Running becomes a very different proposition when you cross the 90-minute mark. Instead of stepping out the door with the bare essentials and the freedom to run wherever you like, you need to plan your nutrition and tailor your route to include stops for refuelling.
Planning your nutrition for before, during and after any long run is key to getting you through it in both the speediest and most enjoyable manner possible. That’s especially true for races, where you might well be shooting for a PB. It’s vital to plan your nutrition for any road race of half-marathon distance or more, and even for shorter trail races if they’re going to last longer than 90 minutes.
In the past people endured long events just by swigging water and eating a chocolate bar at the halfway mark. Nowadays even amateur runners can enjoy the benefits of professional-level products, with running gels the go-to option for many people keen on getting through long runs in the most efficient manner possible.
The Best Running Gels
We’ve tried an awful lot of running gels and we’ve got all the details on them below, including taste and texture tests. However, if you’re just looking for a short list then here are a few stand-out options.
1. Best All-Round Running Gel: SiS GO Isotonic Energy
SiS’s gels are easy to find in shops and online, come in a wide range of flavours and are pretty cheap, especially if you buy in bulk. They contain 22g of carbs and there are also variations that have added electrolytes or caffeine. The isotonic style means you can take them without water, though we found it is still best to have some on hand to wash them down and their bulky size might mean opting for a bigger running belt to carry them.
Taste test: SiS has a huge range of flavours, including loads of caffeinated options and some with added electrolytes. The texture is somehow both watery and lumpy, which sounds worse than it is, and they slip down the throat with minimal fuss. The flavours are less sharp than in the carb-only gels, so your teeth won’t start tingling from the sugar hit.
Our favourite flavour: Berry Caffeine Gel
Buy from SiS | From £9 for six 60ml gels
2. Best Tasting: Torq
While it’s the taste of these gels that puts them in a different league, the underlying numbers are also excellent. Each 45g gel contains 30g of carbohydrates in a 2:1 maltodextrin-to-fructose ratio, which allows you to absorb more carbs per hour, and there are also five electrolytes thrown into the mix to help replace what you lose in sweat.
Taste test: Torq has absolutely smashed it on the flavour front, with a range of interesting options that means you’re not going to get sick of the gels even on a long run where you take several. Along with perennial pudding favourites like cherry bakewell, apple crumble and lemon drizzle, there are caffeinated options such as caramel latte and banoffee. We’ve yet to try one we don’t like – black cherry yogurt is another excellent option – and the gels were easy to get down while running, though we’d recommend having water with them.
Our favourite flavour: Cherry bakewell
Buy from Torq | £24 for 15 45ml gels
3. Best Running Gel With Natural Ingredients: Veloforte
Most running gels are designed to provide fast-release carbohydrates in the simplest and cheapest manner possible, which tends to mean they use artificial ingredients. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but some people find them unpalatable and have stomach problems with standard gels, which might be resolved by switching to a more natural option like these gels from Veloforte. They’re highly portable thanks to their small size and the range of flavours is a little more adventurous, with beetroot, and lemon and ginger options. Despite the dainty 33g serving, they still pack in 22g of carbs.
Taste test: Having not checked the flavour before gulping the Primo gel down we were a little startled by the savoury beetroot taste, but it’s not at all unpleasant. The Tempo gel will suit those who prefer a sweet offering, with the dates in it offset by lemon and ginger, while the Doppio gel, which also contains 75mg of caffeine, is our pick of the bunch with its maple and coffee flavour. Despite its compact size the consistency wasn’t too viscous either, though these are still best quaffed with an accompanying swig of water.
Our favourite flavour: Doppio
Buy from Veloforte | £37.99 for 24 33g gels
Running Gels Explained
Why do people use running gels?
It hardly needs saying that running for a couple of hours or more requires a lot of energy, and the main source of muscle fuel over the course of a long event is carbohydrates, which your body stores as glycogen. Your body can store about 90 minutes’ worth of glycogen if you stock up via pre-race carb-loading, but after that you face the risk of running out so you need to take on some extra fuel during the race.
There are many ways to do this. Sports drinks, energy bars and dried fruit are all options, but many people find that the best method of refuelling is using energy gels. These generally contain 20-30mg of carbs, are easy to slip into a running belt and can be consumed quickly without breaking your stride.
What kinds of gel are there?
All energy gels have the same purpose, to help fuel your run, and while they come in different shapes and sizes, there are two main types: isotonic gels and energy gels.
