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9786 Views 20 Replies Latest reply: Nov 28, 2009 8:22 PM by dirtmcgirt9088 1 2 Previous Next
dfitz* Legend 612 posts since
Aug 20, 2008
Currently Being Moderated

Nov 22, 2008 7:51 PM

Gels vs. real food

I have done several 10k's but nothing longer, so thus far I haven't required nutrition during a race. Next year I plan to train for a couple of half marathons.  I see lots of posts on these boards about various gels and Gu and such, and this made me wonder -- What did people do in the good old days before these products existed? Did they bring along a banana or something and take a bite now and then during the race? Does anyone still do this? The thought of eating gels or other fuels is not appealing to me at all. I will need to be convinced that real food is not good enough.

  • jtnielsen Amateur 7 posts since
    Jun 22, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    1. Nov 23, 2008 9:13 AM (in response to dfitz*)
    Re: Gels vs. real food


    I find that "real" food is hard to beat, but factor in the jarring impact of a running event, and you'll soon appreciate the gamut of powders, gets, and other fuelling potions on the market. Last year, I entered my first triathlon event (an Ironman 70.3) and learned the hard way of when "real" food can be the ideal choice, and when it can't. Considering that the event for men went on for six hours, fueling was mandatory. Before the event, I ate my typical breakfast (eggs and bagels) several hours before the race and two gel packs moments before the cannon went off. Knowing that I had to swim for a half hour, I didn't want solid food in my gut (cramps). After T1 on the bike, I ate bananas, pretzels, and other "real" foods, plus Gatorade. After T2 on the run, I switched to gel, but unfotunately, I did so too late in the race. The run portion (13.1 miles) was the most brutal experience. For two hours, I'd run one mile, vomit, and walk one mile. This went on for over 13 miles. My biggest mistake was taking in too much "real" food too late in the non-impact portion of the event (bike) basically going off a "positive gut feeling" and underestimating the how the GI issues would turn on me on the run (impact portion of the event). Mistake number two: drinking Gatorade. Way too harsh for my stomach. After that death march, I now know to cut off the solid food at least a half hour before the run, and always go with the milder tasting fuels, otherwise gastrointestinal Issues will ruin the day.

  • lttlsea Rookie 6 posts since
    Oct 15, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    2. Nov 24, 2008 2:53 PM (in response to dfitz*)
    Re: Gels vs. real food

    I know nothing about running.... When would one need gels or gu or whatever?

  • dtaa2000 Rookie 2 posts since
    Nov 24, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    4. Nov 24, 2008 4:02 PM (in response to dfitz*)
    Re: Gels vs. real food


    Hi,  I was able to talk with Jeff Galloway recently during a marathon-running trip.



    He said that all you really need is water and sugar.  Your body will not be able to digest more up to a marathon distance.  How you get it is your decision.  Frankly, after looking at how much gels cost  per packet, I'm beginning to think I'll be mixing a bottle of water, sugar, and maybe some lime in order to match the calorie content of the gels.  



    One caveat:  If you are running in temperatures above 60-65 F, then you need to consider electrolyte replacement... salts.  The gels do provide salt as do many sports drinks.  Unfortunately they also provide a lot of artificial flavors and additives, which can be problematic on the stomach (especially if one considers how much sloshing you do to it on a long run).  I'm beginning to think very old fashioned on this, too.  Salt packets.



  • dtaa2000 Rookie 2 posts since
    Nov 24, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    6. Nov 24, 2008 4:38 PM (in response to dfitz*)
    Re: Gels vs. real food

    No problem.  Try a little orange, lime, or even a little piece of ginger in with the water.  Keeps it from tasting syrupy after many miles and sips.

  • Stevemustangred Legend 681 posts since
    Oct 10, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    7. Nov 25, 2008 1:28 PM (in response to dfitz*)
    Re: Gels vs. real food


    I eat honey during marathons.  I sometimes try to take a couple teaspoons before a race and then a honey packet (I think they are 1/4 ounce) every couple of miles during the race.  It really seems to give me an energy boost and doesn't upset my stomach.  Plus, I know exactly what it is.



    Other than the honey I rely on the gatorade/energy drink at the races for electrolyte replacement.



    Some of the various gus and gels don't taste very good and occassionally cause stomach cramps.



    Lies Spectators tell Marathoners:   1) Last Hill!    2) Almost there!  3) You look great!

  • running01 Amateur 27 posts since
    Oct 22, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    8. Nov 25, 2008 7:37 PM (in response to Stevemustangred)
    Re: Gels vs. real food


    I stick to solid food as much as possible.  That doesn't mean you have to carry a ham sandwich while you run, but most of the larger races will have bananas or cookies at the aid stations.  If I'm doing a long training run I'll carry a water bottle with a Clif bar or banana taped to it. The key is to eat the same thing during the race that you eat during training.  Changing it up can cause stomach issues.  There are plenty of other reasons why you should choose solid food over gels.



    I'm surprised to hear Jeff Galloway would say you only need water and sugar during a run.  I would have thought calories, fat and carbohydrates (other than sugar) are important also.  Elite marathoners who come in just over 2 hours might not be able to digest solid food but for us mortals, it seems like the body needs and could definitely handle something solid.  But I definitely agree electrolyte replacement is key.

