A blog by runners. For runners.

Fuel for your long runs and races

Fueling Options

If you run long enough — 60 to 90 minutes or more — replacing lost carbohydrate stores becomes necessary for optimal performance. But with all the options out there, how do you pick?

Unfortunately, since each runner is different, there’s no tried-and-true formula. What works for one runner’s stomach, won’t necessarily work for another’s digestive tract. Experimentation before a race is key. That said, knowing the differences between the available options can help you get started.

Gels

Gels are 100-calorie packets of a flavored, jelly-like substance. Gels were created for endurance athletes so they’re the perfect mix of carbs and electrolytes to fuel your runs.

Pros: Gels are easily digestible and portable, and they taste like icing. Certain types contain caffeine which some runners swear gives them the extra energy boost they need mid-run.

Cons: A lot of people don’t like the consistency of gels, plus they can be messy and leave you with sticky fingers. You’ll also need water or a sports beverage to wash them down. Most gels don’t come with a reusable cap so you have to eat the entire package at once.

Common types of gels include:

  • GU Energy GelGU is the most popular type of gel, and it comes in a host of flavors from lemon-lime to chocolate frosting.
  • Honey Stinger Natural Gel: Honey Stinger gels are made with 100 percent natural ingredients, and they tend to be easier on the stomach than traditional gels. They’re also gluten-free and made in a facility that doesn’t process any products with gluten.

Chomps and shot blocks

These energy chews give athletes the mid-run nutrition they need in a chewable form. Each chomp or block contains the perfect blend of carbohydrates, amino acids, antioxidants, and electrolytes to fuel your performance. 

Pros: If you can’t handle an entire calorie gel, chews may be for you. Each one contains about 23-33 calories, so you can spread your fuel out more throughout a run. An added bonus: chews taste like candy.

Cons: You have to chew them – a sensation some athletes dislike when they’re working out. Since chews are sticky they may get stuck to your teeth and bother you for the rest of the race.

Popular brands include:

  • GU Energy ChompsGU Chomps offer a change of pace from gels and an answer to that moment in your run when you need something to chomp on. They come in a small bag containing 8 chomps.
  • Clif Energy Chews (Shot Blocks)Clif shots are made with all organic ingredients. Shot blocks either come in a long tube containing 6 blocks or a small bag similar to GU chomps.

Candy

From sports beans that were made for athletes to childhood favorites like Swedish fish and Skittles, candy can sometimes provide the energy an athlete needs to keep going.

Pros: Candy tastes good because it’s … well candy! The carbs from the sugar is easily digested. If you choose sports beans or another candy created for athletes, it will also contain the ideal blend of electrolytes.

Cons: If you go with a grocery store candy, it won’t contain the perfect nutrition to fuel your run. Sure, you’ll get carbs but the candy will likely be lacking in sodium, magnesium, and potassium.

  • Sports BeansMade by Jelly Belly, these jelly beans are specifically designed for athletes and pack essential energy you’ll need to keep going. Sports beans taste exactly like jelly beans.
  • Swedish Fish: Sweedish fish, Skittles, gummy bears, and other sugary treats may be enough to fuel shorter runs. They’re also easy to find and easy on the wallet.

Honorable mention

  • Fig Newtons: Each newton contains 55 calories containing carbs, sodium, and potassium –vital nutrients every athlete needs. Runners have been fueling with fig newtons long before gels and chews hit the market. They’re cheap and easily portable. Just make sure you wash each cookie down with plenty of fluid.

What are your go to energy supplements during racing? Do you follow the instructions on the package?

Written by Jen Matz.

Related: How to prevent GI-distress on the run