The Best Gels for Every Type of Runner
For those venturing into the sport of long-distance running, nutrition is key when pursuing big goals. To support your body for the rigors of half marathon, marathon, and ultra marathon training, you’ll want to hone a solid nutrition strategy well ahead of race day, and energy gels are an easy way to digest much-needed fuel.
To cover long distances, you’ll need to replenish your glycogen stores—what your body primarily uses for energy—that get depleted during big efforts. The best way to do this is by consuming carbohydrates, and energy gels are an easy way to get the job done. They’re rich in carbohydrates, which provide an essential source of energy for endurance athletes, and usually come in portable 1-1.5-ounce packets. For any runner stacking up their mileage, energy gels can help the body perform for the long haul.
“While you exercise, your body draws on carbohydrates stored in your muscles. However, the available amount is limited,” Dietician Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, says in a Cleveland Clinic medical journal, while citing the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendation to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise. “Energy gels are simple to consume, not filling and easily digestible. Using gels can help you maintain your energy level and prevent fatigue during intense or prolonged periods of exercise.”
These days, there are plenty of energy gel options available for runners, an important development as every athlete absorbs and processes carbohydrates at a different rate. And remember, it’s also key to sip water while you consume them to keep gastrointestinal (GI) issues at bay.
Whether you’re looking for an all-natural formula, a scientifically crafted recipe, or something in between, you’ll find the right fit for your body with a little bit of research and at-home testing. Here are six energy gels worth trying out for your next long run.
For 30 years, GU has developed some of the most tried and true energy gels on the market. The company offers three different types—the original, Roctane, and liquid—that come in more than 30 different flavors from salted caramel to raspberry lemonade. Depending on your texture preference, you might opt for a smooth gel or go for the fast-absorbing liquid.
For long-duration and high-intensity exercise, GU offers the Roctane energy gel, which carries more electrolytes and amino acids than the original. Each energy gel holds 21-23 grams of carbohydrates per packet. If you’re unsure which to pick for your next training session, check out GU’s handy suggested use guide.
Best for: If you’re looking for a classic energy gel with plenty of flavor options, GU might be the best fit for you.
Made with real fruit, chia seeds, and brown rice syrup, among other all-natural ingredients, Hüma energy gels are inspired by the fuel used by the Tarahumara tribe, the legendary Indigenous group featured in the bestseller, “Born to Run.” Hüma offers two different types of energy gels—the original and energy gel plus (which contains double the electrolytes from natural sources, including coconut water and sea salt)—that come in 12 delicious flavors ranging from strawberries to cafe mocha.
Best for: If all-natural ingredients are a high priority for you, Hüma will get the job done while fueling you for the miles ahead.
Over the last several years, Maurten has quickly become a favorite source of fuel for elite athletes, including marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge. What sets Maurten’s energy gel apart is the product’s hydrogel technology, which has proven to be a gamechanger for runners who are prone to GI issues.
So, what is hydrogel technology? Alginate (a fiber extracted from seaweed) and pectin (found in fruits and vegetables) create a capsule that contains salt, glucose and fructose. Thanks to that encapsulation, the body can absorb more carbohydrate with relative ease through the digestive tract
Maurten’s energy gels come in two options—the GEL 100 and the GEL 100 CAF 100 (which contains 100 mg of caffeine)—that both deliver 25 grams of carbohydrates.
Best for: As many pros can attest, Maurten energy gels are a great choice for those who experience GI issues while on the run.
Made with zero sugar and no caffeine, UCAN’s energy gels boast a formula that helps endurance athletes release steady energy for up to 75 minutes at a time. A key ingredient in UCAN’s energy gels is LIVSTEADY, the company’s proprietary low-glycemic, plant-based complex carbohydrate aimed to keep blood sugar levels stable while fueling athletes on-the-go.
Unlike other energy gels that are meant to be consumed every 30-40 minutes during a longer run, UCAN suggests athletes eat one pouch every 60 minutes for workouts that go beyond 90 minutes. UCAN energy gels come in three different flavors—strawberry banana, pineapple, and orange.
Best for: If you’d rather minimize the amount of gels you’re consuming during long efforts, UCAN is an excellent choice for long-lasting energy.
Athletes can expect to enjoy a smoothie-like texture when consuming many of Spring’s gels, most of which include organic bananas, among other all-natural ingredients designed to fuel athletes during high intensity activity. Spring offers seven different energy gels with ingredients tailored to support athletes at various points in training and racing.
For example, the SPEEDNUT with caffeine, made with blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, basmati rice, and hazelnuts, among other ingredients, is meant to be used during extreme efforts when athletes need to go outside their comfort zone in order to push forward.
Best for: If you’re looking for a whole food option texture-wise, Spring energy gels might be the right fit for you.
Many runners are familiar with HoneyStinger’s energy waffle, but the energy gel is just as notable. Made with organic honey, tapioca syrup, and potassium citrate, among other ingredients, the HoneyStinger energy gel comes in four different flavors, including caffeine options, to fuel athletes for an easy boost of energy on-the-go.
Best for: HoneyStinger may be your pick if sweeter, fruit-forward recipes are your thing.