With fall marathon and half marathons in full swing we see more and more runners slurping up nutrients through gels, sports drinks, and other chewy, gummy sources of calories. But why?
Products such as sports drinks, gels, and chews are used by endurance athletes to replenish energy stores during activity. These products are researched and developed to be easily ingested and digested during activity. While each product has a slightly different make up they generally contain carbohydrates, electrolytes, and sometimes caffeine or protein.
What is the science behind this? Even the scrawniest and tiniest endurance athletes have enough body fat to maintain activity for several hours. However, it becomes challenging to access this body fat and burn it for fuel after just 60 minutes of running. One hour into activity a healthy and well nourished individual begins to run low on carbohydrates. Carbohydrates must be present in order to burn fat. Without them you will experience the infamous feeling of "bonking".
Imagine that burning fuel in your body is like building a campfire. The fat stores in the body are similar to a log. Like a log, these fat stores can burn for a long period of time but need to have kindling present to burn effectively. The kindling in this analogy is like the carbohydrates in your body. Carbohydrates must be present to burn fat.
Differences in the Products: With a variety of choices on the market, how do you choose the right kindling, or fuel, for you? Experiment. What works for one person may or may not work for another. Training with these products will allow you to assess how your body responds and what tastes the best to you. Here is a brief breakdown on the products that we carry at Fleet Feet Sports and how they vary from one another:
- GU: 100 Calories; Thicker consistency than other gels but huge variety of flavors; Available with or without caffeine (Espresso Love has 2x as much caffeine)
- Hammer Gel: 90 Calories; All natural ingredients that are easily digested; Most popular flavor (Raspberry) tastes like Raspberry Donut Filling.
- Honey Stinger Gel: 120 Calories; Perfect for someone with a sweet tooth; Consists of and tastes just like Honey
- Honey Stinger Chews: 160 Calories (for 10 chews or one package): Taste like fruit snacks; Easy to chew
- Sports Beans: 100 Calories; Made by Jelly Belly, these taste just like traditional jelly beans; Available with or without caffeine; sold in a resealable bag.
- GU Chomps: 180 Calories; Consistency of fruit snacks; Two 90 cal. Servings per package; Easy to chew during activity; Available with or without caffeine.
If you are training for more than one hour in a session you may want to try one of these products. Be sure to incorporate these products into your training long before race day to ensure that it is effective, tasty, and gives you the energy boost that you are looking