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I’m obsessive about operating gels.

“You’re hooked,” my fiancé would say each time I got here house from a visit to my native operating retailer with a heap of power gels. It’s not goo, I’d inform him. It’s gel. I believed he was simply gel-ous that I mainly obtained to eat frosting on my lengthy runs, sucking down flavors like salted caramel, birthday cake, campfire s’mores, sea salt chocolate… My mouth is watering.

I found the magic of gels after I began operating marathons two years in the past. It was a fantastic trade-off in my thoughts – you’re operating longer miles, so that you get a reward about midway. Fun! I distinctly keep in mind operating the Hamilton Glow Marathon in Hamilton, Ohio and shouting at my dad on the aspect of the course, “I GET TO EAT A GEL SOON!”

But, I’ll be trustworthy, my zealousness for power gels was not probably the most financially wholesome behavior. Gels are $1.60 a chunk at my native operating retailer and I purchased three or 4 per week to stay in my drawers, backpack, automotive and jackets. After a 12 months of this, I estimate I spent round $300 on gels alone.

Even extra regarding, I believed I wouldn’t have the ability to run properly with out gels and by no means accomplished a long term with out one. I went out of city one weekend and didn’t convey any gels, so I refused to affix my dad for a long term. At the time, I actually thought I wouldn’t get by way of half the run with no gel.

That explicit weekend out of city was eye-opening. I knew I wished to cease leaning on gels however nonetheless wanted a option to replenish misplaced electrolytes and glycogen. So I made a decision I used to be going to start out substituting power gels with entire, actual meals to show I didn’t want them to be a superb runner. It was time to face my fears and kick the crutch I’d been leaning on for over a 12 months.

What To Look for In An Energy Gel Replacement

The editors at Women’s Running offered an ideal useful resource for studying what I wanted to do to gasoline my lengthy runs with pure meals.

Authors Caitlyn Pilington and Malissa Rodenburg write: “Fueling is important during long runs, but your choice of what to fuel with lends itself to flexibility. Ultimately, all of our bodies are different and therefore tolerate things differently. You’ll no doubt see a majority of athletes fueling themselves with gels, blocks, sports drinks, or other commercial products. And there’s honestly nothing wrong with that—sports products are engineered to be absorbed properly and help you perform.”

There are every kind of manufacturers of power gels, however I’ll be referring to my favourite, GU. Each packet incorporates 100 energy, 125 mg sodium, 40mg potassium, 22g of carbs and 7g of sugar. So a gel substitute would wish to cowl these bases plus be compact, simply digestible and (hopefully) tasty.

Nutritionist Sarah Cuff focuses on holistic fueling, so she was keen to talk on the subject of changing gels with entire meals. She says the three principal components to contemplate in a gel or entire meals substitute are sodium, carbohydrates and sugars.


If you’re a ‘super sweater’ like me (I might fill a tub wringing out my operating garments) you’ll need to pay shut consideration to this subsequent bit.

“When we sweat, sodium is the electrolyte lost at the highest proportion,” Cuff says. “So while most energy gels will include some potassium and magnesium and calcium, they are not necessarily required because we don’t lose them in any high amount when we sweat. Sodium is most important.”

She provides that the quantity of sodium wanted depends upon a wide range of components like how a lot you typically sweat, the temperature and the way a lot power you’re exerting. Cuff says a superb rule of thumb is in the event you’re consuming one liter of water an hour, you need to ensure you’re intaking at not less than 600 mg of sodium. Learning this, I noticed the sodium in my favourite GU gel and the entire meals replacements don’t meet these requirements, so I wanted to complement with sodium in my water.

“Some athletes who want to be as natural as possible might use coconut water and sprinkle sea salt in it – it’s not super tasty, though some people like it,” Cuff says. “I’d suggest getting a natural electrolyte drink such as Skratch Labs Hydration or Tailwind. Make sure they have at least 300 mg of sodium per serving.”


“Another important number we want to be looking at is the carbohydrate number, because that’s what primarily fuels our long runs,” Cuff says. “We know from studies that we need 30-60g per hour on long runs and up to 90g on really long runs (marathons, ultra marathons) to adequately replace what we’re burning. The question is, where can we get those carbs?”

GU gels comprise a type of ‘super’ carbohydrate known as maltodextrin, which is well damaged down whereas exercising and due to this fact nice for many athletes – although it could actually trigger gastrointestinal points in some. So my entire meals gel replacements must comprise as much as 90 grams of carbs and have to be as simply damaged down as maltodextrin.


