Energy gels are a great source of energy that help fuel your endurance run or training. But, are they a must-have or just another fad? Deepthi Velkur explores this topic in conversation with two runners – Vijay and Brijesh.
There is one question that niggles runners especially when training for a long distance run – how do I avoid hitting the dreaded wall?
For an upcoming race or endurance event, you’ve probably thought through your fuelling strategy. Be it energy drinks, bars, natural food sources or gels, we all rely on some form of carbohydrate supplement to sustain energy levels to cover longer distances and help you get over the finish line.
With energy gels, you either are a believer or a skeptic. You usually end up a skeptic because you have probably read about the side effects such as gastro problems that these gels can cause. For a believer though, these gels hold a place on its own.
Simply speaking, energy gels are designed to replenish the carbohydrate stores that deplete while running. Sounds like these gels are a big saviour, right? Unfortunately, these energy gels do not provide a one to one replacement as the glycogen we intake through gels is not always absorbed by the working muscles. So why do we need to use them?
To understand this better, I had the opportunity to get different views from two runners, one an ardent energy gels believer while the other is largely skeptical of them.
Do read on to see what each of these runners have to say on the topic –
Vijay AM, an ultra-marathon runner says using energy gels has worked for him during marathons and long runs. According to Vijay, “Gels are the best food source you could carry on long runs as they are convenient, lightweight, no water
needed(tried and tested) and can be consumed on the go”. You need to plan when to use them during the run-in Vijay’s case, he consumes the gel every 15kms during the run. The best source of energy for long runs are acquired from body stored carbs and fat, but Vijay’s view is that carb storage is limited and fat reserves of the body alone cannot meet the various surges in energy that you require during long runs. Also, eating during a run is challenging and can lead to some ugly after effects. As a result, gels present a good source of carbs as they burn faster and provide immediate results. That being said, gels can only complement the carbs and fat stored in the body that still remain the best source of energy.
On the other hand, Brijesh Gajera, co-founder and coach of Ashva ( running club, Bangalore) and a marathon runner himself, thinks otherwise. It’s not that Brijesh is completely against energy gels but his view is that running gels need to be used sparingly and he does not use gels much during training except a couple of times during long runs before the main event to ensure that every minute detail is taken into consideration for achieving his end goal.
Brijesh recommends that you use the gel only for marginal gains with caution and proper consideration and definitely not as a replacement for solid food. In his opinion, gels only make a 2-3% difference and are not very efficient, the remaining 97-98% comes from the actual training itself.
According to Brijesh, a lot of hype has been created on social media around using gels and its benefits, this can be very misguiding to newbies. Frequency and timing of the usage are critical factors to ensure they are effective else it could lead to stomach distress.
It is important that you practice the fueling strategy suited to you during your training phase so that it works the way you want it to come race day. If gels are not your thing, not to worry as you have plenty of other alternatives out there. Choose wisely!