By Debbie Perry
Do energy gels really work? How do I use them and how many will I need for my marathon? Should I try them before the race? Where do I put them? This article can help you find these answers.
If there’s one time that eating smart pays off, then long runs and marathons are it! One of the biggest and most easily avoided mistakes for new runners has to do with not eating enough during long training runs or marathons. Reality is that the human body will run out of glycogen (sugar) in less than two hours unless replenished. It is true that when you run slow, long runs at a fun conversational pace, you’re burning fat as a major source of fuel. However, you are still burning glycogen as well. For this reason it’s important to implement the habit of eating carbohydrates during training runs or races longer than about 75 minutes.
What To Eat
Hmmm, so what would you eat? Most runners prefer one of two things. They use either energy gelsor high quality energy drinks. Most often, the popular choice is energy gels because you can easily carry these little gel packs with you. Often there are places to get water during the run to wash it down, so you don’t have to carry a water bottle. However, there are times when water won’t be available during a long run, so one would have to carry a water bottle in a special runner friendly waste pack. In this case, it would be easy to fill that bottle up with an electrolyte/energy drink and not carry gel packs too. It’s your choice. The important thing is that you experiment with what you use during the marathon.
If you’re used to a certain energy gel, then make sure you bring some with you for the marathon. It’s never a good idea to rely on what any race is supposed to supply. Sometimes they run out, or don’t have what you need when you need it. So, again practice how you will carry these packets/bottles of energy needs. There are many pouches or packs that are very useful, but please practice with it first.
As for meeting your water needs during a marathon, that is usually not a problem with what is supplied at the aid stations. Hence the reason for being able to carry the gel packets without extra water to wash them down—there should be plenty on the course.
Where to get gels and drinks
It is wise to first go to a running specialty store that has a good selection of the different gels and drinks. Make sure you speak with an experienced runner on this issue who can give you a run down of the different products. Each brand uses different ingredients, electrolytes and other additives. Ask some runner friends too because you will hardly ever get the same answer on which is their favorite brand or flavor. Have fun trying a variety to find your own favorite. .
When To Eat
During a long run or race the general rule is to take your first 20-25 gram dose of carbohydrate at about the 45 minute mark and then every 20-30 minutes thereafter. It also works to time the gel intake with the location of the aid stations.Just make sure to take in about 50-75 grams of carbs per hour at an absolute minimum.
If the times are not spaced exactly , it’s not a problem. Your body is hungry either way, so to feed it at 25 minutes apart is not going to be a bad thing. The only warning here is to make sure that you’re eating before you bonk. For example, if you’re at mile 18 in the race and you haven’t had a gel for 25 minutes, then take one even if there is not an aid station for another mile (another good reason to have them with you.) You can get water later. And then make sure you do take it. Taking in nutrition earlier rather than later will help you to avoid some serious misery.
If you weigh over 175 pounds, you may consider taking in more grams of carbohydrate each time. There are some companies that make bigger packs of gel (e-gel), or you could get gel in the bulk packages and fill your own gel squeeze bottle to control how much you want at one time. Also, some runners are not just heavier, but they are running harder. That is when you may consider taking in up to 100 grams of carb every hour.
Just make sure you experiment on your training runs to find the brands and flavors that you like and agree with you. Also, spend a few minutes the day before your long run/marathon thinking about how many gels or how much drink you’ll need and stock up. Bring one extra as being over prepared is far better than being under prepared and you might make a friend for life if you donate that one extra to someone in dire need of carbs at mile 20.
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