Isotonic gels come pre-mixed with water, which means not only that they’re more fluid and easier to take on the go, but also that you don’t have to worry about carrying water or eating the gels near a water stop during a race. The downside of this is that they’re a little bulkier.
Energy gels, on the other hand, just pack in a load of carbs. This type might be stickier – some of them are tough to get down without water – but you can pack more into a small race belt and reduce the weight of what you have to carry. The trade-off is timing them around water stations in races, or having to carry water with you on long training runs.
Both of these kinds of gels also have options that contain caffeine too, for a little extra mental boost, which can be very welcome in the latter stages of a marathon.
How many will you need for a race?
The first thing to know about gels is that if you wait until you start feeling knackered before you take one, it’s already too late. You need to maintain a steady stream of energy, starting well before your reserves run dry.
“Runners need to add in 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate each hour when running for longer than 75 minutes,” says ONE PRO nutritionist Christine Bailey.
“Begin fuelling within 30 minutes of starting the race. Energy gels are a convenient option. Accompany them with sips of water as you run. Remember your gut can only absorb 60g of carbohydrate an hour – taking more than this is likely to cause stomach upsets.”
Most gels contain 22g of carbohydrates, so with the above in mind you can max out at three per hour and absorb almost all the carbohydrates they contain. We aim to hit that max ourselves when running an event, but if you ever experience stomach issues then taking fewer gels per hour might help.
So the maths is simple: two to three gels per hour, starting at the 30-minute mark. However, focussing on this alone can result in you carrying a lot of gels – if you run a four-hour marathon, for example, you’ll need ten or so.
Fortunately, the gels you bring with you won’t be the only carbs available. Almost all marathons will have stands where you can grab a carb-rich sports drink and some even hand out gels. For example, at the London Marathon you pass by three Lucozade Sport gel pick-up points en route, so that’s three less you need to carry yourself.
Make sure to test your gels before race day, including the type you plan on grabbing on the course. Different people react differently to each product, so you need to make sure your stomach can handle the brand you opt for and how often you take them. And while swigging water to wash down a gel generally makes them easier to take, don’t use a sports drink for this purpose – you’re just asking for an unpleasant sugar overload that your stomach won’t welcome.
Running Gel Reviews
SiS Turbo+ Gel
This gel is designed to be used for indoor cycling sessions and it contains menthol to help keep you cool during sweaty workouts, but we found that those same chilling benefits work just as well for treadmill runs and we’re looking forward to using it on hot days when summer arrives. The gel contains the usual 22g of carbohydrates and a chunky 150mg of caffeine to help you power through your workouts, whether they’re indoors or out.
Taste test: The Turbo+ gels come in two flavours – blueberry freeze and cool citrus. We’ve only tested the latter, which is a shame because blueberry freeze sounds incredible. The combination of lemon and menthol definitely gives the cool citrus gel a medicinal flavour, but it’s a refreshing and zingy treat when you are overheating.
Our favourite flavour: Cool citrus
Buy from Freewheel | £11.40 for 6 60ml gels
Elivar Sustain Go!
Elivar’s gels provide both fast- and-slow release carbohydrates, with more of the latter to provide energy over a longer period. The total carbohydrates in each 60ml gel is 25g, which is in line with most gels, but the sugar content is just 10g, which your teeth will thank you for – as will your stomach if you struggle with gastro distress when using standard sugary gels.
Taste test: The Elivar gels come in three flavours – orange, forest fruit and lemon – all of which are tasty enough and less sweet than most other gels we’ve tried. We took the gels with water, but you could probably get them down easily enough without because they’re not too sticky.
Our favourite flavour: Forest fruit
Buy from Elivar | £19.99 for 12 60ml gels
Vala is one of several companies that eschew artificial ingredients to provide all the energy you need through natural sources like maple syrup and date paste. It may lay it on a little thick when it comes to decrying “chemical-laden” gels (everything in food is chemicals, folks), but if you do have trouble stomaching things like maltodextrin on the run, it offers an alternative that might sit a little easier.
Taste test: The flavour says citrus, but really what you taste is dates – a whole lot of mashed-up dates. The texture is thicker than isotonic gels as well, being closer to something like a Gu gel. It’s not an unpleasant flavour, though very sweet, but we can’t imagine you’d want more than two of these on a long run unless you were really into dates.
