Energy Gels for Marathon Training - How do they Help?

Energy Gels for Marathon Training - How do they Help?

People in a marathon with a girl smiling leading the way

Marathon training requires a tremendous amount of physical stamina and endurance. As athletes push their bodies to the limit, they need to replenish their energy levels quickly and efficiently during the race. This is where energy gels come into play. Energy gels have become increasingly popular among long-distance runners for their convenience and ability to provide an instant energy boost. This article will explore what energy gels are, how they work, their benefits, and some critical considerations when using them for marathon training.

Key Takeaways

  • Energy gels enhance marathon performance, offering portability, quick absorption, precise dosage, and various flavours.
  • Timing matters - consume energy gels strategically to avoid energy crashes and maintain a steady energy supply during the race.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water with energy gels for optimal absorption and sustained performance.
  • Incorporate energy gels into training runs to assess their effectiveness and identify potential digestive issues.
  • Energy gels complement a balanced diet but should not replace real food for overall nutrition.
  • Personalize your choices based on individual preferences and tolerances to find the most suitable energy gels.

Understanding Energy Gels

Energy gels are compact, single-serving packets filled with a concentrated carbohydrate formula. They are designed to provide an easily digestible source of energy in the form of simple sugars and complex carbohydrates. These gels typically contain electrolytes, amino acids, and vitamins to aid in hydration, muscle recovery, and overall performance.

How Energy Gels Work

During a marathon, the body's glycogen stores deplete rapidly, leading to fatigue and decreased performance. Energy gels are a quick and efficient solution to replenish glycogen levels, giving runners the energy they need to keep going. The carbohydrates in the gel are broken down into glucose, which is then readily absorbed by the muscles, providing an immediate boost of energy.

Benefits of Energy Gels
Portable and Convenient

One of the key benefits of energy gels is their portability and convenience. As marathon runners embark on long-distance races, carrying bulky food items can be impractical. Energy gels, on the other hand, come in compact, lightweight packets that can easily fit into pockets or running belts. This allows athletes to carry multiple gels without feeling weighed down, ensuring they have a steady energy supply throughout the race.

Rapid Absorption

Energy gels are formulated with a liquid-like consistency, which enables quick absorption by the body. The simple sugars and complex carbohydrates in the gel are rapidly broken down into glucose when consumed. The muscles readily absorb this glucose, providing an almost instant energy surge. This quick absorption is particularly advantageous during intense race periods when athletes need sudden energy to push through challenging segments.

Precise Dosage 

Every energy gel packet contains a predetermined amount of carbohydrates, ensuring that runners consume a consistent and measured quantity of energy with each serving. This precise dosage allows athletes to plan their energy intake strategically, tailoring it to their specific needs and the demands of the race. By knowing the amount of energy they consume, runners can avoid both energy depletion and the discomfort of overloading their bodies with excessive carbohydrates.

Avoiding Digestive Discomfort

For long-distance runners, digestive discomfort during a marathon can be a significant concern. Energy gels are formulated to be easily digestible, reducing the risk of gastrointestinal distress during strenuous exercise. Unlike some solid food options that might cause bloating or cramping, energy gels quickly break down in the stomach, alleviating the strain on the digestive system. This feature is particularly beneficial for athletes who have sensitive stomachs or are prone to experiencing digestive issues during races.

Varied Flavours

Energy gels come in various flavours, catering to different athletes' tastes. Whether someone prefers fruity flavours, chocolatey indulgence, or more natural flavours, a gel flavour suits everyone's palate. Having a variety of flavours allows athletes to choose the ones they find most enjoyable, making the experience of refuelling during a marathon more pleasant and motivating.

Considerations for Marathon Runners

Proper timing is critical when using energy gels during a marathon. As the race progresses, the body's glycogen stores are depleted, and runners feel fatigued. Consuming energy gels too early in the race can lead to a rapid spike in energy levels, causing a subsequent energy crash later. On the other hand, taking gels too late might not provide the desired boost when it's most needed. Experienced marathoners often follow a well-calibrated plan, consuming energy gels strategically at specific intervals to maintain a steady and sustainable energy supply throughout the race.


Hydration is vital for effective energy gel usage. While energy gels provide a concentrated source of carbohydrates, they require water for optimal absorption. Without proper hydration, the body may struggle to process the carbohydrates efficiently, diminishing the gel's energy-providing benefits. Marathon runners should aim to drink water and the energy gel to aid in absorbing nutrients and maintain adequate hydration levels throughout the race.

Training with Gels 

Incorporating energy gels into training runs is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it allows athletes to assess how their bodies respond to the gels and whether they experience any digestive issues. During training, runners can experiment with different gel brands and flavours to find the best ones. This helps avoid unpleasant surprises on race day and ensures that the chosen energy gels complement their body's needs and preferences.

Balanced Nutrition

While energy gels provide a convenient and efficient energy source, they should never replace a well-balanced diet. These gels are designed as supplements, not substitutes for real food. A proper pre-race meal and a well-rounded diet leading up to the marathon are essential for maintaining optimal energy levels throughout the event. Athletes should still focus on consuming various nutrients, including proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, to support overall health and performance.

Personal Tolerance 

Every athlete is different, and individual tolerances to energy gels may vary. Some runners may find certain brands or flavours more agreeable to their digestive systems, while others may experience discomfort with specific formulations. Marathoners must listen to their bodies and choose energy gels that suit their specific needs. Trying out different gels during training runs can help identify any intolerances or allergies, ensuring that runners make informed choices for race day.

By paying close attention to these considerations, marathon runners can optimize their use of energy gels and harness their benefits effectively. Proper timing and hydration, coupled with personalized choices based on training experiences, will contribute to enhanced performance, reduced fatigue, and an overall successful marathon experience. Remember, energy gels are just one tool in the arsenal of marathon training; a comprehensive approach to nutrition, hydration, and pacing is essential for achieving peak performance on the big day.


Energy gels have become a valuable asset for marathon runners seeking a quick and efficient energy source during races. Their portability, rapid absorption, and benefits make them popular among athletes. However, using them wisely is essential, considering factors like timing, hydration, and personal tolerances. When incorporated thoughtfully into marathon training, energy gels can play a significant role in enhancing performance and helping athletes achieve their race goals.

FAQs about Energy Gels for Marathon Training

1. Are energy gels suitable for all athletes?

While energy gels are generally safe for most people, individual tolerances may vary. It's recommended to test energy gels during training runs before using them in a race.

2. How many energy gels should I take during a marathon?

The number of gels you need depends on various factors, including your body size, training level, and the intensity of the race. Typically, runners take one gel every 45 minutes to an hour.

3. Can I mix different energy gel brands during a race?

Sticking to one brand is best to avoid any digestive issues that may arise from combining different formulations.

4. Are there any side effects of using energy gels?

Excessive consumption of energy gels can lead to gastrointestinal distress. It's essential to follow the recommended dosage and drink enough water.

5. Can energy gels be used for other endurance sports?

Energy gels can be used for various endurance activities, such as cycling and triathlons, where sustained energy is required.

Buddy van Vugt 24 November, 2023
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