Marathon Training Gels Tip #22

In marathon training gels may be the “must do” for the energy punch you need. You’ve probably heard or said “I don’t think I could do one of those gels”. Take the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt who once said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” It’s worth taking a few minutes to get the scoop on “gellin”.

  • Why should I use an energy gel?
    Energy gels are little packets of convenient carbohydrate that fit easily into a pocket of your running shorts. Just tear open the packet, glob down, and chase with water. No chewing required. Some gel packets now contain added nutrients, electrolytes and caffeine.

  • What do the energy gels taste like?
    The consistency is somewhere between honey, syrup and icing, depending on the weather and brand. (Some runners compare gels to the texture of nasal secretions…no wonder so many people think the worst about gels!) All gels are sweet due to the carbohydrate content, including plain flavor. Each brand of energy gel offers a variety of flavors ranging from chocolate and vanilla to mango and berry.

  • How would I use an energy gel?
    A typical gel packet provides 25 grams of concentrated carbohydrate. The adult body can process between 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour, depending on your size and fuel needs. So, for most runners in marathon training take a gel (with water) on the hour and get the remaining carbs needed from sports drinks the rest of the hour. Other runners may find taking a gel every 45 minutes works (drinking more water than sports drinks), and some may only take ½ a gel at a time more often. (I still can’t figure out how you can run with an open packet of oozing sticky sugar, or why you would want to, but I digress.) The point of taking the gel is for carb fuel to contribute to your glycogen stores on the long runs. The amount and frequency you take a gel is up to your tolerance and how much you think the gel helps your performance.

    Also, take the gel with water. The high concentration of carbs in the gel packet needs to be diluted for the best absorption. Taking a gel at the same time as a sports drink or without any liquid may not be tolerated well.

    Energy gels can also be taken before a long run, which is handy for a person who has trouble or no time to eat fuel before a long run. Some runners take a gel after a run for recovery, but the gels lack protein needed at that time. You would just need to eat some protein along with the gel during the recovery time.

  • Which energy gel should I choose?
    The most common brands are PowerBar C2@Max Gel, Clif Shots, and GU Energy Gel. Each brand boasts about their carb source (i.e., a certain blend for absorption or the carbs are a “natural” source). They all provide about 25 grams of carbohydrate per packet. Choose the one that feels the best on your stomach and gives you that energy boost you need.

    Some brand contain amino acids. Protein is needed more after the run than during, and amino acids are just one more thing that could upset your stomach. It’s not really a problem if they are in there, but they probably won’t make a big performance difference.

    Most brands add electrolytes, including sodium, which is a good addition to marathon training gels.

    Most brands come with or without caffeine. Caffeine is your call depending on your typical tolerance to caffeine. If you use one of these gels it may be better to use it later in the race rather than early on when you need to focus on pacing yourself.

    Lastly, each brand provides a variety of flavors to meet about any runner’s desire. In marathon training gels can be the treat you’re looking for along the way. As with any component, make sure you like and tolerate the taste.

  • Where do I buy energy gels?
    You can buy gels online in Jan’s Amazon Store, at your local running or sporting goods store, and even some brands at stores like Target. Many races provide a gel somewhere along the course, but you don’t get to choose your flavor and caffeine level. Race websites will usually offer this information as part of the gel company’s sponsorship. You can also get marathon training gels at many race expos. I suggest you bring your preferred gels with you to the race so there is no question about availability, taste and tolerance preferences.

  • What do I do if I really cannot take energy gels?

    I marathon training gels are convenient, but they are not the only things that provide carbs. The maker of Clif Shots also makes Clif Bloks, chewy chunks that do the same thing as a gel. It’s a good option, but the packaging may be a bit tricky. Sports Beans are another carb source, somewhat like a sodium-enhanced jelly bean. It’s a nice diversion from the gels, but they are noisy when you run. Some runners carry a cut-up nutrition bar or dried fruit. Gummi Bears are a common carb source, but they don’t have any added electrolytes. Whatever you choose, practice using it in training. Do not try anything new on race day.

  • You need carbs during the long runs. In marathon training gels may be the “one thing you think you cannot do”. Did you think you could ever run a marathon? Stop thinking and start gellin’!

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