Do you prefer running gels over chews or looking for ways to fuel your long runs? We’ve researched the best energy gels for running and made dietitian-approved recommendations for different gels for runners.
As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
Most runners know and understand that carbohydrates equate to energy while running.
Often, the best carbs for runners are those that are quickly digested (like energy gels and energy chews).
While we’ve already covered the best chews for running, we wanted a resource about the best running gels, too.
Sports nutrition products for runners include sports drinks, gels, chews, powders, and more.
Let’s review some of the popular running gels and what you should know.
Fueling Recommendations: What You Need
The general recommendation for fueling for a marathon is to consume 30-60 grams (and possibly more, in some instances) of carbohydrates per hour after the first hour of exercise.
For example, if a runner is going to complete a half marathon (13.1 miles) in 2 hours and 30 minutes, they will want to eat a carb-rich meal or snack before the race.
They would then begin fueling at approximately 45-60 minutes into the race.
And then aim to take in 30-60g of carbs each hour from there, usually in the form of liquid nutrition, gels or chews.
Deciding to take in caffeine through coffee vs pre workout may be a decision to make, too. You can also get caffeine through gels and chews.
For many people, energy gels provide an easy way to do this, since most provide about 20-23 grams of carbohydrates per gel.
Energy gels are possibly the most easily portable source of fuel that runners can use to fuel during exercise and before exercise as well.
When deciding what to eat before a cross country race, you don’t need a big meal and you don’t need to fuel during.
So, an energy gel could be perfect!
Understanding how to use make it easy to plan out how many gels you will during for the running distance or time you will be covering.
Many of our favorites are our top picks for the best gels for the marathon and best gels for the half marathon distance, as well.
Best Energy Gels for Running
The best energy gels for runners are the ones that are easy to digest, provide a quick boost of energy, and taste good.
The best running gels are those that are easy to digest, provide a quick boost of energy, and taste good.
And remember, there is such a personal tolerance and preference for this.
While we have a lot of science to show that gels work for performance, there’s no “one best gel” for everyone.
The best running gels for a half marathon may differ from a full marathon or even an ironman, depending on what you can tolerate.
Furthermore, men and women may have different preferences. More on female sports nutrition here.
What Are Energy Gels Made of?
Energy gels typically have some combination of the different types of simple sugars – glucose, fructose, and sucrose.
We need a combination of these during exercise because the body can only digest and absorb a certain amount of each per minute.
Getting two or more types of sugars allows the body to digest and absorb more per minute so you can rapidly fuel your muscles.
Ultimately, any gel that you can actually swallow and absorb is going to be best for your mental and physical performance.
If you’re a salty sweater, you’ll also want to consider the sodium content when choosing a gel.
Our Favorite Picks For the Best Running Gels
Here are some of the more popular energy gels on the market:
Now, let’s dissect them a bit.
|Huma Gels, Original||22g||105mg|
|Huma Gels, PLUS||21g||240mg|
|Science in Sport||22g||10mg|
- GU Energy Gels: GU Energy Gels are a popular choice among runners because they are easy to digest and provide a quick boost of energy. They come in a variety of flavors, so you can find one that you enjoy. They provide 21g of carbohydrates and 50mg of sodium. Vegan and gluten-free. Some flavors contain caffeine, while others do not. The Gu Roktane energy gels provide a bit more sodium, around 125 mg if you have higher sweat rates.
- Huma Gels – Huma gels provide 22g of carbohydrates and 105mg of sodium. Also vegan, gluten-free, and caffeine free.
- Huma + Gels – Huma+ gels are great for salty sweaters, offering 21g of carbohydrates and 240mg of sodium. Still vegan, gluten-free, and caffeine free.
- Maurten Gels – Maurten’s product is a hydrogel, which is supposed to be good for GI problems. They don’t have extra ingredients, and what some people like is that there products have no taste.
- Clif Shot Energy Gels: Clif Shot Energy Gels are another popular choice among runners. They are made with natural ingredients and provide a good balance of carbohydrates and electrolytes.
- Honey Stinger Energy Gels: Honey Stinger Energy Gels are a good choice for runners who are looking for a gel that is made with natural ingredients. They provide 24g of carbohydrates and 50mg of sodium. Dairy-free and gluten-free. They also have caffeinated versions.
- Hammer Perpetuem: Hammer Perpetuem is a longer-lasting energy gel that is made with a blend of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It is a good choice for runners who are looking for a gel that will provide sustained energy.
- Science in Sport (SIS) Energy Gels – 22g of carbohydrates and 10mg of sodium. Vegan and gluten-free with caffeine options.
- Spring Energy Gels – Some people like Spring gels because they are closer to “real food” options and ingredients. 17g of carbohydrates and 60mg of sodium. Vegan and contains a small amount of caffeine. Spring Energy has other gels with varying degrees of carbs, sodium, and caffeine.
- Ucan – UCan uses a form of carbohydrates called a super-starch, that releases slowly in the bloodstream. This is believed to lead to longer-lasting energy over time. They offer 19g of carbohydrates and 50mg of sodium. Zero sugar and gluten-free.
