If you’re new to long distance running or endurance training, you might have heard that you need to refuel your glycogen stores mid-run. But what does that even mean?
Let’s review the roots of energy production. Our bodies use primarily glucose, or sugar, as fuel. If we don’t immediately need to use that glucose, it’s turned into glycogen (chains of glucose) and stored. Now, there are normally about 4 grams of the carbohydrate glucose in the bloodstream. When that level starts to drop, due to exercise or lack of food, it signals the body to start breaking down glycogen to release glucose into the bloodstream. This is one of the mechanisms for keeping our energy levels consistent.
Because our body can only store so much glucose and glycogen, a long-distance endurance run like a marathon or half-marathon can deplete those vital energy sources quickly, and you might find yourself hitting a wall long before the finish line. So here’s the question: What can you do to refuel mid-race? Well, that’s why we’re talking about energy gummies and goos, which are a great option for providing your body with a bit of simple sugar that’s easy to digest on longer runs. They help you cure fatigue and maintain a steady flow of energy.
While sports drinks and energy drinks like Gatorade are also an option, they can be difficult to consume during intense activities like running. Plus, you often need to finish an entire bottle of an energy drink to get all of its benefits, and all that liquid can cause your stomach distress. You also don’t want to carry a Gatorade bottle around for ten miles, especially if you’re already carrying a hydration pack! Chews and gels come in a small sleeve that fits in your pocket and can easily be brought to your mouth for a quick energy boost. Similarly, while a lot of runners drink coffee for pre-run energy, coffee on its own doesn’t actually contain sugar, so while you’ll feel energetic, your performance will show otherwise. And while your mind may be powerful enough to keep you going, your muscles might beg to differ!
Even if you’re an experienced marathon runner, you might be confused by the many fuel options and brands on the market or in training facilities. How do you figure out which one is right for you and your race? What’s really in those shiny packages? And what’s the nutritional label breakdown?
Don’t worry, we’re here to answer all your questions. When picking energy packs, research shows that people should take in around 100-250 calories (about 25-60 grams of carbs) for every hour of running, depending on things like your size, age and activity levels. The best energy chews for you are going to depend on you, of course, so based on your experience, you can adjust this formula to make the right choice for your energy needs. And don’t forget hydration!
The best way to find out what running fuel works for you is to try it out during a training run – and definitely not on race day! To get you started, we checked out the stats on some of the most popular companies for quick fuel.
As a quick note, we didn’t cover any energy bars on this list. Energy bars are a great choice an hour before a workout, but they aren’t the best for a long run. The difference is that bars usually contain additional ingredients that require a lot of digestion, plus chewing, which can be difficult for long distance athletes on a run. You might have a bar or pre-run snack you like to use before your workout, but during your long run, the best snack is quick, digestible energy!
Long-distance running can take a toll on your body, so make sure you speak with your doctor or healthcare provider if you have any preexisting medical conditions. Also check with your doctor about any medications you might be on.
While flavors, shapes and textures vary between goos, chews, gels and blocks, there are a few common ingredients – and a few to watch out for. Got questions about an item you found on your gel’s nutrition label? We’ve got answers!
Fat: You don’t want an energy supplement with any fat in it, as fat will slow down digestion in your stomach, and therefore how quickly your body gets the energy boost it needs. If you see a type of fat like vegetable oil listed in the nutrition information, it probably isn’t the best energy chew or goo. Remember, they’re not a meal replacement, so the nutrition facts should be pretty simple.
Sodium: Sea salt adds delicious flavor, but it’s also dehydrating. It’s why you probably don’t want to eat stir fry with soy sauce or cured meat the night before a long run! However, if the case is that you’re running hard and sweating a lot, you will want some salt in your energy gel, to replenish what you’re sweating out.
Fiber: The goal of energy chews and goos is to give you quick, easily digestible energy. While fiber is an important part of a healthy diet, it does slow digestion in your stomach, which isn’t what you want when you need quick muscle fuel. For example, while chia seeds have a gooey, gel-like texture when combined with water, don’t let them deceive you into believing they’re perfect for a run! These nutritious seeds get their goo from the fiber that surrounds them, so watch out for any energy gels that contain them.
Vitamins and Minerals: Your energy gel might contain helpful vitamins for runners, like vitamin B12, which supports the production of cellular energy in the mitochondria, or the mineral potassium, a type of electrolyte. These are helpful for marathon athletes. (If you’re anemic, you may want to look for folic acid.) You might also see Vitamin C or citric acid listed, which is likely as a preservative to prevent mold and yeast from growing. Just make sure your gel’s nutrition information doesn’t start to match your gummy vitamins – again, we’re aiming for quick energy, not lots of digestion. For example, if an energy gel’s formula contains something like biotin, which is a hair, skin, nails and teeth supplement, it’s probably designed to support overall activity, rather than marathon runners.
