Should I Use Energy Gels during Training?

Aug 3, 2016

Tony Heywood

by Tony Heywood
PT, MPT | Ahwatukee Location

In our Ahwatukee physical therapy clinic, we treat and train a lot of runners. As a competitive, long-distance runner myself, I have learned a lot over the years. I try to use my knowledge to help others achieve their running goals, whether it is finishing a race, improving their time, reaching a certain distance, or anything else. A race doesn’t start at the starting line—it begins weeks ahead of the race, during your first week of training.
I have witnessed many runners in the first weeks of training (when their mileage is low) load up their belts with Gu packs or carbohydrate drinks just to get through a mile or so. The problem with this strategy is that your body is not going to learn how to burn fat or use up glucose if you constantly supply it during training. Runners need to teach their bodies how to burn fat and their on-board fuel supplies if they want to reach the finish line in an upright position.
During a race, I always laugh when I see the ‘energy’ water station at about the 10 mile mark in a half-marathon: at this point, it will be too late if you’ve already burned through all your glucose. The last three miles are not going to be fun, and your race is not going to end well. Trust me, because it has happened to me and I have learned from my mistakes.
First off, an elite runner has enough glucose in their body to run for just over two hours with no problem, and an average runner has much more. So if you are running 13.1 miles, your body should have enough glucose to power you through the race if you trained properly. My advice is to complete one or two runs per week with just good ol’ H2O—water. If you run in the morning, don’t eat until after you run; this will teach your body to use and rely on its own energy, and it trains your system to store more glucose rather than depending on outside sources. After time your body will start to adapt, and you will not hit that dreaded wall during your race. I have been running competitively for over 10 years now, and after using this fasting method I can now train and run about 18 miles with just water and no problems at all.
Completing a marathon may seem like a nearly impossible task, but getting to the finish line is a hugely rewarding accomplishment. Contact our Ahwatukee physical therapy clinic for advice about training!

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