Everything You Need To Know About Energy Gels

With more technology and greater understanding of sports nutrition than ever before, running faster, for longer has never been easier. From sports drinks to nutritient-rich foods, there are hundreds of products on the market to help fuel your run.


But, one of the most popular ways to fuel your body while you're on-the-go is to use energy gels. If you're training for a marathon, or even further, this is how energy gels work, helping you understand when and how to use them for maximum performance.

What Are Energy Gels?

Energy gels replenish your depleted carbohydrate stores when running, giving you an extra boost during a long distance running challenge. 


When you run, your body uses two sources of fuel to feed your muscles: fat and carbohydrates. While fat is widely available, it takes longer to break down into useful energy, so is ineffective when you're running longer distances, like during a marathon.


Instead, your body relies on carbohydrates as its primary fuel source. As a general rule, the faster you run, the more of your fuel comes from carbohydrate intake. But, your body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates in the muscles. This type of carbohydrate is known as glycogen.


Your glycogen stores will begin to deplete at half marathon at around 90 minutes and at marathon pace around 120 minutes. This means the average runner will be running low on glycogen stores at around the halfway point during their marathon.

A blonde woman running alongside a beach on a sunny day

How Do Energy Gels Work?

After eating an energy gel, the blood absorbs the simple sugars giving you a spike in energy. Through the blood, it's taken up by your active muscles and organs. This provides your body with a short-lived boost of energy.


Energy gels contain about 25g of carbohydrates per gel. One gel provides about 45 minutes of running, but taking two at a time doesn’t mean you’ll have 90 minutes of running, instead you’re likely to crash as your body attempts to process the sugar.


Some energy gels contain other ingredients to boost your performance, such as electrolytes to replace lost minerals or caffine to open up the blood vessels and speed up the delivery of energy. Some gels are fruit-flavoured, containing antioxidant-rich fruits like berries, which help clear the muscles of waste products.

When Should You Use Energy Gels?

The perfect time to take an energy gels depends on the individual. Every runner absorbs and processes carbohydrates at a different rate. Some can feel the effect within three minutes while for others, it might take up to 15.


As your body diverts blood away from your stomach towards your active muscles, your absorption rate slows. Sometimes, your stomach shuts down completely, and this is most common cause for unwanted toilets stops during a run!


The most important rule is to have the gel before you need it, not as you feel yourself crashing or hitting the wall. Practise with energy gels throughout your training to ensure you know when and which energy gels to take. 

A man and a woman running alongside a river

When Should You Use Energy Gels?

As your digestion process slows during your run, it’s important not to overload your stomach. Wait around 45-60 minutes between gels, or around 6-7 miles to ensure you don’t intake too much simple sugar at once. Likewise, consider alternating between caffeine and non-caffeine energy gels to ensure you don’t overload on caffeine. 

What Do Energy Gels Taste Like?

While energy gels are hugely beneficial for marathon runners, they’re not to everyone’s taste. Although usually water-based, they vary in consistency and intensity in taste.


With so many on the market, flavours vary from vanilla, chocolate, and coffee, to lighter fruity flavours like orange and berry. Test a few different brands and styles to find the right consistency and flavour for you.

Things To Remember...

Train with energy gels first. When you run, your body prioritises sending blood to your active muscles, reducing the blood flow to your digestive tract. The lack of blood can irritate your system, as your body finds it harder to digest food and liquid, sometimes responding by trying to force anything out of your system.


Practising with gels by taking little bits at a time while slowly building up the mileage, will help your body adapt to using your stomach while running, causing you less issues when it comes to race day.


Lastly, remember to always take energy gels with water, and never on their own or with a sports drink. Without water, they take longer to digest and enter the blood stream. As energy gels are a condensed sports drink, taking them together puts you at risk of taking on too much sugar at once. 

By harnessing the power of energy gels, you'll enhance your energy and give yourself a good boost when tackling your next long distance challenge. Remember, it's crucial to experiment with different brands, flavours, and ingestion strategies to find what works best for your individual needs. By utilising energy gels, you can unlock your full running potential and conquer new milestones with confidence!


If you're looking for more advice on running kit in preparation of your next race, stop by your nearest Runners Need store to speak to an expert. For a more in-depth discussion, you can book a free in-store appointment for advice that's tailored to your needs.

You May Also Like:

Let us know you agree to cookies

We use marketing, analytical and functional cookies as well as similar technologies to give you the best experience. Third parties, including social media platforms, often place tracking cookies on our site to show you personalised adverts outside of our website. We store your cookie preferences for two years and you can edit your preferences via ‘manage cookies’ or through the cookie policy at the bottom of every page. For more information, please see our cookie policy.