Energy gels -what, why and when?

Taste, gesture, content, brand, amount, such a few things which divide people when speaking of energy gels. New runners hearing about them and how they should use them during marathon. I often heard asked; which I should use and how many, should I take?

There are two simple rules:

  1. Try – Try which brand and flavor you like. Don’t blindly listen what others say, something might work with them, but not for you. Don’t go to run your first marathon expecting that organizer will offer gels during the route. Start testing different types of gels early beforehand, take some gels with you when heading out for long runs. By doing this, you might avoid unpleasant stomach issues and sickness during the race.
  2. Study – Read and research. There are a lot variety details how often you should take gels. There is not one golden rule. Again something might work for others and something not. Also your speed and training background affect the intake, if you are slower runner you might need more than faster runners. But that still doesn’t mean you have to consume one gels every water station or every 30 minutes. Take account all other intakes such as sport drinks, jelly beans, bananas, etc. Study yourself, learn the listen your body how much you need.

Why to use gels?

As I mentioned earlier there are other types of energy fuel also which are relevant to use during marathons and long runs. There are often lacks information and so many people avoiding the gels due to previous stomach upset, etc. Our body use two main fuel sources; carbohydrate and fat, with these two carbs broken down to usable energy source faster, but they are not last long enough as our muscles’ storage are limited. Our body store more fat, but it takes more time to break down to energy, as it’s more complicated process. Depending on fitness status and running pace, our body can store glycogen around two hours when running at marathon pace. We can train our body break down fat faster, which is the long process that demands dedication and change of diet. So it’s easier to take gels!

We have two glycogen store; muscles and blood. While we are running we use muscle glycogen. So when you take a gel it’s not go to your muscle and give you the strength to continue. The glucose from your gel goes your blood, which level also have decreased slightly, blood glucose travel to brain and give it to new boost to continue.

How many do you need during marathon or how often do you need take one?

There’s not a simple answer for this. It all depends on, do you use any other energy source while running. As some runner’s may take sports drink and gels the same time without any problems and others start feel sick, this is basically due to too much sugars in one sit. Absorbing gel every 45-60 min is general time frame, which works most of the runners. Remember, gel take absorb to your blood stream a while, some might feel effect quite fast others it might take up to 15 minutes. Don’t take gels too often this might make your body feel tired as you have consumed too much sugar. Also do not wait until you feel lack of energy, as it might get time to absorb. Training and practicing timing and listening to your body you will find which works for you.

What gels to use?

As the industry is wide, there are almost as many brand as runners. I’m personally tested quite many brands before I find good gel that work for me.

If we break down different kinds of energy types:

  • A hypotonic – normally contain less than 4g of sugar per 100ml, has low osmotic pressure. Hypotonic energy sources give a little energy from sugars.
  • An isotonic – normally contain 4-8 g of sugar per 100ml, has approximately same osmotic pressure as body fluid.
  • A hypertonic – normally contain more than 8 g of sugar per 100 ml, has greater osmotic pressure than body fluids. Often consumed before or after training session.

Mostly gels are either a hypotonic or an isotonic, so if you have sensitive stomach and struggle with gels, I recommend to trying hypotonic gels. They are not as strong as isotonic and you might have to take them more often, but this way I am personally avoiding stomach issues. Note that most of the sport drinks are also isotonic solution.

Also some gel brand produce gels with caffeine. Caffeine make absorption process faster and give even more that little extra boost.

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I tested High5 gels the first time about three years ago since that I have not used anything else. High5 also produce IsoGels which are isotonic solution and energy gels which again are hypotonic. Also they have caffeine version available both of these gels. I use both hypotonic energy gel with and without caffeine. I also like that their gels are very liquid, they are not gooey which stick on your palate. So there is not even a need of the water when taking them. Also they have good selection of flavors, which do not taste too sweet, more like fresh. I have also found their Zero electrolyte sport drink tabs where useful, as it is really light and fresh and haven’t cause any stomach problem to me.

These are what I have found useful. I recommend the test different brands and products, do not do as other as you are not like them. Find your own way! If you have any questions or recommendation to others, please leave a comment below.

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