  • Jay Silvio We're Not Worthy 1,775 posts since
    Jul 9, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    10. Nov 26, 2008 7:33 AM (in response to dtaa2000)
    Re: Gels vs. real food
    dtaa2000 wrote:

    Hi,  I was able to talk with Jeff Galloway recently during a marathon-running trip.

    He said that all you really need is water and sugar.

    Yea, you can get through a marathon by taking sports drinks at the water stations.  It's not until you start getting into the ultra distances that you really need to worry about taking in more complex foods.  That said, I'm a big fan of bananas and energy bars during marathons and long training runs since I know my stomach can handle it.  I also like to use a product called nuun for hydration (it's a tablet you pop into your water bottle) since it is only electrolytes with virtually no calories.  That allows me to easily calculate how many calories I'm taking in through solid foods and not having to worry about the stomach issues that can occur if you mix sports drinks and gels or solid foods (too many carbohydrates being put into your gut can cause water to flow from your muscles to aid in digestion).

    Happy running!


  • lenzlaw Community Moderator 10,539 posts since
    Jan 18, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    11. Nov 27, 2008 9:42 AM (in response to dfitz*)
    Re: Gels vs. real food

    Much as I respect Jeff Galloway, I think water and sugar is an over-simplification. There are three things that are good to have: fluids, nutrition and electrolytes. And the longer you're out there (the slower you are) the more important they become. As Jay said, you can get all three from sports drink, which is usually provided at longer races - 10 miles and up. The problem is that some runners can't stomach sports drinks. Or gels. Or sport beans. Or whatever. So you have to experiment on your long runs and find out what works for you. There's nothing pretentious about using gels in your race, if that's what works for you. It doesn't matter how fast or slow you are. Like I said, the longer you're out there, the more you are likely to benefit from what you eat along the way. Generally speaking, if you're well carbed up (over several days) before the race, your reserves are good for about 20 miles ("the wall"). But you need to start eating well before that for the calories to be processed and available to the muscles. Lots of runners use common foods, pretzels, bits of bagel, gummi bears, hard candies, Snickers (!). You want to stay away from much fat and/or protein because they are harder to digest and more likely to cause stomach upset. Post race you should eat carbs and protein.








  • gbranam Rookie 2 posts since
    Jan 10, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    12. Nov 27, 2008 11:25 PM (in response to dfitz*)
    Re: Gels vs. real food


    I didn't read ALL the responses so I apologize if any of this was already said. You are correct in that shorter runs (under an hour) you don't really need to refuel if you have fueled up a bit before the event. Anything pushing in to the 75-90 minute or longer portion you should generally start to refuel about 40 minutes in the run (from what I have read). The average person should take in approx. 30-60 grams of carbs per hour during long events. Whether you decide to go with gels and sports drinks or "real" food is ultimately up to you, but this isn't something that should be figured out on race day. What works for some doesn't work for others. It is best to try out various things while training to see what works best for you so that you don't wind up vomitting every other mile like the poor guy mentioned on the final leg of his triathlon.



    Here are some things I found online while researching this for myself that may help you.



    Home elixir for sports drink: one half cup of orange juice (which contains the electrolyte potassium) and a pinch of salt (sodium) to four cups of water.



    Gummi bears, other small easy to eat candies, fig newtons, chocolate bars, honey packets, dried fruits. These are all "real" food alternatives to the gels, but again you need to try things out and see what works best with you and your digestive system.



    These energizing foods can help you reach the goal of consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during runs lasting longer than an hour.


    Carbs (g)/cals

    8 ounces Gatorade


    1 packet GU gel


    1 PowerBar


    4 Fig Newtons


    5 saltines


    4 graham crackers


    1 small plain bagel


    2 tablespoons honey


    1 ounce jelly beans


    1 ounce dried fruit


    3 hard candies


    1 orange, sliced


    1 ounce Gummi Bears





  • running01 Amateur 27 posts since
    Oct 22, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    13. Nov 28, 2008 7:12 AM (in response to gbranam)
    Re: Gels vs. real food


    I think Len is ultimately right.  Use what works for you.  Meaning, eat what your stomach can handle and doesn't cause issues.  The harder part of nutrition during races is when.  During a marathon, if you wait until you bonk or hit the wall to starting eating, it's too late and the food isn't really going to help much.  If you know you are going to be running for 3-5 hours, you probably need to start eating during hour 1.  This will give your body some time to digest the food so when you need that energy you have it. 



  • morelight1 Rookie 2 posts since
    Jun 26, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    14. Nov 28, 2008 2:24 PM (in response to running01)
    Re: Gels vs. real food


    It's a personal decision, but the same basics apply to most people: 1) the body needs fuel if you're running for more than an hour and 2) The body would prefer NOT to have to deal with digestion while running.  I have run 10Ks, Halfs, and Full Marathons and I prefer the following: some banana and avocado an hour or so before the start, and then a Honey Stinger gel every 45-60 minutes, plus frequent water, or alternate gatorade and water, especially if you sweat lot and /or salty!  Honey Stingers are gels which are made of actual honey, with some vitamins, sodium, potassium.  They taste like honey, plus some flavor, although you can get them plain (gold).  I like the plain and the ginseng variety.  They taste like food because they are.  Personally, I have tried all of the major gels  and find them repulsive and chemicall-y.  With the honey you can get by without washing them down with water, which doesn't work with GU, etc.



    Whatever you choose, it should be super easy to digest, and taste decent.









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