Our favourite flavour: Citrus
Buy from Vala | £23.65 for ten 35g gels
Bulk Powders Complete Energy Gel
These isotonic gels can be taken without water and contain 21g of carbohydrates from maltodextrin. They’re a little chunkier than other gels, but that’s partly because they’re isotonic, which means you’ll be saving the space you’d normally need for carrying water.
Taste test: The gels come in two flavours, juicy apple and raspberry burst. The apple certainly delivers on its promise of juiciness, and the fluid texture makes it easy to consume on the go without having to sip a drink.
Our favourite flavour: Juicy apple
Buy from Bulk Powders | £19.99 for box of 20 60ml gels
KMC NRG Gel
One advantage hikers and mountaineers have always had over runners is that they got to chow down on delicious Kendal Mint Cakes during their activities. Sure, you could try scoffing the sugary treat during a run, but it really wasn’t ideal. Fortunately that delicious sweet mint flavour has now been released in gel form, with citrus mint, chocolate mint and mint flavours available – it’s all about mint. The 70g gel contains 27g of carbs and sweetens the deal with electrolytes to help keep you hydrated.
Taste test: The Kendal gels are pleasingly fluid and although it’s best to take them with a drink, they’re easy to swallow on the move even if you don’t have water to hand. Of the flavours chocolate mint is our favourite – the citrus mint was frankly a little much.
Our favourite flavour: Chocolate Mint
Buy from Kendal Mint Co | £15.99 for 12 70g gels
Clif Shot Energy Gel
The company behind the most delicious energy bars on the market also makes energy gels, which aren’t as satisfying as a chewy Clif bar – few things are – but are certainly easier to eat while on the move. There are five gels in the range, each of which contains 24g of carbohydrates plus sea salt for electrolytes. If you’re looking for a caffeine hit, three of the gels contain it – there’s 25mg in the citrus flavour, 50mg in the mocha and 100mg in the double espresso gel. An additional feature we like is the litter leash on the side of the gel, which attaches to the top section of the packet so it doesn’t fall to the floor when you rip it off.
Taste test: These tiny bundles of energy come from the Gu school of stickiness, in that they are basically impossible to get down without fluid on hand. All the five flavours are quite intense, especially the double espresso, so it’s certainly worth diluting them by drinking water at the same time.
Our favourite flavour: Razz
One Pro Nutrition Energy Gel
One Pro has three energy gels in its range, all of which deliver 22g of carbs and come with the added bonus of 400mg of BCAAs (500mg in the blueberry gel), which are thrown in to help you keep firing on all cylinders for longer. The gels also contain sea salt to help replace the electrolytes lost in sweat, and the blueberry version also contains 50mg of caffeine.
Taste test: There are points for originality here – One Pro’s three flavours are all a departure from the norm. Blueberry is the flavour used in the caffeine gel, while the standard energy gels come in two varieties: raspberry and watermelon, and passion fruit and lime. The latter is a triumph of zingy deliciousness. The gels are fluid enough to swallow without a drink, but you’ll want to wash the stickiness out of your mouth so make sure you have water to hand when you take one.
Our favourite flavour: Passion fruit and lime
Buy from One Pro Nutrition | £49.99 for 20 50g gels
Maurten Gel 100
The gel used by Eliud Kipchoge when he broke the world marathon record in Berlin is a little different to everything else on this list. Part of that is the strange consistency – it’s firm enough to bite off chunks, rather than sipping a syrup, but the key difference is that the hydrogel does not upset your stomach like a standard gel because it passes straight through and is absorbed in the small intestine instead. If you avoid using gels because of past gastrointestinal problems, Gel 100 is well worth trying, though it is more expensive than other options. Each 40g gel contains 25g of carbs and Maurten claims the ratio of glucose to fructose used in them means you can absorb up to 100g of carbs an hour.
Taste test: The texture will divide opinion, but we enjoyed biting off a bit of the gel and letting it dissolve a little in our mouth before swallowing. For one thing this removes the risk of getting sticky syrup on your hands during a run, which is infuriating. The gels only come in one variety and don’t really have much of a taste, just a vague sweetness, and they don’t need to be washed down with water to clear your mouth of any residue.
Buy from Wiggle | £32.40 for 12 40g gels
The Leeds brand that helps fuel the Brownlee brothers has come up with a canny idea: two different tear points on the top of the packet. One creates a small hole you can sip the gel through, while the other makes a big hole for a quick gulp, so you can consume according to your preference at the time. The range of seven gels available contains two caffeinated options and each gel provides 20g of carbohydrates.
