Gels, GU's and Gummy Bears, Oh My! February 11, 2008

Home > Articles > 

Central Texas runners are less than a week away from lining up to run 13.1 or 26.2 miles in the AT&T Austin Marathon and Half-Marathon. On Feb. 17 the marathon runners will need to literally eat on the run. It's now a given that well over half of non-elite marathon runners will hit "The Wall" somewhere after mile 17 on the course. The Wall is where the runner runs out of energy, stored in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the muscles and liver. ATP is made from the breakdown of carbohydrates, in the form of blood glucose and glycogen and fats. The body stores roughly 2,000 calories of glycogen and burns about 100 calories an hour. So simple math says you'll get to about mile 20, give or take a few miles.

"It felt like an gorilla had jumped out of a tree onto my shoulders and was making me carry it the rest of the way in. Dick Beardsley, speaking of hitting "The Wall" at the second marathon of his career, the 1977 City of Lakes Marathon.

It's the give or take a few miles that leaves runners scratching their heads. As every runner is different in their speed so are they different in terms of hydration and nutritional needs. Most marathon training programs call for a minimum of three or four 20-mile runs leading up to the marathon race. By doing so, runners experience what it's like run out of energy. But it's not an exact science. Because energy also comes from fat utilization (fatty acids), it's possible to use fats for fuel which are almost inexhaustible. However, the body has to work much harder to deliver the energy, thus slowing the runner's pace.

Tips for Staying Energized and Hydrated from our Friends at Austin Runner Magazine

  1. Drink. You'll hit the first aid station after mile 1 or 2. Drink. You won't feel like it, but force yourself to grab a cup. you may have been standing around in the starting corral for some time and may already be dehydrated. Even if you're not, start drinking now. -- Bob Wischnia, Editor, Austin Runner

  2. Gellin'. Eat no less than four gels or Gu's during the marathon. Begin taking them by mile seven. You will thank yourself later in the race. --Paul Pugh 2:35:43 Marathoner (Austin '06)

  3. Continue taking in nutrition during the middle miles. If you are using energy gels, make certain you are consuming them early enough in the race so they'll help later on. Make sure you hydrate. -- Bob Wischnia, Editor, Austin Runner

  4. Know your hydration options ahead of time. Make sure you know what energy drink is being used in the marathon and if you're unfamiliar with it, buy some and test it. -- Cassie Henkiel 2:44:54 Marathoner ('06)

  5. Take more energy gels, GU's or Shot Bloks to the race than you think you might need. And start taking them early on in the race. Your body will be sucking up a lot more energy in the marathon than it does during a normal training run because you're going to be running faster and farther. So formulate a nutrition plan and keep it consistent. A good suggestion is to take your nutritional gels at four or six-mile intervals. Also, make a point to take them at the various aid stations so you can take them with water. -- Patrick Hall 2:46:53 Marathoner ('06)

The most important tip may be to try eating the product during a run prior to race day to see if your stomach becomes upset. Dick Beardsley advises, "If you're thinking of using some type of energy gel during the race, practice using some different types in training runs so you will know how it affects your body. If you have never taken them before, it's a good idea NOT to take them during the race!"

Dick Beardsley's Tips for Successful Race Nutrition

  • Make sure you hydrate yourself well but not just with water! It's very important to include some type of electrolyte drink. Too much water can dilute your salt stores in your body and this can lead to big problems.

  • Stay away from alcohol the last few days before a marathon, as alcohol has a tendency to dehydrate you quicker.

  • When your carbo loading at the pasta dinner the night before, do not over eat! I've seen people cram 4 plates of spaghetti down, and then I hear they spent a good deal of time in the porta pottys along the way the next day!

  • After the race, try and get some food into your system within 30 minutes as this will really help you recover much quicker. And speaking of after the race, many of you have been watching very closely what you've been eating the last few months. Now is the time if your feel like a big ole greasy hamburger with a plate of fries, go for it, you deserve it! I know that's what I'd do!

Along the course people will be offering a wide assortment of nutritional products ranging from bars to fruit and candy. Yes, even Gummy Bears can provide a certain amount of energy on the run. We've supplied nutritional information for the products we know will be on the course. You can use a calculator during a run prior to race day and see for yourself which one is the best for you.

You may feel like a kid in a candy store when you shop for nutrition. There are so many to choose from. Nutritional products come in a variety of flavors. They also vary in the amount of sweetness and texture. Gels are easily carried during the race but require water to drink immediately after consumption. Bloks, Gummy Bears and other candied products require no water but may prove difficult to carry.

Sources of Nutrition

Powerade (drink) Gu Energy Gel Gummy Bears Banana Pretzels Twizzlers
Serving size 8fl. oz (240mL) 1 package, 32g 10 pieces (10 bears) 1 medium (7") fruit 10 twists, 2.1 oz. 3 pieces, 2.5 oz.
Calories 64
Total Fat

Total Carbohydrates


served on AT&T Austin Marathon course

Dick Beardsley is a champion - in running and in life. Although his competitive running career as an elite athlete ended in 1988, Dick still has the 5th fastest U.S. men's marathon time in history. Best known for his 1982 Boston Marathon "Duel in the Sun" with Alberto Salazar, Dick is also a two-time Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier. He is a two-time winner and course record holder of the Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota and has won the London and Napa Valley marathons. In addition, The Dick Beardsley Foundation is a community-based organization created to educate children and young adults about the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle and to educate the public about the danger of drugs and chemical dependency.

Watch us on YouTube