How to use Energy Gels
Written By: SportsShoes
Upping the mileage and wanting to avoid the dreaded marathon "bonk?" This is where your fuelling strategy comes in. Here's how energy gels can help you avoid running on empty.
How do they work?
The body's primary source of fuel when running comes from carbohydrate stored in the muscles as as glycogen. Running long and hard depletes those stores. The problem is that no matter how hard we load up on carbs, the body can only store a limited amount - roughly enough for around 90 minutes of running at half marathon pace or up to 2 hours at marathon pace. Energy gels are basically concentrated energy drinks, designed to provide a fast carbohydrate boost that is easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
When should I take them?
When running hard the body diverts blood from the digestive tract, meaning it will often slow down or stop altogether. It therefore figures that energy gels are absorbed most efficiently earlier when the digestive system is under less stress.
Every runner absorbs carbohydrates at a different rate, but as a rough guide, a good time to take your first gel is at 45-60 minutes into your race, when your digestive system is still functioning and is still able to process it efficiently. It follows that if you're running shorter distances eg. 5 or 10K, you'll already have sufficient carbohydrate stores to see you through the distance.
The further into your race you get, the more stress on your digestive system, and the more it slows down. Allow 45-60 minutes between gels to avoid overloading your stomach. If your stomach's feeling really unsettled try taking smaller amounts but at more regular intervals.
Always Take Energy Gels With Water
Always take energy gels with water to aid faster digestion. You should also never take them with Sports Drink, as you're simply ingesting too much sugar, and never on their own.
Practice Your Fuelling Strategy
There's a good reason you're always told to practice fuelling. Replicating your planned fuel strategy in training, and fuelling with gel at consistent intervals, helps train the body to keep the digestive system going, helping you to digest energy gels more easily, and in the longer term refuel more effectively.