Energy gels … what an enigma.

I never used energy gels or chews until I trained for my first marathon. I always thought that the gels probably had some kind of placebo effect where they would make the runner feel a boost that would change the brain waves and convince the runner that they had more in that tank to run on. Sort of like they’d trick me into pushing on. I completed several half marathons without ever trying a gel or chew, and I did just fine. I was able to complete all of my half marathons in less than two hours, which was just great to me. I mean, after all, I’m not some Spring chicken. I’m a late thirty-something wife, mother, and librarian … I’m certainly no elite runner. I honestly think that I sort of thought it would be like cheating if I took the gel. Not cheating like, if a person uses a gel they don’t actually earn their time in the race or they should be disqualified or anything. I think I just thought that if I didn’t need it, then I shouldn’t use it, because it would be like I was cheating myself. I kept thinking, that’s really for marathoners and people that run super fast. Once I started training for a marathon, that’s when I started to experiment with the gels and chews, and now I’m certain I couldn’t complete a half marathon without a gel.

I started with chews thinking that I might like to have something to chew on while I ran, rather than having to swallow  gooey stuff that was somewhere in between the state of a liquid and the state of a solid. But with the chews, I quickly realized that they weren’t for me. I found that I actually hate the sensation of chewing on a rubbery thing while I’m trying to run. So, I went back to the energy gels and I can now safely say that I prefer getting it over with quickly by swallowing it down, rather than having to belabor it with all of the chewing.

So, once I had established that gels were my preferred method of receiving energy, next I started experimenting with brands, flavors, and caffeine vs. non caffeine gels. I tried using two caffeinated gels on a three hour long run, and found myself getting that shaky feeling that can accompany caffeine use, and I didn’t like it. I also had a faint upset stomach. So, I promptly switched to non caffeinated gels only.

Once I established that I needed non caffeinated gels, at least for the time being, and had narrowed down the flavors I preferred, I started to play with the frequency with which I used them. I consulted my trusty running coach, Google, and gathered as much information as possible. I found that some advise to take a gel before the workout, then another around the one hour mark, and yet another at the two hour mark of a three hour run. I also found that some advise to only take half at a time, but to take it every half hour. Some say to take the gels with caffeine only toward the end of a long run to ensure that it doesn’t upset the stomach. So, I formulated my game plan.

My plan: don’t take a gel before the run. Instead, drink water for that first hour, and take a gel at the 45 minute to one hour mark with water. Next, I would take a gel at the one hour and 45 minute mark, or the two hour mark with water. Still refraining from the caffeinated gels. But I can’t help but wonder, should I just train myself to handle the caffeinated gels, at least for the last one? Maybe it would give me that much needed boost at the end of a race?

I haven’t decided what will work exactly for me, but what I can say for sure is that the gels definitely help boost my mood and my estimation of how much steam I have left. Whether it’s a placebo effect, or the gels are actually restoring depleted carbohydrates, either way, I’m an energy gel user. I just have to figure out the best type, flavor, and frequency of use. 

Basically, I still haven’t figured it out yet.