Energy Gels for Running: How They Work and When You Should Take Them

Running long distances can be a fun challenge, full of running highs and race medals. However, running for extended periods can also lead to bonking. This is a period when an athlete’s glycogen is depleted, and the body becomes sluggish. Luckily, energy gels are here to help!

Energy gels are conveniently packaged carbohydrates that allow runners to continue on a race or long run while consuming them. These gels provide energy during long training runs and races and aid in recovery.

“For every 45 minutes you are out on a course, you should consume one energy gel or roughly 100 calories along with water,” said Dayna Pirrwitz, a physical therapist and running specialist at Mercy Health.

Drinking water with an energy gel aids the gel in entering your system with the fastest results.

“Something to keep in mind is that our bodies can only process 250 calories per hour. Taking in too many calories at once or not drinking fluid with a gel can lead to stomach issues, including sending you to the port-o-potty, losing your valuable time,” she said.

Running gels come in different form factors like gels, gummies, drink powders, and even easy-to-digest foods like stroopwafels. Some energy products may also provide extra electrolytes to make up for the calories burned by your muscles and fluid lost through sweat. Other products may have caffeine to aid in energy levels.
“No matter what product you decide to use, it should be tested during your training runs,” Dayna said. “In a 16-week training cycle, you are up to double-digit running distances early on, so plan and start experimenting with different gels and water or drink mixes to see what works best for you and your stomach. Make note of how you feel the evening and the day after your long run to see how well you recovered using each product.”

With all this explained, breakfast continues to be the most important meal for the day – there isn’t an energy gel that will make up for that.
“Figure out what works for you and the timing of your breakfast on long run days, so you can take this out of your race-day jitters,” Dayna said.

If you’ve been training for the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon but have yet to sign up, there is still time to register.

Mercy Health’s orthopedic and sports medicine team of physicians and running medicine specialists are here to help! They are available to assist you during your training and proudly provide medical aid to runners on-site during marathon race weekend.

Learn more about the orthopedic and sports medicine services we offer.