The gel tasting menu

23 August 2013, 10:06

When you take the leap from 10k races up to half and full marathons, mid-race nutrition suddenly comes into play, and you’re face with a multitude of gels, energy drinks, and an awful lot of psuedo-science and rumour, too.

It’s easy to hear one person’s horror stories of mid-run emergency toilet stops and assume that gels will suddenly turn your insides into a chocolate mudslide, but I really think these people are the vast minority, and with some careful pre-race planning (which you should be doing anyway as you train, right?), you can find the best gels that work for you.

Assorted gels

My tips for finding the best gels for you:

  • Buy single gels from a bunch of different brands. Write down what you’ve bought, and try a different one on each long run, and when you get home, write notes and a rating next to what you’ve just tried. Did you like the flavour? Did it give you weird burps? Any stomach distress? Was the packaging easy to open? Once you’ve gone through the whole list, one or two should rise to the top as favourites.
  • Once you’ve found a gel you like, explore their other flavours. In my original tasting menu, I enjoyed the vanilla flavour of Gu gel, but it wasn’t in my top 3. It wasn’t til I discovered their peanut butter flavour by accident that it suddenly shot up to the top of my list, so don’t necessarily dis-count a brand just because one flavour is off (if it makes you ill though, I wouldn’t bother trying others from that brand!). It’s also worth looking online to see if some flavours are only available overseas – Clif annoyingly only sell about three flavours of Shot Bloks in Europe, but have dozens in the USA (including margarita and chocolate cherry flavours!), so I always get friends and family to pick some up for me while they’re over there.
  • Caffeine or no caffeine? If you’re a coffee fiend, then it’s probably safe to say that you like the extra boost that comes along with it, so look for gels that contain caffeine to start your race. Just as you wouldn’t knock back multiple espressos though, be careful you don’t have too much over the course of a run. I personally am not overly affected by caffeine (I can have a cup of tea right before bed with no ill effects), so I can’t really tell the difference between caffeinated gels and ones without, but I recognise I’m in the minority here!
  • Try different textures. When you’re on your fifth gel in a marathon, you start to appreciate cramming something different in your mouth, even if it’s just a slight difference. Some gels are really thick like the consistency of peanut butter – others are thin and syrupy. Then there are the gummy gels, like Clif Shot Bloks, Gu Chomps, or Jelly Belly Sport Beanz, which give your mouth a chance to chew rather than just slurp from a packet. You’ll need to drink water or electrolyte alongside any gel, but the thicker ones will require a bit more to wash it down, so in a race you’ll want to time the thicker ones to a kilometer or so before a water station.
  • Once you’ve got a favourite, buy in bulk. Buying by the case is far cheaper than buying individual gels, but the downside of this is that you’re usually limited to one flavour. Start talking to other runners and see if you can convince them to buy a case with you and swap half the flavours. At least then you get a bit of a mix!
  • Look further afield. You don’t have to eat gels just because you’re running – ultra-runners consume all manner of “real foods” on the move, so you might want to experiment with things like bananas, medjool dates, malt loaf, applesauce pouches, and even jelly babies and Haribo. It’s of course easier to carry these things in the winter as you can cram them in jacket pockets!

Use the above to find what works best for you, but my personal favourites are Clif Shot Bloks (pretty much any flavour, but the extra salt in the margarita ones is a bonus), Gu peanut butter gels, and Torq gels in banoffee, black cherry yoghurt, rhubarb & custard – pretty much all of theirs I would happily eat over ice cream!



  1. I hadn’t even launched the site yet and I was referring people to this post! Clearly it needed writing!

    melissa    27 August 2013, 11:23    #
  2. One caution on this: I have read that for some people it is the combination of electrolyte drinks and gels that causes runner’s diarrhea. And of course it may vary from electrolyte drink to electrolyte drink. I tend to stick mostly to water and/or use Nuun as it has much less junk in it than most sports drinks.

    Daniel Maskit    29 August 2013, 11:48    #

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