Aggressive fuelling plan means faster marathon times

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Just about everyone who's run a marathon knows how important it is to get the fuelling right. Eat or drink too little, too much, or something that just doesn't sit well, and you're in for a world of hurt.

new study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise put one specific fuelling plan to the test, and luckily for the runners who were told to use it, it worked.

Researchers recruited runners who were training for the 2013 Copenhagen Marathon and had them do a 10K time trial about seven weeks before the race. Runners of equal speeds, based on their 10K finishing times, were grouped together in pairs. In each pair, one runner used the fuelling strategy the scientists had devised, while the other was told to fuel however he or she wanted. All runners completed a half marathon five weeks before race day, which allowed those with the new fuelling plan to practice it.

On marathon day, the 28 runners who were using the fuelling plan ran an average of 4.7 per cent faster than the 28 who didn't. The mean finishing time for those without the fuelling plan was 3:49:26; for those with the plan, 3:38:31. Neither group reported significant gastrointestinal problems.

Each runner on the scientists' fuelling plan took in about 710ml of water and three High5 EnergyGel Plus gels per hour.

The company that manufactures High5 EnergyGel helped to fund the study. 

Three gels in an hour sounds like a lot, and it is: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends runners take in 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate for every hour of exercise, and three gels is at the upper end of that range. However, these gels have maltodextrin and glucose, and studies have shown that taking in more than one type of carbohydrate increases the amount of energy your digestive system can process.

Plus, each of these gels contains 30 milligrams of caffeine, a known performance enhancer. Together, three of these gels would have about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

If you want to try to replicate this fuelling plan, try it first in training - obviously - and ease into it. Look for an energy product that includes caffeine and more than one type of sugar (glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, sucrose, etc), and start with about 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour before ramping up. Watch out for the jitters or other symptoms of excessive caffeine consumption. If this becomes a problem, you may want to start runs and races with decaf gels and save the caffeinated ones for when you need a boost.