How to Choose the Right Energy Gels for Running

Runners with energy gels smile on their run.

Did you know the human body can only store 1,600 to 2,000 calories of glycogen, the energy your muscles use to power you forward?

That’s why it’s important to replace the energy stores you exert while running - especially when your mileage and time-on-feet exceed 90 minutes - and throwing back an energy gel is the most convenient way to do so.

With so many options to choose from, it can seem overwhelming to find the right gels for running. Read on to find out how gels work, when you should use them and how to choose the right gels for running.

A woman eating an energy gel

How Energy Gels Work

When running, your body uses two sources of fuel – fats and carbohydrates. Fats are more readily available in the body, but they take longer to break down into usable energy. Carbohydrates break down quickly in the body, making this the primary fuel source your body relies on. The problem is your body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates at a time. This is where energy gels come into play. Energy gels are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, providing a spike in energy. Gels also contain other ingredients like electrolytes and even caffeine to further boost performance.

When to Use Energy Gels

There is no “perfect time” to take an energy gel as every runner absorbs and processes carbohydrates at a different rate. According to an article published by Sanford Health, runners should aim to take in 40-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour after the first hour of running and continue to consume that amount about every 45 minutes thereafter. It is important to take the gel before you “hit the wall” to help avoid lactic acid build-up and fatigue.

How to Choose an Energy Gel

With so many energy gels available, choosing the right one can seem daunting. We’ve broken down four of the most popular brands to help you decide which energy gel is right for you. Remember, it’s important to practice with gels prior to race day. This will help ensure your body can tolerate the gel while running and that you can tolerate the flavor.

No matter which gel you end up choosing, make sure to take them with water. Energy gels contain lots of sugar and sodium and without water, they take longer to digest. Read on to find out more about the most popular types of energy gels.

Gu Energy

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 100

Carbohydrates: 21-23 grams

Sodium: 50-60 milligrams

Sugar: 7 grams

Gu offers both caffeinated and non-caffeinated options in an assortment of over 30 flavors. They are all kosher certified, gluten-free and vegan-friendly. If you’re looking for an extra edge on race day, check out their Roctane line of energy gels. Gu Roctane energy gels are designed for longer-duration and high-intensity activities. They are packed with three times as much sodium and three times as many branched-chain amino acids as compared with the original Gu Energy Gels. Roctane gels also contain the amino acids Taurine and beta-alanine. Taurine can help maintain heart contractility and improve cardiac output during long exercise sessions. Beta-alanine can help delay the onset of fatigue during high intensity efforts.

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Runners start their run with energy gels.


Nutrition Facts

Calories: 100

Carbohydrates: 21-22 grams

Sodium: 105 milligrams

Sugar: 13-14 grams

Hüma Gel offers eight flavors of both caffeinated and non-caffeinated options. Hüma boasts all-natural, real food ingredients. Their gels are both vegan and gluten-free. The core ingredient in all Hüma gels are chia seeds, which provides plenty of essential amino acids. Chia seeds also hold onto fiber, which helps reduce the sugar spike gels can cause and, instead, provide a steady release of energy to help you run strong for longer. Hüma is also a veteran-owned company, with their products proudly made in the USA. Hüma PLUS energy gels offer the same great taste and steady energy as the original with over double the amount of sodium. Hüma PLUS energy gels are available in four flavors (two of them caffeinated) and are best for longer runs thanks to the increased amount of electrolytes. The electrolytes used in Hüma PLUS gels come from all-natural sources including sea salt and coconut water.

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Honey Stinger

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 100

Carbohydrates: 24 grams

Sodium: 50 milligrams

Sugar: 11 grams

Honey Stinger Gels come in three different flavors (one of them being caffeinated) and are certified gluten-free. Honey Stinger gels are optimized for fueling by harnessing the natural power of, you guessed it, honey. They’re formulated with both fast and slow burning carbs to give you an immediate boost while maintaining longer-lasting energy.

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Nutrition Facts

Calories: 100

Carbohydrates: 25 grams

Sodium: 34 milligrams

Sugar: 25 grams

A common problem amongst runners, whether we like to talk about it or not, is fitting in those frantic bathroom breaks on the run. The high amounts of sugar and carbohydrates in energy gels are necessary for performance but can sometimes lead to an upset stomach. Maurten aims to solve this problem with their Hydrogel Technology. A protective hydrogel layer encapsulates the sodium and carbohydrates while they move through your stomach to your intestine, helping reduce gastrointestinal problems and increasing the amount of carbs your body can transform into fuel.

Maurten uses only 6 ingredients in their energy gels. They don’t use any preservatives, artificial flavors or allergens. This is another reason why Maurten energy gels are easier on your stomach than other, traditional gels. Next time you head into your local Fleet Feet or browse our online selection of energy gels, think about what is most important to you in a gel. Do you want to make sure you have the best tasting fuel possible? Maybe you want to reduce the risk of tummy troubles on the run, or make sure you’re utilizing all-natural ingredients. Whatever your priorities may be, there’s an energy gel out there for every runner.

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