Q: How long does it take before you feel the effects of an energy gel?
A: Energy gels are designed to provide a carbohydrate boost in a form that’s quickly digested into the bloodstream, so you’ll feel their effects very quickly (they are absorbed within minutes through the small intestine into the bloodstream). However, to be digested effectively and quickly, most need to be taken with water. In contrast, sports bars contain fat, fibre and protein, which slow down absorption.
Gels are convenient; you can strap them to your wrist or slip one into the zip pocket of your shorts, or lash loads to your bike if you’re going long distance. Each one contains about 100 calories.
Gels come in many flavours and textures, so try a few on your training runs to see which you like best; some may upset your stomach and others may simply make your taste buds rebel.
The number of gels you need will depend on how far you are running; as a guideline, you will benefit from 30-60g of carbs (which equates, roughly, to two gels) per hour in a run that lasts two hours or more. But experiment in training to fine-tune your nutrition – one gel every 45 minutes may give you the boost you need without causing the kind of gastrointestinal problems that can really slow you down.
Henrietta Bailey is a nutritionist who works as part of the Pure Sports Medicine team (puresportsmed.com). She specialises in sports nutrition and performance, obesity, cardiovascular issues, and diabetes and insulin resistance. She has worked with professional athletes and non-elites. She is a member of the Nutrition Therapy Council (NTC) and the British Association for Nutrition Therapy (BANT).