Running beginners MUST read this before using energy gels

26 Apr, 2019 • by Admin

Sports gels or energy gels, are a sports supplement made of highly concentrated carbohydrates.

Endurance athletes heavily rely on energy gels as an energy refuelling product. These days there are a plethora of energy gels to choose from. The problem these days aren’t in finding a product, but sorting through the myriad of products and choose the best optimal glycogen delivering product for your race.

It is key to practice with everything you plan on using or doing prior to the race. In the next few weeks/months practice what you will use on race day. From sports drinks to gels, practicing now will allow you time to figure out what works and what doesn't.

We need a lot of carbohydrate when running marathon

It wasn’t long ago that runners relied solely on water, sports drinks, and maybe some flat cola as their primary carbohydrate supplement during marathons and half marathons.

Your body uses two primary sources of fuel to feed the muscles when you’re running – fat and carbohydrates. Fat is a largely abundant resource, but is broken down into usable energy slowly, making it an ineffective fuel source when running anything faster than about 60-70% of your VO2max. Therefore, your body relies on carbohydrates as its primary fuel source when racing.

The faster you run, the greater the percentage of fuel will come from carbohydrates. The problem with carbohydrates is that we can only store a limited amount in our muscles. Typically, we can store about 90 minutes of muscle glycogen when running at half marathon pace and about 2 hours when running at marathon pace.

So, if you’re not an elite, you’ll be running out of muscle glycogen long before you cross the finish line.

Energy gels come to save the day

Energy gels have been a common feature in the training regimes of triathletes since they first hit the market back in the mid 1980s. A cross between an energy bar and a sports drink, delivered in a tiny, easy-to-carry sachet, these concentrated ‘sugar hits’ deliver an easy, instant energy boost during long bouts of exercise, helping to replace depleted carbohydrate stores.

Energy gels offer a concentrated source of energy, making it easier to replace lost energy stores whilst training and racing. Most energy gels are based on maltodextrin which directly provide glucose to your blood stream and provide an easily absorbable form of carbohydrate.

Types of energy gels

All energy gels have the same purpose, to help fuel your run, and while they come in different shapes and sizes, there are two main types: isotonic gels and energy gels.

Isotonic gels come pre-mixed with water, which means not only that they’re more fluid and easier to take on the go, but also that you don’t have to worry about carrying water or eating the gels near a water stop during a race. The downside of this is that they’re a little bulkier.

Energy gels, on the other hand, just pack in a load of carbs. This type might be stickier – some of them are tough to get down without water – but you can pack more into a small race belt and reduce the weight of what you have to carry. The trade-off is timing them around water stations in races, or having to carry water with you on long training runs.

Both of these kinds of gels also have options that contain caffeine too, for a little extra mental boost, which can be very welcome in the latter stages of a marathon.


  • Energy gels take immediate action on the body and are easily digested.
  • They do not contain any added protein or fat and on an average contain 100 calories.
  • Apart from carbohydrates, they also contain electrolytes which help maintain body balance and prevent it from stress or dehydration.
  • Amino acids, ginseng, vitamins and coenzyme Q10 are added to a few gels to boost performance and reduce the acid build-up and muscular damage.
  • Some gels have caffeine added to them and hence it gives you that boost you need on a long run

How to take them?

Timing consumption of sports gels is important to ensure they have the greatest impact. The most common recommendation is to have your first gel around 45-60 minutes into the race, and every 45 minutes afterward. Since each body burns energy at a different rate, it’s important to test different brands and timing so you can maximise the benefit. However one universal truth is don’t wait until you’re tired to have your gel, by that point it will be too late for the body to process the glycogen to give you the boost you need when you need it.

Some runners like to take a gel right before the race starts. While there is no problem with this from a physiological standpoint, I find it better to consume a more substantial breakfast, with less simple sugars. This helps you avoid eating nothing but simple sugar for 3-4 hours.

Because the digestion process will be slowed or halted the further you get into the race, you need to be careful not to overload your stomach. I suggest waiting about 45-60 minutes between gels before taking another one. Most runners should be closer to the 60 minute mark, especially if they have sensitive stomachs.

Always take energy gels with water, never alone and never with a sports drink. Without water, energy gels will take longer to digest and enter the blood stream. If you take an energy gel with a sports drink, you run the risk of ingesting too much simple sugar at once. Taken together, a gel and sports drink could be delivering close to 60 grams of pure sugar.

which ones should you go for?

Different brands use the same basic ingredients – maltodextrin, fructose, electrolytes (salts) – and then add their own touches. All the brands we carry are of a high quality – no cheap and fast carbs that are little better than a mars bar! Mostly it comes down to personal preference and what your stomach likes.

  • Powerbar Gel Fuel Strawberry Banana 24 x 41g
  • High5 Energy Gel Mixed Box 20 Sachets Sports Nutrition - Yellow
  • Huma Chia Energy Gel, Variety, 12 Packets - Premier Sports Nutrition for Endurance Exercise
  • GU Energy Gel Mixed Flavors 24 pckts
  • Science in Sport Go Isotonic Energy Gel Selection Box, 60 ml - Pack of 20
  • Etixx Triple Action Energy Gel Lime 12 x 40g
  • OTE Energy Gel. 20 x 56g, Blackcurrant


Explore more similar news