I’ve never chewed tobacco – just imagining here) and it slowly disintegrates. I also use Hammer Endurolites for the electrolytes.

  10. I generally use gu gels on anything over a half marathon distance. Used the double strength Gu gels after 36km on my marathon. I don’t know whether it a psychological thing at that stage – but works for me.

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