Being a registered dietitian, I always knew nutrition was important for exercise performance. But last year, when I ran two half marathons after starting the year barely able to run a mile, I learned from experience how our body needs high quality fuel to function at it’s best.
Exercise requires a lot of calories, a fancy word for energy. Your body especially needs a lot of energy to run long distance, and it prefers to get that energy from fat and carbohydrate. Since fat is broken down more slowly, carbohydrate, in the form of glucose, is the body’s preferred source of energy. However, the average person only has enough glucose stores to fuel approximately 90-120 minutes of running at a typical half marathon pace, so you may be running on empty before you cross the finish line.
Energy gels quickly get glucose into your bloodstream, which fuels your glucose-hungry brain and muscles! It will perk you up a bit and hopefully your legs no longer feel like lead! Of course, any food that contains rapidly digestible carbohydrate will work, but energy gels just happen to be portable and convenient.
Although how energy gel works is different for each person, generally it’s best to take it about 30-45 minutes into a run. Because digestion slows during exercise, you may not get the benefits if you take it too late in a race, or it may leave you feeling nauseous.
My runner clients often ask if energy gel is healthy. Even though energy gels are high in sugar and are heavily processed, they are a convenient source of the fuel you need on race day. Personally though, I don’t love the taste. It reminds me of slightly melted jello! Instead, I frequently make these delicious DIY energy gels made with fruit juice and honey for a glucose source and chia seeds for consistency.
DIY Energy Gel
- 3/4 cup any frozen fruit (strawberry, pineapple, mango, blueberry, etc)
- 3/4 cup any fruit juice (lemon, orange, lime, pomegranate, grape, etc) or coconut water
- 3 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
- Pinch of salt
- Blend fruit and juice together in a food processor or blender until pureed. Stir in chia seeds, honey and salt.
Let sit 10 minutes to gel. Pack 1/4 cup servings into snack sized plastic bags or gel flasks. Freeze any that you don’t plan on using in the next couple days and defrost before using.
Let us know what you think in the comments section!
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