How To Carry Gels During A Marathon

How To Carry Gels During A Marathon

The fact that carbohydrate consumption during a marathon can enhance performance is a well-established principle. (If you’re not familiar with carbohydrate recommendations for extended runs and races, you can find more information in this article or listen to this podcast episode.) However, there’s a practical challenge that arises: how do you manage to carry an adequate supply of gels throughout a marathon? When you need to consume six to eight gels over the course of 26.2 miles, where do you store them all?

How Many Gels Should You Consume During A Marathon?

As outlined in a 2022 review published in Sports Medicine, the recommended carbohydrate intake for races lasting 2.5 hours or more (such as a marathon) falls within the range of 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

If running gels constitute your primary source of carbohydrates, you’ll need approximately one gel every 20-30 minutes. The specific timing can vary based on factors such as the carbohydrate content of your gel, your individual tolerance, and any additional carbohydrates you might be consuming from sports drinks.

For instance, if you’re relying solely on GU gels (each containing 21 grams of carbohydrates) and drinking water on the course, you’ll need one gel roughly every 30 minutes. On the other hand, if you’re using Maurten gels (with 25 grams of carbohydrates) along with a sports drink, you’ll aim for one gel every 25-30 minutes. Gels with higher carbohydrate content, like Precision, SIS Beta, or Neversecond, should be consumed every 30 minutes. (For more insights on different types of running gels, you can refer to this review.)

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This means that a marathoner aiming for a 4-hour finish time should plan on consuming 7-8 gels during the race. While this may initially sound like a substantial amount, it can make a significant difference in your race performance. The benefit of avoiding hitting the proverbial “wall” is well worth the few extra ounces of gel weight!


How To Carry Gels During A Marathon

Shorts with Pockets
In recent years, shorts equipped with pockets—often referred to as storage shorts—have become increasingly available. These shorts are typically designed to accommodate items like smartphones, but their pockets can also be used to store fuel. Some options feature smaller, unzipped pockets designed to securely hold gels.

Sports Bra
While pocketed sports bras cater to approximately half of all runners, they provide a practical solution for carrying gels. Certain brands have designed bras that incorporate pockets into either the front or back of the garment. This concept is akin to tucking gels into the front section of a sports bra, but with an additional layer to guard against chafing. Additionally, a sports bra with pockets can serve as a secure storage spot for a phone, thereby freeing up room in your shorts pockets.

Running Belt
Compact and inconspicuous, running belts securely fasten around the waist, offering extra storage capacity. They contribute negligible weight and do not affect your running posture or gait. (Nevertheless, individuals with delicate gastrointestinal systems may experience discomfort when using them.) Furthermore, these belts provide a convenient option for attaching your race bib without the need to pierce holes in your shirt.

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Handheld Bottles
Much like the hydration pack, handheld water bottles can also serve as a storage solution for your gels. This approach is particularly convenient if you already intend to carry a handheld bottle for your fluids. Some handheld bottle models feature pockets integrated into the flask sleeve. However, it’s important to note that the storage capacity is usually limited, typically accommodating approximately two gels unless you fill up the bottle with energy gels.

Hydration Packs
A hydration vest or hydration belt not only serves as a means to transport your fluids but also offers a multitude of pockets for convenient gel storage. You can even wear the vest without filling the bottles, using it solely for its storage capacity.

In cases where you prefer a sports drink different from what is provided on the racecourse, a hydration vest allows you to consume your preferred beverage throughout the race. Vests equipped with front-pocket bottles, as opposed to a bladder, are typically lighter and more comfortable. For many runners, the ability to carry their own fluids and conveniently stash gels can significantly enhance their race day experience.

An important caveat: certain large-scale races like the Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, and the Boston Marathon have restrictions on the use of hydration vests. However, these races typically permit the use of hydration belts (though it’s advisable to check the specific rules each year). In such cases, opting for a hydration waistpack is recommended.


Final Words – How To Carry Gels During A Marathon

In summary, while it’s widely recognized that consuming carbohydrates during a marathon can boost performance, the practical challenge of carrying an ample supply of gels during the race remains. To meet the recommended carbohydrate intake of 60 to 90 grams per hour for races lasting 2.5 hours or more, runners may need to ingest 6 to 8 gels over the course of 26.2 miles. This presents the question of where and how to store these gels for easy access.

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Various methods can address this challenge, including pocketed shorts, sports bras with integrated pockets, compact running belts, handheld bottles with gel storage, and hydration packs or vests. Each option comes with its advantages and considerations, offering marathoners the flexibility to choose the solution that best aligns with their preferences and race-day needs. By effectively managing gel intake and ensuring a steady supply of carbohydrates, runners can enhance their performance and avoid the dreaded “wall” during the marathon.

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