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Runner's Marmite?

18-Nov-14

Last updated: 02-Mar-16

Written by Sports Dietitian Rin Cobb

Lover or hater, you will have undoubtedly sampled the sweet stickiness of an energy gel at some point during a run. Gels come in all shapes and sizes in a multitude of weird and wonderful flavours but are they essential for runners?

The body’s primary running fuel is carbohydrate however it’s quite limited by how much it can store. As stores start to dwindle so will performance if you don’t top them up, particularly when out running for more than 90 minutes. For many years, runners have been advised the optimal amount of carbs per hour to be 30-60g as studies showed any more than this and the body wasn’t able to absorb and use it effectively. However, more recently it appears if you consume different types of sugar by combining both glucose and fructose, the body can use up to 90g carbs per hour thus providing more available carbohydrate which can only be a good thing for ultra runners.

Since the 1980s, sports supplement manufacturers have been developing gels to deliver these hourly carbohydrate needs in a readily accessible and digestible form; evolving constantly with the latest science. For some, deciding on which gel to use can be as challenging as choosing a new pair of trainers whilst others might just use up the freebies from their race goody bags so here’s the latest gel gen.

Standard Gel
Provides 20-30g carbs in approx. 40g serving. Advised to take with water.
Examples: High 5 EnergyGel, Torq gel, PowerGel, Gu Energy gel.

Isotonic Gel
Formulated to be able to take without water so consistency lighter than a standard gel. Provides 22-25g carbs in approx. 60g serving.
Examples: High 5 IsoGel, SIS Go Isotonic gel, PowerGel hydro.

Caffeine Gel
Standard and isotonic gels with added caffeine for that added pick me up. Caffeine content can vary 30-89mg per gel.
Examples: High 5 EnergyGel plus & IsoGel plus, SIS Go Isotonic gel + caffeine, Torq & PowerGel (specific flavours).

Whilst there are those of you who won’t run a race without donning yourself from head to toe with gels, there are also a number of you who find gels less palatable and not so easy on the tum. If you find yourself struggling to tolerate gels or just dislike them or the price, there are plenty of other carby options to help you fuel those miles such as sports drinks, jelly babies and even the old faithful banana. 

When it comes to self sufficient races, weight is always a crucial factor so it’s worth considering how much carbohydrate you’ll actually get for the weight of a gel particularly standard vs isotonic gels, compared to drinks powders and sweets which will give you more bang for your buck; or weight in this case.  

Lover or hater, share your gel thoughts here.

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