Posted by: Joe English | August 6, 2014

Should You Use Gels and Energy Products in Marathon Training? #running #marathon

running-advice-bugOne of my athletes asked me a question this week that circles around runners frequently: should runners by using energy gels or other energy products during training runs or save them just for races? The companion question is whether there is any sense or utility to the “glycogen depletion run”. I’ll tackle both of these today. First, here’s the question:

Energy Gels

“I’ve been talking to some people who have run marathons, and some say to not train with gels/gus because then your body gets used to them, and others say to train with gels/gus exactly how you’re going to eat them during the race. . . . Is there an easy to way to figure out who’s right? So far, I’ve incorporated chomps into my long runs, and haven’t had any issues with them, but wasn’t sure if I should continue to use them during my long runs leading up to the marathon, and then in the marathon itself.”

My short answer is yes! You do want to use your energy products in training for two big reasons. First, you want to do everything in training that you do on race day. You do this so that race day is just a longer version of what you do in training. This is very true of our nutrition routine. We need to practice with the products that we’re going to use on race day so that we know they will work. In particular, energy products can be tricky with some people’s stomachs, so trying them out and making sure a particular brand works for you is essential. You don’t want any surprises on race day, especially if those surprises wouldn’t entail diarrhea, stomach upset or even vomiting. (Yikes!)

Second, using energy products or eating food makes you feel better during your training runs and races. Wouldn’t we rather feel better, have more energy and perform better? I think most people want to feel the best that they can, so I advocate eating during our runs, because it will make you feel better.

If people worry they are going to “get used” to having gels I think what they are actually saying is “you don’t want to get used to them and not then have them available.” But this kind of misses the point. You carry your own gels and energy foods, so this is under your control. There’s no reason in a typical road race that you wouldn’t be able to carry your own products with you so this isn’t really a concern. Remember you want to “get used” to these products so they don’t surprise you with stomach upset on race day. “Getting used to them” is why we practice with them.

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