That is the question
Now that the marathon and half marathon season is drawing nigh, each of us has to ask ourselves, the inevitable question, “Do I have to take those things that my friends tell me are disgusting versions of vanilla frosting?” As an employee at SLRC and a runner for 12 years, I can tell you that gels will help you climb the ominous brick wall that we literally run into near the end of the our events. Luckily, I can also give you a little advice about what you can do to make the experience more pleasant.
What are gels/blocks/beans/etc?
These are little 100 calorie packs of energy that you eat throughout your race. They replenish the glycogen storage that becomes depleted after your first hour of running.
When/How am I supposed to take them?
You should plan to get at least 50-75g of carbohydrate (energy) into your system each hour. Depending on your body weight and your speed, you may need up to 100g/hour. Each packet contains about 20g of carbohydrate so you should take at least 2-3 of them each hour after your first hour of running. It usually takes about 15-30 min for the energy to hit your system so plan to take it about 20 minutes before you need it. That means if you want energy to hit you at 60 min, you need to take a gel 40 min into your workout. After your first one, you should keep eating at least one pack every 20-30 minutes thereafter. However, for many runners that is not enough. Some runners find that taking a gel every 15 minutes works best. Again, that depends on your weight and hard you are running. The harder you run, the more you will need.
Taking them water is essential! Water will not only help get the stickiness out of your mouth (and sometime all over your face and hands) but it will also aid in the digestion of the gels so they don’t make you sick to your stomach and can speed up the process of the gel being absorbed into your system. Additionally, it helps you stay hydrated. There’s nothing bad about drinking water with these things, in fact, you really need to in order to feel your best.
Every runner has their own preference so all I can tell you is what I know based on my experience. Below is a list of the brands, their thickness, flavor content, and an extra tidbit about them.
Gu: Medium thickness, medium flavor, 11 flavors, includes Roctane- a new formula designed to make you feel like you have rocket boosters on 😉
Powerbar Gel: Thin thickness, medium flavor, 7 different flavors, includes the tangerine flavor with 2x the caffeine.
Accel Gel: Thick thickness, medium flavor, 5 flavors, each gel includes some protein to aid in recovery while you are running as well as give you protein as an energy alternative.
Clif Shot: Thick thickness, medium flavor, 6 flavors, most popular at local, Utah events.
e-gel: Medium thickness, major flavor, 3 flavors, caffeine free but 50% larger than the regular gels at 150 calories.
Hammer Gel: Medium thickness, mild flavor, 9 flavors, the diabetic friendly gel and the easiest for beginners to start with.
ARE THERE ANY GEL ALTERNATIVES?
Yes, and they are becoming more and more popular. Because gels can invoke the gag reflex or run right through the GI tract, many brands have come out with a gel alternative. Be sure you are familiar with the package you are using because many of them have more than 100 calories and are designed to be used for longer events.
Clif Shot Bloks: The original gel alternative comes in 8 flavors and is more popular than its gel counterpart. Although these are quite sticky and can end up stuck in your teeth, they are quite tasty and picking them out of your teeth may be just the distraction you need to get you to the next mile marker. One package is 200 calories. Take one block every 15-20 minutes.
Powerbar Energy Blasts: These tasty treats remind me of the gusher’s candies with a soft chewy outside and a gushing gel inside. They come in four flavors and do not stick to the teeth. Each pack is 190 calories so take one blast every 10-15 minutes.
Gu Chomps: These new creations are the brightest in flavor- almost tangy actually- and do not stick in your teeth. They come in four flavors and 180 calorie packs. Take one every 10-12 minutes.
Jelly Belly Sport Beans: This little treasure is the most popular gel alternative. They are 100 calorie packs and since they now come in a re-closeable pouch, you can snack on them throughout your runs. If you are ok with caffeine, I recommend the watermelon flavor!
Although there is a lot of info here about flavors and gels, the best thing you can do is experiment. I like to keep my reactions to my gels in my training journal so the next time I go to buy a bunch of gels, I don’t make the same mistake twice. Keep track of your opinion on the flavor, how it sits in your stomach, and how you felt once the run was over. Most of all, experiment and enjoy!