Running energy gels provide quick, accessible energy to runners. They can be used very effectively as part of racing strategy, particularly for longer distance events. Let’s get to know how the body uses energy and how running energy gels fit in to the picture.
How does the body use energy?
The body can draw on two energy sources – carbohydrates and fat. Using body fat as fuel can be desirable, but it burns slowly. This makes it very inefficient if you’re pushing anything above 60-70% of your VO2 max. Carbohydrates are converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles. The body can convert this fuel to energy much more efficiently, particularly when running at faster speeds (meaning an increased VO2 max).
The body can only store a limited amount of glycogen in the muscles. Typically, it will hold enough to fuel around 2 hours of running at marathon pace (less if you’re running at faster speeds). Running further without extra fuel puts you at risk of ‘bonking’.
How do running energy gels fit in?
Energy gels are made up of simple carbohydrates that can be taken up by the body for quick boosts of glycogen, providing more calories, power and energy to your body.
When should they be used in a race?
During longer races, the body is under a relative amount of strain. The body can slow or even shut down digestion during this time. Taking a running energy gel late in a race may cause intestinal distress.
To avoid upset and get the most from the supplement, take it during earlier stages of the race if you can. Your body is unlikely to be strained and so will be able to take up the gel reasonably well. Depending on the product and the runner, effects of the gels can be felt between 3-15 minutes after consumption. Always take a gel with water (not a sports drink).
What are the effects on taking a running energy gel?
You may feel a clearing of brain fog (as the brain also runs on glycogen), and then later a boost in muscle function and energy. Avoid taking another gel for around an hour to avoid overloading on too many simple sugars before your muscles can process the energy.
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Whilst Enertor has over 18 years Orthotics experience, our blog content is provided for informational purposes only and it is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical advice. Enertor advises anyone with an injury to seek their own medical advice – and do not make any health or medical related decisions based solely on information found on this site.
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