Runners have their own secret language. There’s the fast-and-fun “fartlek” and the lusted-after “negative splits.” And then there’s “fueling”—which takes on a whole new meaning when you’re putting one foot in front of the other for hours. In 2020, pavement-pounders have their choice of powders, tablets, gels, wafers, cookies, and jelly beans. So how do you know what’s the right way to power up for multiple miles?
Analysts project that the global market for energy gels (which work by raising your blood sugar levels mid-run to re-energize you) will grow by 7.2 percent to be worth $750 million by 2023. Nuun launched in 2010 as the first fueling company to separate electrolyte-replenishing from carbohydrate-intake. Chia seed fueling company Hüma entered the market in 2012, and Liquid I.V. cropped up in the very same year with the leading purpose of hydrating everyone—not just athletes.
With far more than 26.2 options out there, Casey Green, a coach with Charge Running, says that finding your fuel in 2020 involves plenty of trial and error. “There’s really no magic pill. Every runner is a little bit different, so you need to make sure that you’re practicing your fueling during your training and not experimenting when race time comes,” says Green. “A big thing that we look for are definitely electrolyte-rich gels or tablets, low sugar content, high carbohydrates, and caffeine—but only if you know your body can handle it.” So consider those nutrients your starting line.
Even if you’re not formally racing right now, nailing down your fueling strategy can mean more energized runs and faster recovery times—and Green has a few recommendations about where to begin for epic 5K, 10K, or speed workout.
Fueling before a run
We’ve all made the mistake of eating our pre-run snack too close to crossing the starting line and experiencing some major gastro-regrets. That’s why Green encourages runners to err on the safe side. “You never really want to get any closer than about 30 to 45 minutes before a run or workout with any type of fueling snack,” says Green. “So I normally recommend starting an hour and a half out and if you feel like you hit a wall a little bit early in your workout, try to move your snack up to about an hour out. If you’re still not feeling like it gets you through the entire workout, then push it down to about 30 to 45 minutes with a relatively simple carb-rich snack or gel.”
After all, you don’t want to literally cramp your running style. Here are some of the best pre-workout fueling products.
1. Maurten Sport Gel 100 Box, $44 for a pack of 12
Founded in 2015, Maurten has been an athlete-favorite for years now. (Hellen Obiri and Lelisa Desisa are two notable runners who rely on Maurten.) With 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving, this pouch packs untapped energy that’s just waiting for you to say “go.”
Shop now: Maurten Sport Gel 100 Box, $44 for a pack of 12
2. Honey Stinger Organic Waffle, $23 for a pack of 15
These waffles are a personal favorite of mine because along with looking forward to my run, I also get to look forward to my pre-mileage waffle. They taste great but they also get the job done: Each one contains 21 grams of carbs and no caffeine for those (like me) who have sensitive running stomachs.
Shop: Honey Stinger Organic Waffle, $23 for a pack of 15
Fueling on the run
If the distance on your calendar will only take between 30 and 45 minutes, Green says you can skip this fueling step. It’s really just the longer stretches of non-stop running that will require you to take a snack or two with you. “Ninety minutes or more is probably where you’re going to want to start experimenting with fueling,” says Green. “And normally, you’ll want to start off keeping it simple and splitting it down the middle. So if you’re doing a 10-mile long run, at the five-mile mark, try a gel and see how it makes you feel over the second half of your workout or run.”
As you take on more mileage, you can tweak how many times you reach for a little something to eat until you find that fueling tempo that works for you. Here are a few of your options:
1. Hüma Energy Gels Plus, $2.50 each
The electrolytes in this pouch come from natural ingredients like sea salt and coconut. Unlike many gels on the market, this option is also completely vegan—so plant-based runners need not worry about hidden gelatin.
Shop now: Hüma Energy Gels Plus, $2.50 each
2. Gatorade Endurance Carb Energy Chews, $20 for 23 packs
Does anyone else think Gatorade suddenly tastes like ambrosia on race day? Well, stick a package of these in your running belt and you’ve got all the goodness packed into chews that you can reach for whenever you need some energy fireworks late into a long Sunday run day.
Shop now: Gatorade Endurance Carb Energy Chews, $20 for 23 packs
“For recovery, the carbs and protein are the two big things, so you can get a lot of those drinks or powders that mix into your water now that are pretty carbohydrate and electrolyte-rich,” says Green. “Those are going to be the ones that you really want to get into your system within about 30 minutes of finishing off a hard workout or a race.” You’ll find what works best for you, but generally speaking, Green says these snacks should be between 100 and 300 calories to give your body what it needs to reboot. (If your choice contains less, consider eating it with another snack like a bowl of Greek yogurt, a smoothie, or a half-cup of oatmeal.)
The power of hydration also can’t be understated. Sipping enough water after your workout essentially help you close the loop in your training cycle so that you recover from what you just did and gear up for your next effort. “Exercise performance is impaired when you are dehydrated by as little as two percent of your body weight. Losing more than five of body weight from dehydration can decrease the ability to work out by close to 30 percent,” says a representative at Liquid I.V. “Lean muscle in the body is comprised of around 80 percent water, so it requires proper hydration in order to function. This means that for runners, or anyone going for a jog, extra hydration is absolutely essential.”
Here’s the best the market has to offer when it comes to recovery and hydration:
1. Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier, $14 for 6 servings
You did your run—now rehydrate. One stick of the Hydration Multiplier packs three glasses worth of hydration, according to the brand, so you can consider yourself two steps ahead in the whole recovery process.
Shop now: Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier, $14 for 6 servings
2. Nuun Rest, $20 for 40 tablets
“We always try to point out that that hydration is the ideal delivery mechanism,” says Vishal Patel, director of product development at Nuun. “To have that right combination of water to electrolytes can help increase the delivery and the rate of the other ingredients in the product. So it has that magnesium in there and that tart cherry that really helps your body recover by decreasing inflammation and decreasing stress and really promoting relaxation.” Consider this a cocktail filled with everything your body needs to regenerate itself before your next run.
Shop now: Nuun Rest, $20 for 40 tablets
Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cult-fave wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.