What Are Energy Gels?
Energy gels replenish our depleted carbohydrate in our body when running, giving us an extra boost during a long-distance running challenge.
When we run, our body uses two sources of fuel to feed our muscles- Fat and Carbohydrates. While fat is widely available, it takes longer to break down into useful energy, so is ineffective when we're running longer distances, like during a marathon or Ultra run.
Instead, our body relies on carbohydrates as its primary fuel source. As a general rule, the faster we run, the more of our fuel comes from carbohydrate intake. But, our body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates in the muscles. This type of carbohydrate is known as glycogen.
Our glycogen stores will begin to deplete when running at around 90 minutes and at fast pace 60 mins. This means the average runner will be running low on glycogen stores at around the halfway point during a marathon or at any long-distance runs. After 90-120mins our body will crash and we will feel tired and weak. But even when we are running on the trail, we need to refuel our body with a gel at around 90 mins.
How Do Energy Gels Work?
After eating an energy gel, the blood absorbs the simple sugars giving us a spike in energy. Through the blood, it's taken up by our active muscles and organs. This provides our body with a short-lived boost of energy.
Energy gels contain about 22-25g of carbohydrates per gel. One gel provides about 45 minutes of running energy.
Some energy gels contain other ingredients to boost our performance, such as electrolytes to replace lost minerals or caffeine to open up the blood vessels and speed up the delivery of energy. Some gels are fruit-flavoured, containing antioxidant-rich fruits like berries, which help clear the muscles of waste products.
When Should You Use Energy Gels?
The perfect time to take an energy gels depends on the individual. Every runner absorbs and processes carbohydrates at a different rate. Some can feel the effect within three minutes while for others, it might take up to 15 mins.
As your body diverts blood away from our stomach towards our active muscles, our absorption rate slows. Sometimes, our stomach shuts down completely, and this is most common cause for unwanted toilets stops during a run.
The most important rule is to have the gel before we feel we need it, not as we feel ourself crashing or hitting the wall. We need to practise with energy gels throughout our training to ensure we know when and which energy gels to take.
As our digestion process slows during our run, it’s important not to overload our stomach. We should wait around 45-60 minutes between gels, or around 10-12 Km to ensure we don’t intake too much simple sugar at once. Also, we should consider alternating between caffeine and non-caffeine energy gels to ensure we don’t overload on caffeine.
What Do Energy Gels Taste Like?
While energy gels are hugely beneficial for long-distance runners, they’re not to everyone’s taste. Although usually water-based, they vary in consistency and intensity in taste.
With so many different brands, flavours vary from vanilla, chocolate, and coffee, to lighter fruity flavours like orange and berry. We need to test a few different brands and styles to find the right consistency and flavour for us and for our body and stomach digestion.
Benefits of Energy Gels
Energy gels offer several benefits that make them an ideal choice for endurance athletes, especially runners. Here’s why we should consider having energy gels on our next long-distance run or race:
Quick source of energy
Smaller volume than whole foods for the same carb count
Compact packaging that’s easy to stash away during a race or run
Specific ratios of different carbohydrate types for better carb absorption during exercise
Reduces your risk of hypoglycemia which can lead to hitting the wall or bonking
We will learn how our body absorbs glucose and fructose differently through many years of testing. Changing the ratio allows us to not only take in more but to better utilize, and digest well.
Things To Remember
We need to train with energy gels first. When we run, our body prioritises sending blood to our active muscles, reducing the blood flow to our digestive tract. The lack of blood can irritate our system, as our body finds it harder to digest food and liquid, sometimes responding by trying to force anything out of your system.
Practising with gels by taking little bits at a time while slowly building up the kilometres, will help our body adapt to using our stomach while running, causing us less issues when it comes to race day.
We should remember to always take energy gels with water, and never on their own or with a sports drink. Without water, they take longer to digest and enter the blood stream. As energy gels are a condensed sports drink, taking them together puts us at risk of taking on too much sugar at once.
Top Brands Of Energy Gels
GU Original Energy Gel
GU Energy Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Gel
CLIF Shot Energy Gel
Maurten Gel 100
Honey Stinger Organic Fruit Energy Gel
Science in Sport- SIS Energy Electrolyte Gel
UCan Edge Energy Gel
Spring Energy Gel With Caffeine
Some runners cannot tolerate Energy Gels without stomach issues, so the other version is to eat some good energy foods when running long-distance or races.
Dried Fruit- Apricots, Cherries, Apples, Pineapple
Baby Food Pouches- Applesauce, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, sweet potatoes all in pouches, easy to digest and quickly.
Try And Test Some Good Energy Gel Brands During Long-Distance Runs, Find The Best Brand For Your Body Type And Stomach, Try And Test Different Flavours To Find Your Favourite Taste, And Enjoy Better And Much Stronger Energy Levels Quickly When Consuming Energy Gels During Long Runs And Races, To Support Faster Pace And Easier Runs!