Should I Use Gels To Fuel My Long Runs?

Do you spend your Saturday or Sunday mornings logging long runs? If you're training for a long-distance race, you've probably come across energy gels at least once during your training. If you've found yourself losing energy during your long run, you may have even wondered if you should be using gels to fuel your long runs.

We know that the sports nutrition section at your running store can be a little intimidating so we wrote this post to give you a head start on creating your long distance nutrition plan. 

So, what exactly do energy gels do? When you're running, your body relies on two sources of fuel to keep you going -- carbohydrate and fats. Even though our bodies have a lot of stored fat to spare, it doesn't release fast enough to give us the quick pick me up we need to finish those long runs. So why not rely on just the carbohydrate? Sadly, we can only store a limited amount of carbohydrate in our muscle (carb load #fail) so many runners turn to energy gels (and other products) to replenish the glycogen and calories we burn when we're running long distances.

No two bodies are the same. Meaning energy gels may work for your best friend but maybe not for you. That's why sports nutrition products come in many different forms. Check out our quick guide to a few popular products. Be sure to try them out before using them for race day to find out which products work best for you. Remember, it's best to consult with a registered dietician or your primary physician before trying any nutritional program. 

Energy Gels: Reading the back of an energy gel packet can be confusing - some ingredients sound like lab experiments. Getting used to the consistency is an even tougher experiment. Taken a few minutes before your activity and generally every 45 minutes during activity, these single-serving packets can help get the job done.  Ask your local running store how Gu Energy, Carb Boom!, Honey Singer and Clif Shots and/or other similar products can benefit your training.

Fun fact: Honey Stinger uses honey in their products because it's rich in carbohydrates, making it ideal fuel for working muscles. 

Block & Chews: If you find that energy gels don't sit well with your tummy, try energy blocks or chews instead. Think gummy bears for endurance athletes. All of the brands mentioned above (except Carb Boom!) make shots and/or chews. 

Fun fact: Not into blocks or chews? You can try Sports Beans. Yup, jelly beans for runners. 

What about electrolytes? Move over Gatorade, nuun active hydration tablets are here to stay. According to nuun's website, the electrolytes found in nuun tablets (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium) will help alleviate cramps, help muscles function, communicate and burn energy efficiently. Although nuun are a popular training product, it's very rare to come across nuun at hydration stations along race courses.

Fun fact: "The four main electrolytes that play vital roles in hydration and exercise performance are: sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium."

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Energy gels won't keep you hydrated but sports drink do a good job at both. In order for the products listed above to work correctly, most require taking them with water.  Read 'Are You Drinking Enough Water To Stay Hydrated?' for more information on water consumption. 

Recap:  Sports nutrition products help give us energy and in some cases, restore electrolytes. They come in different forms - gels, blocks, and sports drinks - and react in the body in different ways. Check out your local running store's selection and try a few products during your training runs.

For more information about energy gels, visit

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