When to take the gels in a marathon or half marathon

A few days ago we talked about the different types of energy gels that we can consume within a long distance test, and that is not all gels are the same : we must know what exactly their composition is to know what we are taking at each moment and choose the what is best for us

We have also talked about how to take them (and how it is necessary to accompany them with water and never energy drink, for example) to avoid feeling sick to our stomachs : one of the most frequent complications when starting to take gels in the race.

Now, let’s go to the topic that concerns us today: when should we take the gels in a long distance race? Should we look at the accumulated kilometers or the elapsed time? We’ll tell you then.

Look at the weather and not at the kilometers

Is it better to opt for “I’m going to take the gel at kilometer 10” or “I’m going to take the gel when I have an hour to run”? The most advisable, although each one must adapt it to their circumstances, is that we plan the taking of gels by timeand not by kilometers. In this way we adapt the energy intake to our rhythm and our effort, and not to the distance traveled.

Our body can assimilate a maximum of around 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour (which can rise to approximately 90 grams if these hydrates come from different sources, for example fructose and glucose): this is a fact that we must take into account to not go over with the gels, something that could cause stomach upset in the race.

Having said that and knowing how many carbohydrates are contained in the gels we are going to take (you have to check the nutrition label, but usually they have between 25 and 35 grams of carbohydrates per gel) we just have to take the count: we should not go two or three gels per hour , but we may not need as much.

What does science tell us?

Has the effectiveness of gels supplementation been studied in long distance sports? Yes, and perhaps the best-known study was this 2013, which compared marathon runners who ran without a nutritional strategy with another perfectly planned group. The final result tells us that the group with the planned strategy finished the test 5% faster, what strategy did they follow?

Each of the gels they consumed contained 20 grams of glucose, 0.02 grams of sodium and 0.03 of caffeine. In addition to the gels, they consumed 750 ml of water per hour to favor the digestion of the same and to avoid dehydration, and distributed them in the following way:

  • Two gels about 40 minutes before starting the test , together with water (40 grams of glucose in total)
  • One gel every 20 minutes of running (60 grams of glucose per hour in total)

The sample of the study is small (28 runners, without being any of them elite) and we must take into account that the gels they used are small (generally they usually contain, as we have said about 30 grams of hydrates), but can give us a idea of how we can apply our own nutritional strategy .

Apply your own experience

As we have said on previous occasions, supplementation is also trained : it is essential that before taking gels in a long distance race we have rehearsed before taking them in training, both to see what is the composition that best suits us and to know when we must take them.

Personally, it works for me to take a gel (35 grams of carbohydrates) before the race, and continue with one per hour in the following hours , and that is the strategy I will follow in the face of the marathon. Always accompanied by water and taken little by little so that the stomach can assimilate them correctly.

At the time of planning our take of gels we must also take into account the logistics : bring many gels on top is perhaps a bit cumbersome, so to know if the supply of the race offer any (and what brand and type are), Leaving them before someone who accompanies us or who comes to see us to give it to us at a given time (which I think is what I will do) or exchange them for energy jellybeans (easier to transport) may be other options.

The most important thing: to rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again so that the day of the race everything is perfect.

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