Summer is almost over, and temperatures are beginning to drop. Do you know what that means? It’s marathon season, baby! Can I get a HELLS YEAH!! Many of you have already kicked off your training block. That’s great, but it’s also not too early to start thinking about and practicing your energy gel game plan.
Today, I will share Runivore’s picks for the best energy gels for marathons and a few tried-and-true tips for fueling your goal race.
First and foremost, remember that race-day fueling begins way WAY before you toe the line and starts with what you eat daily to fuel and recover from workouts. Here is a complete guide to fueling, from lifestyle to recovery to race day.
Compared with selecting energy gels for ultramarathons, running at PB (personal best) marathon pace requires you to move at a higher intensity. Glycogen depletion will happen faster, meaning you need to take energy gels more frequently.
The three main criteria for good marathon energy gels are:
1. Ample sugar
When running at marathon pace, three mechanisms – muscles, cooling, and digestion – consistently fight for your blood (oxygen). If you can lower the amount of gels and fluids the gastrointestinal system has to process, that leaves more resources to power your legs and maintain body temperature. An ideal energy gel for marathons should weigh around 30g and delivers 100 calories and 20g of carbohydrates.
2. Easy to open
You will be going pretty fast. You will be tired. You will have to fight through tough spots, especially after the 30km mark. Make sure you’re not adding unnecessary stress to the experience with packaging that doesn’t properly tear open.
To fuel a marathon PB attempt, you might need to eat upwards of six energy gels or more. That’s a lot of concentrated sugar water. Be sure to take care of your taste buds.
Here are our favorites for running 42.195km in descending order.
Maurten Gel100 and Caf100 energy gels
GOATS like Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge (sub-2 marathon), trailrunner Kilian Jornet (sub-20 UTMB), and triathlete Kristian Blummenfelt (sub-7 ironman) chose Maurten for their record-breaking performances, and for good reasons. (It’s not just because of sponsorships)
Maurten leverages hydrogel technology to encapsulate carbohydrates, allowing the energy gel to bypass the stomach to the intestines, where it can be absorbed faster and without causing gastrointestinal distress.
Maurten also made its energy gels “more tasteless” instead of adding more flavoring to solve the unsolvable gel flavor issue. In a roundabout way, the company did provide a good solution. Our one nitpick is the price tag, definitely on the very high end.
It provides 100 calories and 25g of carbohydrates per sachet. Ripping open the packaging is easy breezy. It tastes “good” and sits well. It is our top pick. See full review here.
Hammer Peanut Butter
This maltodextrin-based energy gel provides 100 calories and 20g of carbohydrates per pack. It also contains branded chain amino acids (BCAA), which help prevent muscle tissue breakdown and fatigue during exercise.
While BCAA’s benefits might be too subtle for you to notice mid-race, I do think there is a psychological boost in knowing that your legs will fatigue a little less. Your mind is a powerful thing. Anything that gives you added confidence is an advantage.
Hammer uses natural dry roasted peanut butter, which contributes to the pleasant flavor. I sometimes spread the gel over toast for a carbohydrate-dense pre-workout snack. Regarding the texture, it’s a syrup, the same as other Hammer energy gels. No surprises. See full review here.
Honey Stinger Gold
At 30g, Honey Stinger Gold provides 90 calories and 24g of carbohydrates. It’s 95% organic honey, so it also offers an array of micro-nutrients, notably vitamin B complex. This energy gel has one of the fastest mouth-to-muscle times we have ever tested. That feeling of a sugar boost came on fast (less than a minute) and was very noticeable.
The magic, perhaps, lies in honey, which is 80% sugar (mainly glucose and fructose), 18% water, and 2% vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s a rich source of a vitamin B complex, which is responsible for converting food into energy and metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
The taste and consistency of Honey Stinger Gold are obviously honey-like. The flavor is fine, but it’s easy to get sweet fatigue from overeating honey (subjective opinion). See full review here.
Beet It Sport Nitrate 400
Beet It Sport Nitrate 400 is technically not an energy gel, more like a pre-race supplement. Beets are jokingly called “nature’s performance-enhancing drug” due to their high nitrate content. Once absorbed into the human body, nitrate is converted to nitrite and then nitric oxide, which helps widen blood vessels and improve mitochondria efficiency. The primary benefit is reducing oxygen demand during exercise.
The brand markets the Nitrate 400 as a pre-race fuel. Drink one or two shots one to three hours before a run and up to six days before a competition. See full review here.
My fueling and energy gel strategy for running a marathon PB
- 2022 goal: under 2:55
- Personal best: 2:58:31 (Dec 2021)
- Ideal racing weight: 64-66kg (General guideline: 1g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour. For example, a 60kg athlete should take in 60g of carbohydrates each hour, about 2-3 energy gels. More doesn’t always mean better, and spread out your intake.)
- My gut: After many trials and errors, I know that I can stomach two energy gels per hour. Any more than that, I might get noxious. I know my body. You should know yours.
- A light breakfast of oatmeal, banana, coffee, and a shot of Beet It Sport Nitrate 400 two hours before start time. Let your stomach completely digest this carbohydrate-dense meal.
- I will take the first energy gel (Honey Stinger Gold) mixed with water in a 300 ml flask, which will fit in my running belt. I plan to slowly sip this for the first half hour of the race. This should also let me bypass the first two water stations, which are usually mad houses because participants have yet to string out.
- Make sure you drink water. Every 20g of carbohydrates should be chased with 250-300 ml of water. This helps your body process the energy gel. A well-organized marathon should have a water station every 2.5km. I will eat a gel before a water station and then grab 1-2 cups of water.
- I will take the second energy gel (Hammer Peanut Butter) at the 45-50-minute mark.
- And then I will go with Maurten the rest of the way and take one every 25-30 minutes.
- When I reach 28km (usually when things get interesting), I will take a Maurten Caf100 to get an extra caffeine kick.
- If all goes according to plan, I will need 6-7 energy gels.
- I prefer to have 2-3 different brands to give my palate a change of pace. Remember to test drive everything beforehand.
- Always listen to your body and improvise accordingly. If you feel an “empty” feeling creeping on before a scheduled gel intake, take it early. If your stomach isn’t responding well to energy gels that day, slow down and regroup. Try to fuel the rest of the run with sports drinks or fruits provided by the water stations.