Go into any running store and you’re likely to see an entire wall dedicated to energy supplements. From gels to drinks to chews and more, there’s no end to the variety of supplements you can use to keep you going on a long run or race.
What I see happening from all of these choices—and the persuasive advertising that goes with them—is that people overuse these supplements. Yes, there is a time and a place for using them, but many people get it wrong.
Why is this a problem? Because by swallowing down the calories too early and often, your body never learns to tap into its fat cells for energy.
We all have a nearly endless supply of fat from which to draw energy but have limited stores of glycogen. In a long race, then, it is very much to your advantage to have a body that can access that fat for fuel.
What I’d recommend is learning to run some of your long runs on no fuel at all. Sounds crazy, I know, but you can do it. Start by simply heading out the door on nothing but water in your stomach. On the next run, try waiting longer before taking a gel, and so on. Eventually work up to as long as 2 ½ hours of running on no fuel before or during. You will likely need to slow your long run pace to accomplish this, but that has benefits, too.
As you get closer to race day and into the 20-plus milers, start learning how to use fuel again, because you’ll need to for race day. But this time through, see if you don’t need those gels less often and later into the run. I’m betting the answer is yes, and I’m also betting you’ll have more energy for the later miles of the race.
So where do you stand, use and abuse? Which supplements do you use/take? Which are the best, share your experiences. Favorite flavor? Flavor that makes you gag?
(Amanda Loudin is a runner, coach, and freelance writer with 15 years experience in endurance events. As a runner, she’s in perpetual training mode, usually with a slate of about eight races per year on her plate. As a coach, she has helped runners achieve their goals in every distance from 5k to the marathon. She shares her passion for the sport on her blog, MissZippy1, and daily on Twitter at @misszippy1.)