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Are energy gels bad for you

Many runners swear by running gels and others are terrified of it. Some say they are an amazing source of energy, whereas others are exactly of the opposite opinion. For some they are good, some say they are bad…Which is true? Let’s find out…

Are Running Gels Bad For You?

Running gels are not bad for you as they are mainly a mixture of fructose, salt, and caffeine. However, if you don’t drink enough fluid with your gels, some of them may cause gastrointestinal (GI) irritation. This is because the chemical composition of those gels is not aligned with promoting gastric emptying. Also, during running the blood flow is more directed towards your more active organs rather than your stomach. This complicates the situation as your stomach will not be able to digest as efficiently.

As you can see runner gels can potentially cause your stomach upset. However, it varies from runner to runner. There is a way to find out which running gels are safe for you…Here is how you can do that…

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How to find out if running gels are safe for you?

Running gels or CHO in lab terms vary in composition and serving amount.

They are a concentration of sugar, salt, and caffeine and thus supply you with a tremendous amount of energy.

However, when you are running, blood is directed to more active parts of your body.

As a result, it is drawn away from the stomach which is not involved actively in running.

If you take gels now, it will not be able to digest it as efficiently as under resting condition.

Result?

Irritated gastrointestinal tract (GI tract).

So what can you do about it?

Nothing much other than trying out different gels to find out which one suits you.

Since your body is different than others, some of the gel brands will specifically suit you and others won’t.

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Try it out

This can be your best line of defense.

Try out the gel brands during your training.

You will understand which one suits your GI tract during these intense workout sessions.

Once you find that, stick with it.

Most of the runners find that GU energy gels suits them

however, don’t count on that. You my find that Clif Shot or SIS energy gels suits you more…

Have water with it

The worst thing that you can do to yourself while consuming energy gels is not having water with it.

This will make it difficult to get digested and release the energy on time.

So, you must drink sufficient water with it. A few swallows should be sufficient.

Here is an approximate measure of water intake for various brands of energy gels:

 

Energy Gel Water Requirement

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Do running gels work?

Yes running gels work.

The primary reason is, they are a concentrated mass of carbohydrate.

When you run your body turns to its glycogen store for energy.

Once it depletes, your body will be in dire need of more energy.

At that point, carbohydrate is the easiest form of macro-nutrients that can be turned into energy.

And the main ingredient of running gels is carbohydrate.

If you take one or two servings of running gels before you run, then it will start providing you with energy 45 min into the run.

Also, take water as per the above measurements, so that you can keep the GI tract irritation to the minimum.

Are running gels necessary?

To be honest you really don’t need running gels. What you need is a steady supply of carbohydrate to fuel your run…

The harder the workout, the more carbohydrate you would require.

The obvious question is, then why runners use it?

The thing is, the number of calories a packet of running gel provides is almost the same as a slice of bread.

Or the extra stamina boost that you get from the caffeine content of energy gel is the same as that of a cup of coffee.

Problem is you cannot carry these in a portable way and this is where the running gels come handy.

They are convenient to carry and is readily available when you want to use it.

Due to this convenience, it has become a rage without most of us realizing it.

Don’t get me wrong, many people have tried to create home-brewed gels.

Problem is they cannot package it in such a way, where you can conveniently port it.

This is an art all the energy gel companies have perfected and they are the one racking in the mulla.

How much energy gel should I take?

It will depend on the amount of running you do.

You need to take energy gels with water (check above for the exact amount you need for each brand) so that it gets diluted and becomes easy to absorb.

As a general guideline, during strenuous events like marathon, you should consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate every hour.

So, tailor your consumption according to these guidelines.

Also, you should take it with water and not with any sports drink.

Taking it with sports drink will increase the concentration of simple sugar and the digestion will be at a slower rate.

Also, this will cause your stomach to become upset.

Tip: Keep a gap of 45-60 min between your subsequent gel consumption. You can also wait out 6-7 miles.

This will ensure that you don’t consume excess amount of simple sugar at once. 

Are there any side effects of running gels?

Many runners have observed that their stomach gets upset when they have running gels.

Blaming the gels entirely is not right.

Although concentration may be one of the culprits, there is another significant factor that can contribute to it.

As mentioned above, when you run, your body directs blood to the parts where it is needed the most.

However, to do that, it takes away blood from your digestive organs as they are not actively involved in running.

This reduces the amount of blood supply, your stomach will not be able to efficiently digest as it is used to.

So, you may start to have stomach upset.

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Related Questions

When to take energy gels during the marathon?

On average, it takes around 4 hours 22 mins for a male runner to finish a marathon.

For a female runner, it is a little more – 4 hours and 47 min on average.

You should take 30-60 grams of carbohydrate every hour during the marathon. This is the recommended guideline.

You should take 30-35 grams if you are weighing less and near to 60 grams if you weigh more.

The general rule is to consume 3 to 6 mg of carbohydrate for every kg of your body weight.

Now that we know how much to take, let’s see when we should take it.

You should have energy gels every 45-70 min intervals. 

Also, you should consume them with only water and not with a sports drink.

Otherwise, you will end up having stomach upset or puking due to higher concentration of carbohydrates.

How long does it take for energy gels to work?

Every runner is different. How their body processes and absorbs running gels are also at a different rate.

If you are taking the above-recommended amount and have diluted it with at least 8 oz water, then it will take at least 3 minutes and at most 15 mins to release the energy.

Since you cannot be sure how long your body will take to release the energy from energy gels, its best to use them during your training.

Experiment with different brands and keep a note of it. Also, keep a note of how you feel or any episodes of stomach upset.

Based on the results of your experiments, you can safely pick the one which releases the energy fastest and causes your stomach to get the least upset or not at all.

How to carry energy gels during marathon?

Energy gels come in small sachet and can be conveniently carried during a marathon.

Here are some ways:

  • Carry them in your hydration pack.
  • Use a safety pin to carry them under your shorts.
  • Use shorts with a pouch to carry gels.
  • Using a runner belt to carry your gels.

What are running gels made of?

Energy gels are made from blending different types of sugars like maltodextrin and fructose.

They are meant to be consumed by adults and are a potent source of energy.

Should I use running gels?

You should if you are an endurance athlete.

However, you may not want to use it and this is one of those decisions that you only can make.

If you decide to take running gels, use it as per the recommendations above.

Don’t go overboard as you may end up puking.

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