Running is a learning process. I’m far from the runner I was two years ago, and unrecognizable from the one I was when I first started. There are so many mistakes to learn from and so many trials and errors to experience. It’s been six years since I put on my first pair of running shoes and began my journey. As I prepare for my long run this weekend, I can certainly say I learned one lesson the hard way: The issue of refueling during runs. This took a lot of trials and even more errors on my part. But today, my pantry is stocked with my fuel of choice and I hope my days of struggling with mid-run fuel is over.
Recently, NPR’s food blog “The Salt” reported on the issue of using real food as athletic fuel. That is, real food instead of the many popular gels, chews, and drink mixes. The title alone made me laugh at my former self. I recalled my early days in training for my first marathons. I was so convinced that I needed all natural foods. On long runs, I toted around the most cumbersome bags loaded with fresh fruit, honey, or even nuts. I was trying so hard to live up to this uber-natural standard I placed on myself. Furthermore, all awkwardness aside, these methods weren’t working. I wasn’t feeling any energy from my fuel and even worse, I was having such a hard time digesting these foods while on the run. Come marathon day, there was no way I could run a strong, fast race with these issues and a pantry in my shorts.
However, Scott Jurek, the record-holding ultra-marathoner mentioned in the NPR piece, says that he eats rice balls and hummus wraps during his training runs. He’s seen major success in his career, but I question how one can digest that type of food while running. Also, how can one expect to provide that sort of nutrition during a large, crowded urban marathon? This type of fueling just doesn’t work well for most of us.
So, what does work well? I asked hundreds of marathoners what their mid-run fuel of choice was. The resounding majority said GU. This has become my top choice as well. GU Energy Gel is sold in small, easy-to-carry packets and is intended to be swallowed down during endurance activities to provide easy-to-digest, effective sustenance and energy.
The GU website describes the product as, “GU Energy Gel provides athletes with a dose of 100 calories to deliver high-quality, easily-digested and long-lasting energy for athletes in every sport and at all levels. Everything inside each packet of GU is engineered to do one simple thing: provide your body with the essential nutrition it needs to keep going for miles and miles and hours and hours. It goes down easy, and it goes to work fast so you don’t have to slow down.”
Even if an athlete ditches the concept of real food, they’re choices for fuel are vast. Holly Perkins, of Holly Perkins Fitness, described why she believes GU still is the top choice among athletes. “I’m a big GU fan. When I ask myself ‘what’s so special about GU?’, many reasons immediately come to mind,” she told us. She explained:
1. “GU has an incredible formulation that makes it extremely palatable. It has a great mouth feel in that it’s not too slimy, not too thick, not too creamy, not too sugary. It truly tastes like a nice frosting.”
2. “GU is intended to fuel the muscles and I find that it works seamlessly to achieve this. I don’t get any gastric distress, it empties the stomach quickly and doesn’t feel heavy.”
3. “There are a ton of delicious flavors. I actually look forward to 35 minutes into a run so that I can begin my Chocolate Espresso GU! I think this is the best flavor ever, and yet my other runners all have different favorite flavors.”
4. “GU was smart to begin offering caffeine in the formulation. Caffeine is an amazing endurance booster that also frees up fat to be burned for fuel. They add just the right amount of caffeine to the packets so that you feel the boost, but it’s not overwhelming.”
5. “The packaging is perfect for runners. It’s the right size to fit in a pocket (I’ve even carried one in my bra!) and pull out when you need it.” If not in a pocket or bra, the GU packs fit perfectly inside something like the Ultimate Arm Pocket.
I couldn’t agree more with Holly’s analysis. And now that they’ve introduced a peanut butter flavor, I’ll be a GU fan for life!
There’s so much to research and know about mid-run fuel, but if one product gets such strong reviews, why spend so much time dabbling and experimenting? Or as Perkins puts it, “I guess to sum it up, GU tastes fantastic, is easy to carry and works!”
Video with Holly Perkins: The Importance of Fueling a Workout