There are so many different types of fuel out there – so how do you know which one is right for you?
The best way to find the products that will effectively fuel your run is basically trial and error. Keep a training journal so you know what you ate and when so you know how your body reacted to each different brand and fuel type.
But here’s a basic overview of the two main types of during-the-run nutrition products that we carry so you’re not going in blind.
Energy gel can be tricky – for a lot of people, it’s a ‘I guess I can tolerate it’ kind of thing. It’s very rare that we hear people saying ‘OMG I LOVE GELS THEY’RE SO YUMMY!’ Luckily, over the past few years companies like GU, Clif, and Honey Stinger have come out with some interesting flavors to keep it fresh.
It’s kind of just what it sounds like – gel. Consistency varies from brand to brand, but think of somewhere in between a smoothie and pudding. Flavors generally fall into two camps: the vanilla/chocolate/coffee flavors; and the fruity flavors.
We carry gels by GU, Honey Stinger, Clif, and more. Here are some key differentiators:
HONEY STINGER uses honey and tapioca syrup as its primary sugar source, most varieties are organic; CLIF is organic and doesn’t have too many ingredients; GU uses dual fuels (maltodextrin and fructose) which allow you to consume and absorb more energy.
Have you ever heard the advice, ‘if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, it’s too late’? Same idea. You want to make sure your muscles never get to a point that they are hungry during your race, because it’s really hard to dig yourself out of that hole. General rule of thumb is to take your first gel about 45-60 minutes in, and then take one every 45 minutes after that (we’re going under the assumption here that you have eaten a quality breakfast about 90 minutes before the race).
Take them with water – it will help the simple sugars absorb into the bloodstream more quickly. And DON’T take them with a sports drink – this is way too much sugar for the body to handle at once.
GU: Thinnest consistency of the bunch; requires no chewing. Just shoot it and chase with water. Smallest packaging, making it easy to carry. Largest flavor assortment we carry – you’ll find your standard chocolate, vanilla, fruit flavors; but you’ll also find varieties like Salted Watermelon, Peanut Butter, and Cucumber Mint, among others.
CLIF SHOT: Thickest consistency of the bunch (the chocolate flavor is delicious but reminds us a little bit of frosting); litter leash packaging is clever and means you’re not dropping trash on the ground. This is the official on-course fuel of the Boston Marathon, so you’ll find it at 3 locations along the route if you don’t have enough pockets in your race day kit.
HONEY STINGER: The sweetest of the bunch, and we like that the main ingredients are honey and tapioca syrup – a little more natural. Consistency is in between GU and Clif Shot, so it seems to be pretty easy to take down mid-run. Flavor assortment is simple but effective, with a small mix of fruity as well as your standard chocolate and vanilla.
For many years, runners had a choice between gel and…other gel. Realizing that some people just couldn’t stomach the stuff, nutrition companies began creating chews that would serve the same purpose – quick simple sugars to feed your muscles.
Think of those little pouches of fruit snacks you put in your kid’s lunchbox. Fruity, chewy, delicious! Some are firmer, and some are more sticky. And then there are sport beans – which are basically just jelly beans – simple sugar is the name of the game here.
We carry chews by Clif, Honey Stinger, GU, and Jelly Belly. Here are some key differentiators:
CLIF BLOKS are organic and are slightly sticky; HONEY STINGER CHEWS are also organic, and are slightly smaller in size, a little less sticky; GU CHOMPS are even smaller, and similar in consistency to the Stinger Chews; SPORT BEANS are the jelly beans that you know and love.
The nice thing about chews as compared to gels is that you don’t have to shoot the whole packet down at once. Packets come with 6-8 chews, so you can space them out a little more if your stomach prefers it. Take one or two chews and put the rest back in your pocket, then take a couple more.
The timing cadence is similar to gels – make sure you’re getting 100(ish) calories of fuel about every 45 minutes to an hour. You can chew them as you would normal food, or just suck on them until they dissolve (not great for your teeth, but hey we do what we can during a race).
STINGER CHEWS: Again, we like that the main ingredients are honey and tapioca syrup. These are the easiest ones to chew on – each chew is about the size of a quarter and pretty soft (doesn’t really stick to your teeth). Taste is by far the best of the bunch. The Pink Lemonade chews are our go-to afternoon snack!
CLIF BLOKS: The best flavor variety out there – you’ll find options like Spearmint, Margarita, and Ginger Ale in addition to your standard fruit flavors. We LOVE that the Margarita flavor has 3x the sodium. A larger chew and definitely stickier than Honey Stinger Chews, so you’ll probably suck on these rather than chew them.
SPORT BEANS: Definitely the biggest jolt to the taste buds during a long run – that tangy sugar hits you in the best way possible when you’re dragging. The packaging is the best of the bunch, because it is a little resealable bag you can pop back into your pocket.
This is not the time to be sugar or calorie conscious. Your muscles need fuel in the form of about 100 calories of sugar per hour during a long distance race. Why sugar? Because it is the easiest form of fuel for your muscles to process. The body expends a lot more energy to burn fat than it does to burn carbs (sugar). And you need to conserve every bit of energy you have in order to push you through 26.2.
What happens if you wait too long to fuel your muscles? You know the answer to that, because we’ve all been there! Your pace slows, your head gets foggy, and your running buddy becomes a lot more annoying. DON’T WAIT TOO LONG TO FUEL DURING YOUR RACE! Stay ahead of it so your muscles are never operating at a deficit.
And lastly, just as you train your legs and mind to get you through the race, you also have to train your digestive system. Use these products during your training runs to help your body get used to them, and do NOT try something new on race day. Keep it simple, do what works, and scrap what doesn’t.