How To Use Energy Gels To Enhance Your Marathon Training

Energy gels are somewhat of an enigma for many runners, surrounded uncertainty on how to use them and the belief that they’re for ‘fast’ athletes only. They are, in fact, an easier and highly effective way to go the distance in your marathon training and during the race itself. So how do gels work, and most importantly, how can you use them to get the most out of your marathon?

How do energy gels work?

It’s science – as the duration of your run increases, so does the need to fuel your body. At a medium effort level, a topped-up glycogen (carbohydrate) store will allow us to run for approximately 90 -120 minutes before we will have depleted this vital energy reserve [1]. The faster we run, the faster we’ll burn glycogen.

Energy gels such as those provided by Science in Sport give you energy – in the form of carbohydrates – that are rapidly absorbed and utilised by the muscles to provide energy. It is worth noting that carbohydrates are key to avoid the body dipping into its fat reserves, which are slower and significantly less effective at supplying energy. This can cause severe fatigue and risk of having to stop your run!

Unlike the traditional carbs you might eat a few hours before running (bread, pasta, bananas…), the simple sugars in gels get absorbed straight into your blood stream[2], meaning you can take them on-the-go without feeling full and reaping the benefits of an almost immediate energy spike.

How do I take them?

To get the most out of energy gels, its worth learning how to use them properly. However, it is also important to know that every runner is different; some people require more gels, while others need less. We have already established that glycogen lasts for 90-120 minutes, so energy gels are necessary for runs exceeding this time. Follow the 7 step guide below to take energy gels effectively:

1. Eat Smart

Ensure that your glycogen levels are topped up (but don’t over-eat!) and you are well hydrated before you run. This means a carbohydrate-rich meal about 3 hours before, and sufficient water.52

2. Be Consistent

During long duration or high intensity training sessions it is important to begin fuelling with gels before you start to feel depleted, or even worse… hungry. This means it is important to begin fuelling at the beginning of the session and aim to have a gel approximately every 20-30 minutes. This can be tricky at first, but as you train more with gels, you will find that you’re able to listen to your body more effectively.

3. Hydrate

Consider your hydration needs. Without water, gels take longer to digest and enter the blood stream[3]. However, to solve bloating issues, the Science in SportGO gel is isotonic, meaning it delivers easy-to-digest carbohydrate without the liquid volume that often leaves you feeling bloated and sluggish.[4]

4. Happy Gut, Happy Run

Steer clear of drinking too many energy drinks with gels, as taking in too much carbohydrate at once may upset your stomach. It’s important to note that ‘more is more’ is a dangerous approach to running; if you over-fuel, you are in very real danger of stitches, sickness and bloating especially if you have not trained your gut to be able to tolerate consuming energy during training.

5. Consider Caffeine

Caffeinated gels can enhance your performance – especially mentally – however some of us can tolerate higher levels than others. Just like you should never over-do your fuelling, try to avoid exceeding your caffeine limits which can lead to sickness.

6. Practice

Don’t be disheartened if your energy gel plans don’t go accordingly in the first few runs. It can take a while to get used new fuelling methods and allow your body to adapt. You should always practice with energy gels.

7. Nothing New On Race Day

Most importantly: do not wait until race day to try energy gels. A poorly stomach could de-rail your race plans. Remember the mantra ‘never try anything new on race day’ and stick to it.

Other tips

Instead of taking them all in one go, some runners prefer to ‘sip’ their gel over some time – or just take half or even a quarter of the sachet. This is particularly useful for runners who fear digestion issues.

Find a great flavour – Science in Sport offer a number of different flavours to choose from and finding the ones that you enjoy can perk up the toughest of runs.

Grab 10% off your order with the code SISMM at the checkout.

Good luck using energy gels to maximise your marathon performance!