For absolute beginners, determining when to fuel for a half marathon and how much to fuel during training is always a tough one to nail down. Energy gels for a half marathon come in many different shapes. Typically they contain about 100 calories of food (roughly 25g of food). One of the main reasons that beginners are lost when it comes to fueling is due to all of the different opinions floating around. Supplemental companies want you to fuel your body with as many energy gels as your body will assimilate per hour which is roughly between 250 – 350 calories depending on your metabolism. Some super-elite runners manage to train their bodies to run on zero extra fuel except for their pre-race meal and water during the run. For the beginner and average runner, the odds are against them if they don’t fuel during training for a marathon. Yes, I’m sure it’s been done, but at what cost to your body and your chip time?
On average you’ll probably need anywhere from 4 to 7 energy gels. This depends on how long you’re going to be on the racecourse. Typically you want to take a gel every 30 minutes. Some racers find it easiest to just go on the half-hour mark instead of every 25 minutes or every 35 minutes. I break down my fueling strategy below. Here is a typical guide, showing how many energy gels are needed for the average runner completing a half marathon?
Most half marathon racecourses close after 4 hours. If you need more time than 4 hours signup for a half marathon race where there is also a marathon race. You’ll have another couple of extra hours to finish your race.
New runners that run for less than 60 minutes, which is roughly between 4 and 7 miles, only need water during their run. There is no need to eat a gel pack for runs lasting less than 60 minutes. Your energy will not be depleted and you should be able to easily complete the run
This is a gray area for new runners. My best advice is that if you are training for a half marathon or a marathon and your runs are lasting between the 60 and 90-minute marker, then you should go ahead and be training your body to accept the gels that you will be using in the race. If you are just running to run and not really “training” for a race then you can get away with just drinking water and not fueling. Each individual runner will have to experiment with this gray area. For myself, I don’t fuel during my long runs which last less than 90 minutes which is the equivalent of about 8 – 9 miles. The key here is to listen to your body and if you are starting to feel fatigued go ahead and fuel past the 60-minute mark.
If you’re training for a half marathon or marathon I would recommend that during your long runs you use energy gels that you will be eating in the race. Don’t forget that training is the time to experiment with your gels. Gels have different flavors as well as different ingredients. For the most part, energy gels are 100 calories and offer both potassium and sodium. Some runners like the gels with a caffeine boost while others don’t. Some runners, including myself, suck on shot blocks in between their dose of energy gels during a race. Each shot block is about 30 calories.
The best and worst part about the training is that you get to test out your fueling. As a runner, I know first hand, that each runner is different and the number of fuel requirements varies from runner to runner. Some runners like to take a gel right before a half marathon race and marathon race while others don’t eat their first gel until 45 minutes into the race. If you’re having trouble with your long run training check out this article.
I have tried all of the GU flavors and I’m lucky in that my stomach has never disagreed with any GU flavor, yet. If I had to pick a favorite I would go with Salted Watermelon and Orange Creme.
Weight: 220 lbs Height: 6′ 3″
Pre-Race Meal (as soon as I get up): 4 pieces of cinnamon bread, 2 scrambled eggs, 1/2 cup of oatmeal and peanut butter. (600-700 calories)
The total amount of calories I consume during a half marathon race is about 500 calories.
Making sure that your body is properly fueled with energy gels for a half marathon race is half the battle. You need a good training strategy and plan to run your half marathon. If your half marathon plan falls apart consider having a half marathon backup plan.
The biggest take away is that every runner is different. You need to experiment to find what works best for you. Remember, sometimes running out of energy on a long run doesn’t really have to do with fueling, but could be from lack of adequate sleep or feeling under the weather. All runners at all age levels suffer from lousy runs – I promise. The key is to find out what works best for your body to give you optimal racing conditions.Scott Morton is the author of, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury free race finishers. He recently completed his 10 half marathon race. He is also an RRCA certified coach.
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