The Ultimate Guide to On the Run Fuelling
Using Energy Gels to Power Your Runs
Love 'em to loathe 'em Energy Gels are a proven and convenient product to fuel your long runs. Here is an overview on what, when, how and why.
How to use Energy Gels Effectively to Power Your Runs
Energy gels contain carbohydrates, usually glucose, maltodextrin and sucrose, as well as salt. They’re designed to replenish carbs depleted during running as well as stimulating thirst from added salt.
They’re packaged so they’re easy to carry and “eat” whilst running, so are a convenient and easy option for fuelling your long runs and races.
OK, Now Give me the Science
As soon as you take a gel, the glucose it contains passes into your blood stream and stimulates your brain. If you’re flagging you’ll feel more energised, pretty much immediately. Swilling a sports drink in your mouth has the same energising effect.
But for the glucose from the gel to be used by your muscles to power your running, it needs to be digested, pass through the intestine walls into the blood stream and make its way to your muscles before it can be used. This takes time.
Also, when you’re running hard and beginning to flag, your body diverts blood, transporting oxygen and nutrients, to your muscles and away from your intestine. When this happens it takes longer for the glucose to be digested and absorbed and the sugars sit around in your stomach longer, which can cause discomfort and sickness issues.
So When Should I take a Gel?
To get maximum benefit from the food your take on-board it’s rcommended to start taking gels early on in your run or race BEFORE YOU THINK YOU NEED THEM!
I recommend you take your first gel 30 – 60 minutes after you start to run. Then take gels at 45 – 60 minute intervals.
Taking gels more frequently you risk not having sugar digested and absorbed between does. That can cause you at best a sugar high and could make you sick.
Make sure you take gels with water, so that the glucose can be more easily digested and absorbed. I wouldn’t recommend taking with a sports drink, as they contain carbohydrate and you could overload your system with sugar.
Training Your Gut
During the latter stages of a run or race, since your blood is busy taking oxygen and nutrients to muscles and not hanging around your gut, you might find it harder to digest food. If this happens, take smaller amounts more frequently. Your body will still need fuel, so to avoid bonking make sure you provide your body with the energy it needs.
Just like you’ll be using the long run to train your body to burn fat for fuel, you need to train your stomach to handle food on the run, especially when you’re running hard and tired. This is particularly important if you’re sensitive to sugar or you suffer with GI issues. You need to train your stomach to hold more fluid, from the water load you’ll be consuming, and food whilst running. If you find the feeling of fullness and awkward sloshyness of taking on food and water during running unpleasant, or it’s making you sick, the more you need to work on finding a food that works for you and training your gut.
Gels are not for everyone, but they are a convenient source of fuel to carry and ingest on the run. If you want to use them effectively to fuel your marathon find a brand and flavour that works for you and practice, practice, practice!