How to time eating gels during your runs depends on many factors including when you are running, when your last meal was, how far you are running and are you using gels alone or adding other food?
The video below will address some of these issues. I will try to list them in greater detail below the video so you have something tangible to refer to.
These same principles apply whether you are running for an hour, a marathon or an ultra.
- The timing depends on when you are eating vs when you are running and when your last meal was.
If you run first thing in the morning, then you can go without breakfast and run a good 45 minutes before needing a gel (or other fuel source). You may find you need a gel 30 minutes into a longer run….then follow the recommendations below for timing during the run.
If running in the afternoon or evening and your last meal was about 2-3 hours ago, then you can take a gel 15-30 minutes before your run. (This will usually be the same with going to a race where you ate several hours earlier but need something to top off the tank before the start of the event.)
If you tend not to eat for 2-3 hours beforehand, then more like you will need a gel within 30 minutes of starting, and you may need a gel every 30 minutes vs every 45 minutes for longer runs. You can use this timing schedule for a 10K, half marathon, full marathon or ultra although for an ultra, you will most likely want some real food alternatives.
- How frequently should I eat gels?
Generally, your target is to get about 100-150 calories per hour when running. If you have been using metabolic efficiency principles and have balanced your blood sugar well, then this may be on the lower end. If not, then you may be burning sugar and muscle glycogen instead of your fat stores, and you may need more sugars during the run to sustain your efforts (dehydration is another issue to be discussed for longer runs).
Most gels are about 90-100 calories each. Based on this, you generally want to consume 1 gel packet every 45 minutes or so. Some may need them more frequently, some a little less. A rough starting point is every 45 minutes (this is suggested on most packets, too!) Cramming in too many calories can lead to GI distress and other unwanted issues.
- Are you using just gels? Or are you using other foods, too?
I said that your goal is to get 100-150 calories per hour. I have some clients who use Tailwind, Infinit or other powder drink mix for hydration. You have to factor in those calories, too!
I have some clients who choose to eat dates or baked potatoes every hour – that will decrease your need for the gels. Some actually alternate every 30-45 minutes with taking a gel, then eating some baked potatoes or dates.
The choice is yours on what to eat. But try to remember that all your calories count, not just the calories from the gels when your caloric goals is 100-150 calories per hour.
- Which gel are you using? Does it really matter?
For the most part, it doesn’t matter which gel in terms of calories. But what does matter is if you like the taste, texture and ease of use. There are plenty of them to choose from, that is for certain. My suggestion is to try several of them. Test them for flavor, consistency (how much water do you need to drink with it? Some require twice as much water as others to be able to just ingest them!), and if you want caffeine, amino acids or electrolytes added.
As you can see, there are a few things to factor in when trying to answer the question about timing your gels. How to time when to eat your gels during your run hopefully is easier now.
But if you still have questions, or other nutrition challenges you need help with, feel free to contact me by email, set up a 15- minute chat to review your situation, or schedule your Table To Race race day nutrition session so we can perfect your plan for you.