Sugars are required for the fueling course of on lengthy runs. Most gels use carbohydrates like maltodextrin to provide glucose and fructose. When you consumption sugar, your physique breaks it down into glucose and fructose which can be utilized for power immediately.

“Ideally, we’re looking at what’s easy for our digestive system to break down while we’re running,” Cuff says. “Sugar is digested pretty darn quickly. Now, straight table sugar would be difficult to stomach, but there are companies who have packaged maple syrup into small serving sizes. That’s a very natural whole food alternative to gels.”

My Energy Gel Replacements

Over the course of 4 weeks I packed six totally different snacks on my longer runs, starting from 10-16 miles, and ranked which of them labored the most effective for me and which ran me into the bottom. I additionally took Cuff’s recommendation and tried Skratch Labs hydration drink combine, which incorporates 70 energy, 17g of carbs, 15g sugar and 710 mg sodium per serving.

White bread with honey

Calories: 132 | Carbs: 28g | Sugar: 7g | Sodium: 180mg 

Probably probably the most boring sandwich I’ve ever made turned out to be my favourite power supply throughout this experimentation interval. I took one piece of white bread, drizzled on slightly little bit of honey, folded it up and wrapped it in a sandwich bag. It match neatly in my operating pack round my waist and, even when it did get slightly smushed, tasted superb after I wanted it. I had zero tummy troubles and felt as energized as after I took an espresso flavored gel.

Sweet potato 

Serving dimension: 4oz. | Calories: 112 | Carbs: 26g | Sugar 6g | Sodium: 73mg | Potassium: 448mg

I’m a fiend for candy potatoes. They’re glorious for operating due to their phytochemical content material which might scale back post-workout irritation – and I’m often all sorts of infected after a superb tenner. I selected a small candy potato, in regards to the dimension of my palm, and cooked it lengthy sufficient earlier than my run in order that it was cooled. I wrapped it in a paper towel and caught it in my pack and, when the time got here, I ate that sucker prefer it was a donut, pores and skin and all. I didn’t end the entire thing, as a result of half did the trick. I felt fueled and it digested properly. The trade-off is the low sodium content material, however as a result of I supplemented with my water, it evens out.


Serving dimension: Medium banana | Calories: 110 | Carbs: 28g | Sugar 15g | Potassium: 450mg

Tried and true, I knew bananas would by no means fail me. This is commonly my pre-run snack as a result of I can digest it simply and it has carbs and pure sugars which are damaged down rapidly. The draw back is that it didn’t slot in my operating pack, so I needed to put it in my jacket pocket, which was slightly uncomfortable. Like the candy potato, there’s little sodium, however I had my supplemented water. 


Serving dimension: ½ cup| Calories: 100 | Carbs: 20g | Sugar 1g | Sodium: 140mg | Potassium: 170mg | 

For this power gel substitute, I packed a cup of dry, plain Cheerios in a tiny baggie. While I’m a giant fan of cereal, it’s not precisely straightforward to pour into your mouth whereas operating. I additionally didn’t really feel as fueled through the second half of my run, main me to consider I won’t have packed sufficient. The situation is, if I packed anymore, I’d be crunching cereal for an entire mile. Plus, it actually dried out my mouth and made me thirsty.


Serving dimension: 2 dates | Calories: 133 | Carbs: 36g | Sugar 32g | Potassium: 334mg 

I had excessive expectations for this snack. Dates are scrumptious, compact and stuffed with pure sugars, so it is sensible why runners generally substitute them for power gels. However, I didn’t anticipate how the three medjool dates would glob onto one another right into a golf ball sized glob. That wasn’t the most important situation although; my abdomen didn’t do properly with dates. I skilled tenting, bloating and total my digestive points induced me to chop the run brief. Further analysis led me to find that my physique should not have preferred the excessive quantity of fiber and sulfites within the dates. So this snack may go for some, however for me, it was a tough cross.

Will I Give Up Energy Gels?

This experiment resulted in additional than nice runs and bizarre stares (have you ever seen a runner chomping on an entire candy potato?!), it additionally offered me with the reply that I used to be on the lookout for: I don’t want power gels to be a superb runner. They’re not a magical potion that offers me a lift nearly as good because the speckled mushroom in Mario Kart.

But, power gels are a helpful, environment friendly device to rapidly recuperate misplaced glycogen and maintain you happening lengthy runs. I definitely haven’t any need to provide them up, however I do know now that I can substitute a gel for entire meals, if I so please. In the weeks after my trial, I bought one gel. Given my observe file, I’d say that’s fairly goo-d.

Originally printed on Outside Online.