Endurance athletes heavily rely on energy gels as an energy refuelling product. These days there are a plethora of energy gels to choose from. The problem these days aren’t in finding a product, but sorting through the myriad of products and choose the best optimal glycogen delivering product for your race.
How Energy Gels Work?
When running, your body uses 2 primary sources of fuel – carbohydrates and fat. Our body relies on Carbohydrates as it’s primary fuel source when we race. The problem with carbohydrates is that we can only store limited amounts in our muscles. Our body is such that we can store sufficient Carbohydrates to fuel us for 1 hour 30 minutes when running at half marathon pace or 2 hours running at marathon pace. Beyond that, your muscles will be depleted of glycogen supply. This means, provided you are a elite marathoner, you will need to refuel your glycogen supply to keep going.
How Our Body Uses Glycogen?
Our body can only use glycogen stored in our muscles. You are not able to use glycogen directly from our blood. This means that our body cannot burn energy gels directly into energy upon consumption. The process is that carbohydrates must first be digested and absorbed through the intestines to be stored in the muscles before it can be used as an energy source. So, as it is not a one to one replacement, the timing and frequency we consume gel is of significance.
When You Should Take Gels?
When we run, our body diverts blood away from the digestive system and to your blood to keep your legs moving. Sometimes our stomach may even shut down completely, especially at the later stages of the race. This is the reason why many people face stomach problems during a race. So it is better to consume gels early on in the race as compared to later on. It is suggested to take your gels somewhere between 45 – 60 minutes from the start of your race.
How Often Should You Take Gels?
It is suggested to wait between 45 – 60 minutes between each gel. This is because our stomach may not be able to digest the gels as efficiently as blood is directed away from our digestive track. But remember, our digestive track is trainable. Practise your fuelling strategy during training as to simulate race day. This will allow your digestive track to get used to your fuelling.
Should you experience stomach problems with gels, try consuming them in small amounts but at closer intervals. Take a quarter a packet at a 20 minute interval. This gives your stomach a better chance at digesting the gels and giving you the boost of energy you need. And remember to always take your energy gels with water – never with isotonic and never alone. Taken alone, the gel is too concentrated and will take too long to digest. Taken with isotonic, this would be flooding your body with too much simple sugar at once.
Gels are necessary, but it has to be taken in accordance with how our body reacts to it.