How Do Runners Use Gels? Benefits and Side Effects That Will Surprise You

Take energy gels during triathlon fueling

Energy gels can be a fantastic way to boost energy during runs. But how do runners use gels?

If you’ve ever wondered how runners keep going during long races, it’s most likely to do with energy gels. But how do runners use gels? Runners pop energy gels in their mouths and take a swig of water during a race to give themselves a boost. 

What Are Running Gels?

Running gels are rich in carbohydrates and are used during intense exercise to provide additional energy. They are made by blending different sugars, often fructose and maltodextrin.

Maurten gels
Running gels are rich in carbohydrates and are used during intense exercise

Energy gels come in small packets, making them more convenient for runners to consume during long-distance races. Most energy gels will contain no fiber, fat, or protein, which allows your body to digest them faster.

The Benefits Of Running Gels

Gels are helpful for anyone who exercises for over 60 minutes as their body needs extra fuel to keep going. While exercising, your body draws on the storage of carbohydrates found inside your muscles. However, there’s often only a limited amount available.

Research has shown that eating carbohydrates while exercising longer than one hour can improve athletic performance and metabolic response while preventing the depletion of your body’s glycogen. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s best to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates for each 60-minute duration of exercise. Most energy gels have 23-27 grams of carbohydrates, while you only get 14 grams of carbohydrates from an eight-ounce sports drink.

Check out our explainer on do energy gels go bad. You might also be curious about how runners take pictures of themselves.

The Side Effects Of Running Gels

Running gels can cause side effects during exercise, including diarrhea, bloating, and cramping.

There are several reasons for this, which include:

  • Your digestive system is more vulnerable when you exercise
  • Your gut requires water to digest carbohydrates properly
  • The ingredients can induce symptoms such as gas and bloat

To avoid these issues, do the following:

  • Drink more water
  • Balance consuming solid food and gels
  • Identify the gel that gives you the least discomfort

How Do Runners Use Gels?

First, carry your gels in your running pack or use a safety pin to carry the pack inside your shorts. Some running shorts have built-in pouches in the back for carrying items like running gels.

How do runners use gels
Don’t take an energy gel with a sports drink [Image downloaded from Canva Pro]

When consuming a gel, take it with at least eight ounces of water. This will dilute it and allow your body to absorb it faster. Don’t take an energy gel with a sports drink, as it will only increase sugar concentration, slow down absorption, and possibly lead to an upset stomach.

If you do wish to use sports drinks, consume them at the beginning of your run and take the gel with water later. If you’re using gels, sports drinks, and water, discovering what combination works best for you is key. For example, a two-hour workout requires either a sports drink or gel, but usually not both.

You might also be interested in this easy energy gel smoothie

FAQs On How Do Runners Use Gels

How Many Gels For A Marathon?

During a marathon, your muscles will quickly go through your body’s natural store of carbohydrates. Since your body can only process about 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour (75 grams if the gel has caffeine), you’ll need to measure your consumption carefully. Ideally, you would take two or three gels each hour from the start, giving you a decent stockpile of carbs to finish strong.

When To Take Energy Gels During A Half Marathon?

Before you start the race, take one energy gel. Then a good strategy is to consume one gel every 30-40 minutes, but the frequency will largely depend on how your body performs. You’ll likely need to tweak your consumption formula here and there.

How Many Energy Gels For A 4-Hour Marathon?

When running a four-hour marathon, you should consume a total of about eight gels, which would measure out to one gel every 30 minutes. The extra intake helps with performance and reduces muscle damage and recovery time.