Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored or paid-for post.
One thing I noticed while training for the Two Oceans is how the runs were taking it out of me. I sweat a lot (overshare?) when I run – as in, I pour with sweat (more overshare?), and I realized that this could mean my electrolyte levels drop quite a bit, and need to be replaced. This could result in feeling tired, fatigued, and just plain sore. When you train around your neighbourhood, it is not easy to stay hydrated because there aren’t water points conveniently situated every 4km. I managed to work in two petrol station stops into my routes, but this is hardly sufficient for a 20km training run.
I did a lot of research about using energy gels, during runs and decided to try them out and see whether they made a difference or not. I was faced with many different brands, which was overwhelming, and I settled on Gu Energy Gel – for no particular reason, other than the brand is well known and it looked pretty cool. Gu energy is created for daily training and competition, and is basically energy dense calories in an easy-to-carry packet. They help to sustain your energy levels while exercising. Each packet contains 100 calories – mostly made up of carbohydrates (maltodextrin and fructose).
Please note that if you are trying to lose weight and are using running (or other exercise) in general for this purpose, then energy gels are ill-advised because of the calories they contain. I also don’t think they should be used with every single training run – more for the extremely strenuous activities, or exercises that last a decent amount of time (more than an hour, in my opinion) – in other words, endurance sports.
These gu packets replace: electyrolytes – specifically sodium (which is the main electrolyte that you lose through sweat), amino acids (to help with mental fatigue and prevent muscle damage), and some of the packets have caffeine which helps with increasing focus and effort and basically helping you to perceive the run to not be as difficult as it really is.
There are differing opinions on when to use your energy gels. Some experts recommend to use it five minutes before you start your activity, but I prefer to eat breakfast instead. My typical breakfast before a run is a slice of wholewheat toast with some honey. I find this sustains me for at least the first hour of a run. I took my first energy gel once I had completed my first hour of running. I also started off with a caffeine-free gel, as I didn’t think caffeine would really be necessary until you need a boost during your run. This first gel coincided with my first petrol station stop, so I bought a bottle of water to take with it.
The energy gel is extremely sweet. I have a sweet tooth, so I don’t mind this AT ALL but I reckon many people will find them too sweet. The water helps with this. It is also important to drink water, or another hydration drink, with the energy gel to ensure maximum absorption of the product. I tried energy gel with an energy drink once and found this was just too much sugar. I respond best when I have the gels with water.
I then used an energy gel every 45 minutes after this, changing to the caffeine-containing options, to sustain me and replace my electrolytes throughout my run. I based taking an energy gel every 45 minutes on my metabolism – if you have a faster metabolism, you could take one every 30 minutes but I am not blessed with this.
I have tried a number of flavours – my favourite so far are the chocolate, salted caramel and peanut butter packets. Their Tri-Berry flavour is really yummy too. I noticed a few reviews where people complained of digestion issues after using energy gels, but I didn’t have this problem with this particular product.
I was expecting a sustained rush of energy after using the energy gel, but this was not what I experienced. It turns out that this is for a reason: the maltodextrin takes longer for your muscles to tap into, so instead of a rush of energy followed by a sugar crash, you tend to experience a steady stream of energy.
I definitely noticed a difference in my runs when using energy gels. I had the general sense that I could keep going. I had less muscle pain towards the end of the run, and my mind felt clearer compared to runs where I didn’t use the gels.
The only problem was wondering where on earth I’d keep these gels. I hate holding things while running. I saw a cool video where they advise the following: Use a safety pin and pin the tab of the gel packet to your pants – then flip the packet over and into your pants so that the packet is held against your skin and doesn’t bounce around. The gels tend to thicken if it’s cold, so holding them against the skin also helps to keep the gels warm and runnier.
When you need to use the gel, pull it out and simply tear off the packet from the tab at the top. This leaves the tab attached to the pants, and you don’t need worry about removing the safety pin.
You can use a final packet of energy gel after your run to help you recover and restore muscle glycogen (basically the body’s instant fuel resevoirs).
And with that, my training for the Two Oceans is finished after what feels like ages. Finally! I’m as ready as I’ll ever be and I’m really looking forward to the race. I’m more looking forward to a long weekend in my favourite city – Cape Town!