Energy Gels and Race Performance

A common rule of thumb for many runners is that carbohydrate supplementation through the use of energy gels is important for races that exceed one hour. Energy gels come in many different packages and flavors, but all are loaded with carbohydrates (some also add protein) for hard working muscles. But does consuming energy gels during a race actually make a runner run faster?

One study that attempted to analyze this question had twelve distance runners complete four different runs at a distance of 19.2 km (11.9 miles). The runners were told to run these runs at race pace.

In one run, the runners were given a placebo disguised as an energy gel. In another run, the runners were given traditional carbohydrate energy gels. In the third run, the runners were given energy gels with a carbohydrate and protein formula. In the fourth run, the runners were given energy gels with a “double-carbohydrate” and protein formula. In each of the runs, the energy gels or placebo were provided at the start and in 4 km increments.

After analyzing the results, the authors found no improvement in time for the runners who took carbohydrate or carbohydrate-protein energy gels.

A few caveats: This study only analyzed energy gels consumed over the relatively short distance of 11 miles. Energy gels may have a significant positive effect for long distances, such as marathons. Additionally, this study only involved the relatively small number of twelve runners. It is possible that a larger study would discover at least some effect of energy gels in lowering race times.

Image courtesy of Peak Nutrition

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