Monday, January 17, 2011

Gels, Blocks, and Shots

Now that the holidays are over, I hope I can get back in the habit of blogging.  Last weekend I drove to Jacksonville, Fl to pick up my good friend Lindsay; we then drove to Orlando and met up with Lucy.  We have not seen each other since the wedding last May.  So of course we stayed up too late and then had to wake up at 3 am for the DISNEY 1/2 MARATHON!  We hopped on a bus at 3:50 and got to the race site about an hour later... traffic gets really bad even for the Disney busses.   For breakfast I had 1/2 a banana and 1/2 a Cliff Bar.  Lindsay had something similar, and Lucy made oatmeal by packing a single serve packet and heating water up in the hotel room coffee pot.
Lucy's Oatmeal
During the race, there are water/poweraid stations as well as one Cliff station where runner's can pick up gels, blocks, and maybe even some bars (I just grabbed a gel and didn't pay attention to the rest).  It's important to consume some form of carbohydrate 45-60 minutes into an endurance event or long workout, and then again every 20-40 minutes depending upon the length of the exercise.

While gels, gu, and shots are not 'necessary'  they are extremely convenient.  They come packaged in easy to carry packs that even have holes with which to safety pin them to shorts; they also fit easily into fuel-belts and SPIBelts.  Foods such as dried fruit, and small packs of honey also work well.  Bananas are nice since they are easy to chew, but they're not as portable unless you are a biker and tape them to your helmet.  Because gels are 100% carbohydrate they tend to be sickeningly sweet.  They also have the consistency of a giant booger.  Thankfully they come in an array of flavors from mango to cappuccino.  When using gels, you need to make sure to drink water shortly after to avoid any major stomach upset from the hypertonic gel. (Hypertonic: the gel is more concentrated than your body fluids.  This causes your stomach to pull fluid from surrounding tissues to dilute the gel.)  One website recommends taking 1/2 a gel with 6 oz of water, however then you are left with an open gel that will undoubtably get all over your hands, shorts, belt... where-ever you try to store it.  But if you try to consume the whole thing, the 12-13 oz of fluid needed to dilute it will cause excess sloshing in your stomach.  My solution to the problem is to consume water at least twice before you plan on taking the gel.  A few big sips will do since one gulp is equal to approximately 1 oz.  Then make sure to consume the gel at a water station where you can take another 3-6 big sips of water.  This also allows you to throw away your gel packet in a trash can, or at least discard it in an area that will be cleaned up.

Companies are now coming out with beans and blocks which have a solid consistency for people who do not like the gels.  These have the same carbohydrate ratios as the gels, and if taken all at once will need to be followed up with water.  I like the Cliff Blocks, however I've found that I have difficulty chewing and running at the same time.  This means I just plan my walk break around my fuel break.  The nice thing about these products is that they do not have to be consumed all at once and will not make a mess on your expensive exercise gear.

For those non-morning people forced to leave their bed for an early morning run, many products now come with caffeine.  Caffeine has been proven effective at increasing athletes endurance and energy levels, but it does come with a few side effects for some people.  1-stomach upset, 2-the jitters, 3-it speeds up the transit time of digestion.  This last effect may have some athletes looking for the nearest porta-john and puts new meaning to the phrase "i got the runs."

As mentioned above, dried fruit is another viable option.  It also costs less than the sport products.  Dried pineapple, mango, papya, strawberries, and cherries work well since they are small enough to pop in your mouth but big enough to not slip through fingers like raisins.  1/4 cup contains 80-100 calories and 22-25 g of carbohydrate.  This is comparable to 1 gel packet or 3 cliff blocks.  However, the fruit has a minimal amount of sodium, potassium, and calcium; so for very long events, and especially if you are a heavy sweater you will still need to find ways of replacing these electrolytes.

Products to try:
Cliff: uses organic ingredients, cares about the environment, moderately priced.
Gu: Widest variety of flavors, decent pricing, easy to find at stores.
Hammer: No artificial anything, great for ultra endurance athletes, expensive but can be bought in bulk.
E-Gel: 50 more calories and exceptionally more sodium/potassium than Cliff or Gu, less expensive.
Honey Stinger: Organic honey spiked with electolytes
Carb Boom: Relatively new company, have not seen it in stores yet.
Pacific Health: The old stand buys of endurox and accelerade and accel gel.
Sport Beans: glorified jelly beans, contain vitamin E which is interesting since it's a fat soluble vitamin, and there is no fat in the bean to absorb it with.
Well fueled athletes make it to the finish line!


  1. Loved the article. I am happy to report the block was a lot to chew while trying to run the race!

  2. I've only tried sport beans and like them. Plan on using two packets for the Snickers Half Marathon in Albany, Georgia in March. Do you think that will be enough?

  3. I'm sure it will. I'll probably back some blocks for myself.