Are you gellin?

If you are training for an endurance event, you have probably tried gels, or some form of carbohydrate supplement. Are they needed, or will plain candy do? The benefits of gels (Gu, Clif Shots, Power Gel) is that they are convenient and packaged with a known amount of carbs. The gels are concentrated carbs, so a single packet goes a long way (45-60 minutes). This is why they are so sweet (like thick syrup). I often hear, “I just can’t do a gel” or “gels don’t agree with me.” Before you give up, try different flavors or a brand with a different carb source (as seen on the ingredient list), or skip the caffeine. The downside of gels is that they do not hydrate, so you need a cup of water for every packet taken. If that combination doesn’t settle well in your stomach, take a sip of gel with a sip of water over a mile instead of all at once. Gels and sports drinks don’t mix well either (too much carb at once), so plan to take the gel at a water stop.

Another option for carbs is the prepackaged Jelly Belly Sport Beans or Clif Shot Bloks. Again you get a known amount of carbs and electrolytes (although there are fewer flavors compared to gels). They may work better if you can’t take the texture of a gel. Again, they are sweet (that’s the point), but with a salty edge (the electrolytes). Like gels, the beans and bloks do not hydrate, so you have to keep up with your water intake. They are easier to take over time, too, compared to a gel you can’t reseal.

Of course, sports drinks like Gatorade can provide the carbs you need. If you alternate sports drink and water, however, you may want to supplement your sports drink carbs with gels, sports beans or bloks.

What about candy? Recently I observed all kinds of carbs choices in our training group…nutrition bars, licorice, gummy bears, grapes, and bananas. These are still good carb choices, but in the case of candy it’s harder to tell how many carbs you are getting and source of carbs. The gels generally contain carbs that are more easily absorbed, whereas candy is usually just high fructose corn syrup. There is also the potential that the candy and fruit are choking hazards. If you choose a bar, precut it and put it in a plastic baggie in case you don’t want it all at once. Also, skip any bar that has fiber since digestion is slowed during endurance activities.

The bottom line? You need carbs for endurance activity, and you may need carbs in amounts beyond what you take in through sports drinks. Try a variety of forms during training to see what you tolerate best and which best support your efforts.

Hey, at mile 20 you may need the happy face of that gummy bear smiling back at you!

Check out more about carb supplements.

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