Taste test: Although there isn’t a huge range of flavours – five in total: apple and orange energy gels, pineapple caffeine gel, and lemon and lime and blackcurrant, which are both available in caffeinated and non-caffeinated forms – OTE has done well to create a mix that isn’t at all sickly and slips down easily.
Buy from OTE | £27 for 20 56g gels
These gels come with a straw, which you’ll either find a welcome innovation or a bit of a tone-deaf waste of resources now plastic straws are eco-enemy number one. Either way, NamedSport offers four different kinds of sport gel: energy, which is the no-frills gel; caffeine, self-explanatory; glucogenic with added glycine and L-alanine which apparently help you to absorb the glucose in the gel faster; and hydration with added electrolytes.
Taste test: The flavours are limited to one per type of gel but they are delightfully unusual – cola-lime, lemon ice tea, tropical and orange. OK, orange is pretty standard but this is definitely the first time we’ve tried an ice tea-flavoured gel.
Our favourite flavour: Lemon Ice Tea
Buy from NamedSport | £18.75 for 15 25ml gels
A low price isn’t the only reason to consider these energy gels from Wiggle, as in our tests they were the easiest non-isotonic option to take on the move. They’re fluid enough to eat without water, though you should always have water with them if possible, and contain 22g of carbs.
Taste test: There are lots of different flavours, including caffeinated options. The Wiggle gels are not too sticky, but you still need to take them slowly – a sip at a time, rather than in one quick gulp.
Our favourite flavour: Lemon And Lime. They taste like Calpol, delicious Calpol.
Buy from Wiggle | £13.99 for 20 38g gels
These tiny shots of gel that contain 22g of carbs are the best pick for those keen on minimising the amount of weight they carry on the run.
Taste test: Gu stands out for the originality in its range of flavours, which includes the likes of Salted Watermelon and Chocolate Outrage. There are also caffeine-rich options available. The Gu gels are, however, essentially impossible to get down without water owing to their stickiness, so make sure you time them right on race day.
Our favourite flavour: Espresso Love. Gu’s concentrated gels can be very sickly, and this coffee-flavoured option is the least so.
Buy from Gu | £45.60 for 24 32g gels
High5’s gel range covers all the bases: isotonic gels, straight up energy gels and caffeinated gels, each containing 23g of carbs. The gels are even batch-tested to ensure you won’t accidentally fall foul of doping regulations, if that’s a concern for you.
Taste test: You have to hand it to High5 here – even its non-isotonic gels are pretty fluid and easy to consume, and none are so sugary as to make you wince. The isotonic gels, which High5 has recently renamed Energy Gel Aqua, are the tastiest: more like a drink than a gel, making them very easy to get down while running.
Our favourite flavour: Energy Gel Aqua Berry. A triumph – the best-tasting gel out there.
Buy Energy Gel Aqua from High5 | £25 for 20 66g gels (currently reduced to £13.75)
Nutrition X Energel+
As well as carbohydrates, it’s important to top up your electrolytes during long runs, because drinking water alone doesn’t replenish vital nutrients like sodium, potassium and magnesium that are lost in your sweat. Most gels just contain carbs, so you’d need to sort your electrolytes separately with a sports drink or a hydration tab, but Nutrition X’s Energel+ includes them to make hydration on the go easier.
Taste test: You’ve got a choice of two flavours: Orange and Lemon or Mixed Berries. Both are insanely sweet but impressively fluid – you can get them down easily without water, although you should drink water with them so your body can absorb the electrolytes faster.
Our favourite flavour: Mixed Berries
Buy from Nutrition X | £34.99 for 24 50g gels
Myprotein Energy Gel Elite
Along with 25g of carbs, these gels contain electrolytes like potassium and magnesium to replace those lost in sweat, as well as a variety of B vitamins, so you can top up your levels while on the run. The inclusion of vitamins B6 and B12 in particular is designed to help reduce fatigue, something every runner will appreciate. Along with this energy gel Myprotein has a recovery gel, which contains protein as well as carbohydrates for a quick and easy post-run hit.
Taste test: The Energy Gel Elite gels come in two flavours, tropical and orange, and the latter is our pick – it’ll be familiar to anyone who’s ever glugged down Lucozade Sport’s orange drink. The gel isn’t so sticky that it coats the inside of your mouth in unpleasant fashion, but it’s still viscous enough to benefit from being washed down with water.
Our favourite flavour: Orange
Buy from Myprotein | £21.99 for 20 50g gels