Ultimately, you’ll see that many of the products listed above contain very similar amounts of carbohydrates with moderate differences in sodium levels.
Considerations for Energy Gels for Runners
When choosing an energy gel, consider your individual needs and preferences.
Some factors to consider include:
- The length of your run: If you are running a short run, you may not need an energy gel at all. However, if you are running a longer run, you will need more carbohydrates and more often.
- Trail Running – If you’re running on a trail, gels can be very helpful, however you will likely need more calories from real foods for longer distances. Think about how to carry those. This post on the trail running diet can help!
- Are you a salty sweater? If you are a heavy sweater or salty sweater, or it’s a warm day, you will likely need higher sodium options! And with that, comes more hydration alongside. Check out our guide for hydration for runners for more tips or even a sample half marathon hydration plan. If you do not want a high-sodium gel (or other fuel source), you can choose to get your sodium from another source such as a salt tablet, an electrolyte tablet, or a sports beverage that contains sodium.
- Hydration plan– Generally, you want to take in liquids with your gels. You may have to balance the carbohydrates/sodium between the two. For example, if you are taking a high-sodium gel, you may not need any additional sodium in your hydration pack. If you are taking a gel with carbs but no-to- little-sodium, you may want to make sure your liquid nutrition has additional sodium.
- Sensitive stomach – For runners with a sensitive stomach, you may want to try Huma gels, Maurten, or UCAN gels as these are designed to be easier on the stomach and for people who have GI issues while running.
- Your personal taste and texture preferences: Some runners prefer gels that have little to no flavor, while others prefer a stronger flavor. There are many different energy gels on the market, so you can find one that fits your needs. Try a bunch! The texture can vary significantly too – some are thinner, while others are thicker.
- Caffeine – Are you sensitive to caffeine? If so, you may want to avoid caffeinated gels.
- Gluten Free – Most energy gels should be gluten free, but if you need gluten free carbs, you will want to double check all ingredients.
In short, there are many personal considerations and preferences to keep in mind when choosing the right energy gel for your run.
What to Watch For
Since gels are made with different forms of sugar, some may sit better vs. others, depending on your gut tolerance.
It’s great to review symptoms of runners stomach to see if any are impacting you.
The best running gels for sensitive stomachs tend to be Huma gels, Maurten, or UCAN gels as these are designed to be easier on the stomach and for people who have GI issues while running.
If you continue to have GI issues with these products, make sure you are taking them in slowly while running and with fluids to help your body more easily digest them.
As mentioned above, if you are sensitive to caffeine, you want to watch out for this.
You may also want to be strategic in when you take in caffeine, including beforehand, and during the race at specific time points.
Are these gels caffeinated? Are you sensitive to caffeine?
Are you switching between caffeinated and non-caffeinated? Are you saving caffeinated for the end of your race?
We have a lot of research on caffeine before running, but it is dose dependent.
How Can I Try Different Gels?
There are a few different ways to try some of the different energy gels for long runs out there.
Visit a Local Running Store
Your local running store generally will have a plethora of options to choose from! Buy a few and test them on short runs, so you know how you handle them.
Order Through The Feed
The feed allows you to order small amounts of running gels to try rather than having to buy a large amount only to find out you don’t like that product.
Want your running nutrition questions answered?
Fill out this form to be matched with one of our sports dietitians.
Tips for Using Running Gels for a Marathon or Race
- Try them on short runs and long before race day – I usually recommend clients try gels LONG before their race. Try them on short runs to make sure you like the taste, texture and can stomach them.
- See what’s available at your race – Is there a nutrition gel sponsor that will be available on the course? Maybe trial that brand so you won’t have to carry it on race day!
- Start small – If you are someone with a sensitive stomach, start small, rather than with a whole gel. Try a couple of sips of the gel, or spread it out over time, rather than taking it all in at once. This gives your body a chance to adapt.
- Try different gel options – Try a few different ones on long runs. Note which ones give you longer-lasting energy, which ones sit the best. Which ones don’t leave a sour taste in your mouth. Do any make you thirstier?
- Start fueling early – We know from research that starting to fuel early gives your body a better chance for easier digestion – before your glycogen stores are out and before you reach dehydration. You want to avoid stressing your body out further. Work with a dietitian to develop a plan for you – such as taking one gel every 30 minutes.
- Fuel regularly: It is important to fuel your body regularly during your long run. Aim to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour, sometimes even up to 75-90 grams.
- Hydrate: As previously mentioned, it is also important to stay hydrated during your long run to help with digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. Aim to form a hydration plan to drink water or sports drinks regularly.
- Listen to your body: If you start to feel tired or sluggish, take a break and fuel up. It is better to take a break than to push yourself too hard and risk getting injured.
- Don’t forget to fuel after – We need to continue fueling AFTER our runs, too. Even if you don’t have an appetite, it’s important to replenish lost glycogen stores and rebuild protein for recovery. Stick with something bland, like an easy smoothie, toast, crackers or cereal.
Want your running nutrition questions answered?
Fill out this form to be matched with one of our sports dietitians.