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.
Amazon Prime Day Deal Alert: SiS Go Isotonic Energy Gels – 57% Off
Unless you’re logging a marathon every month this pack of 35 isotonic gels should last you a long time and it’s available for less than half price as part of Amazon Prime Day. SiS’s isotonic gels are easy to take even without a drink because they’re pre-mixed with water so they are the right consistency for the carbs they contain to be easily absorbed by the body. The pack contains five gels of seven different flavours, with the fruit salad gel being the tastiest in our opinion.
Buy on Amazon | £20.99 (RRP £49)
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 general advice is to take your first gel somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes into a race, and then take them every 45 minutes or so from then on. You don’t want to wait until you start feeling knackered before you take them – by then it’s too late.
Even if you’re able to fly through a half marathon in 90 minutes or less it’s worth considering taking a gel at the 45-minute mark, to help ensure you have the energy for the final few kilometres.
For marathons, most people will need to carry five or six gels with them. You can reduce the load by checking out which gels are available to pick up on the course of your race. For example, at London Marathon there are two Lucozade Sport stops where runners could grab their gels.
Many people like to take them with water – even the isotonic kind – so you can try to time them with a water stop during a race. However, don’t wash a gel down with a sports drink. You’re just asking for an unpleasant sugar overload that your stomach won’t welcome.
It’s also important to test your gels out before race day. 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.
The Best Running 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
Buy on Amazon | £14.75 for pack of ten mixed flavours
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 | £9.50 for pack of five
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 pack of 20
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 Sigma Sports | £32.40 for pack of 12
These isotonic gels contain 22g of carbs and are a great option if you don’t want to take your gels with water. They’re runny enough to consume easily during a run, even if 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 | £14 for pack of 10 mixed flavours (currently reduced to £9)
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 on Amazon | From £22.62 for pack of 20
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 pack of 15
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
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 on Amazon | £38.99 for 24 mixed flavours
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 gels from Amazon | £19.49 for 20 mixed flavours
Buy isotonic gels on Amazon | £17.07 for pack of 20
These gels have one distinct advantage for London Marathon runners, in that they will be available on the course at two separate stops (at miles 14 and 21.5), so you don’t have to carry so many. You need to take them with water, but they pack in a hefty 30g of carbs.
Taste test: Only two flavours are available – orange and citrus – but both are perfectly palatable. They’re stickier than Wiggle gels and it did take a while to get them down on a run, but they’re certainly easier to swallow than Gu.
Our favourite flavour: Orange
Buy from Lucozade | £26.99 for pack of 24
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 pack of 24