Additionally, you may want to keep your energy gels out of reach of children if you have kids. They’ll taste just like candy to kids, and while they aren’t dangerous, each serving contains caffeine and sugar levels way beyond what kids need! Trust us, energy gels are best for adults, only. Companies like OLLY and Nature’s Bounty do make energy-boosting vitamins, but again, OLLY and Nature’s Bounty are vitamin companies, so their nutrition experts and products are geared toward delivering nutrients, rather than energy.
Corn Syrup: Energy goos are primarily sugar, and corn syrup is one way to provide that sugar. While regular corn syrup is fine, make sure yours doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup, there’s a difference!
Pectin: Pectin is a type of starch that naturally occurs in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. Its job is to give them structure. In food, pectin works the same way that gelatin does, and it’s often added to goos and gels for structure.
Common Allergens: Luckily, because energy gels and chews have so few ingredients, they’re usually gluten-free and free of other common allergens like milk, eggs and shellfish. For people who have a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease, make sure you seek out a bar that includes a statement from the manufacturer to confirm it’s gluten-free.
Guarara Extract: This ingredient may sound unfamiliar, but it’s just a substitute for caffeine, to give you that extra boost. Some brands of goos and blocks contain caffeine, while others don’t – just check the label.
Goos & Gels
Energy gels or goos contain a high concentration of sugar, carbs and electrolytes. They require no chewing—which can be pretty difficult when you’re trying to hit a new personal record while hitting the pavement. With different flavors from peanut butter to key lime, there’s something for every runner. These will take several business days to ship, so plan for race day accordingly! All of these options come in a 24-ct. box (of single servings sleeves, of course, so they still fit in your pocket!), so you might want to test one out to make sure you like the taste! GU and Hammer offer smaller options, like a 6-ct box. And remember, not all of the claims, statements or benefits endorsed by energy goos and gels have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
100 calories, 25g carbs, 20mg caffeine
Why It’s Good: GU has a lot of flavors like mint chocolate, mandarin orange, and espresso. Their natural watermelon flavor is our favorite! They also make GU Energy Chews, but their gels have more flavors.
90 calories, 21g carbs, most flavors are caffeine-free
Why It’s Good: Hammer Gel has no added refined sugars or sweeteners and no artificial colors. If you’re a peanut butter lover, they’re one of the few with peanut butter flavors!
100 calories, 24g carbs, 0-50mg caffeine (depending on flavor)
Why It’s Good: If you love Clif energy bars, you’ll love their gel shots! It has the fewest ingredients of all the gels, no artificial flavors, and is 90% organic and vegan. Clif’s unique style of packing, called the “Litter Leash,” makes sure the cap stays attached to the sleeve once it’s opened, so you don’t have to worry about dropping it.
120 calories, 29g carbs, most flavors are caffeine-free
Why It’s Good: These honey-based gels are all-natural, come in natural flavors like berry smoothie and orange, and offer organic options.
Chews & Blocks
If you aren’t into the texture or consistency of energy gels, try energy chews instead. They’re pretty much just like eating candy, and they taste like it, too! They do require chewing while you run, which can be challenging if you’re running hard. These can all be ordered in different sizes: 12, 18 or 24-ct. boxes. And remember, not all of the claims or benefits endorsed by energy chews and blocks have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, even if they appear scientific.
Some of these chews contain an ingredient called carnauba wax. If you’re questioning the idea of eating wax, don’t worry, we’ve got the answer! It’s perfectly natural and is used to give some gummies their shiny look.
Three chews: 90 calories, 24g carbs, 0-50mg caffeine (depending on flavor)
Why It’s Good: Just like the Clif Shots, these chewy gummies have a short ingredient list. They also have the best selection of different flavors out of all the chews on this list! They’re sold in single, 18, or 144-ct. packages, if you really like them. Our favorite flavor is mountain berry!
For four chews: 90 calories, 23g carbs, 20mg caffeine
Why It’s Good: GU’s products have a longer ingredient list because they have added amino acids and antioxidants, which may help you stay focused during your run.
One packet of beans: 100 calories, 25g carbs, 0 -50mg caffeine (depending on flavor)
Why It’s Good: Want some candy? Well, here’s your energy chew! Unlike others, these energy chews are reminiscent of our childhood jelly beans. These are made by the jelly bean superstars at Jelly Belly.
For one packet of chews: 160 calories, 39g carbs, most flavors are caffeine-free
Why It’s Good: These chews have multiple carbohydrate sources for optimal energy. Bonus: They’re 95% organic, and come in delicious fruit flavors like strawberry, cherry blossom and limeade.