Is There a Better Mid Race Fueling Option Than a Gel?

When you’re running a long race, whether it’s a half, full, or an ultra, what do you for fuel during the race?

Many runners turn to gels for mid race fueling and nutrition, even though I’ve never met a single runner that enjoys a gel. (Seriously, if you like gels, let me know because I don’t think anyone really does.)

Most longer races provide gels at some point along the course, and I have a suspicion that is part of the reason that runners have flocked to the gels. We all like things that are free, and since they will be handed out for free at races, we train using them in an attempt to “avoid any race day unpleasantness”, if you will.

I took a quick poll in our Facebook Group yesterday, and I got what I expected. A lot of people said that they use gels, but a surprising number also said that they had used gels, but had to switch to another option because of tummy issues.

But what if there was a better option than a mid race gel?

There is.

Mid Race Fueling with Real Food

Use Real Food as Your Mid Race Fueling Choice

I’ve long been a proponent of real food, and gels are about as far from real food as it gets. (Though to be fair, there are some options that do their best to use real ingredients, avoid artificial flavors, dyes, etc.)

By far, the best mid race fueling choice I’ve ever made were taking orange slices that were being handed out during a marathon. I don’t know what it was, but some combination of Vitamin C, natural sugar, and/or citric acid gave me a boost like I’ve never felt while running before. So much so, that I’ve actually carried an orange in my hand during solo long runs before.

Admittedly, carrying an orange is a bit less convenient than tucking a gel packet or two into your belt or pocket, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still use real food as your fuel source for long runs/races.

In the same poll for the Tribe on Facebook yesterday, one guy mentioned that he typically makes his own “gel”, and in doing so he is obviously able to use real ingredients as much as possible.

Another person mentioned carrying some chopped dates, and I think dates, raisons, or any other dried fruit can be a great option since you can easily carry a small bag in a pocket and get that jolt of sugar when you need it most.

Because lets be honest, what your body is craving 18 miles into a marathon is some sugar to use for fuel.

So instead of squeezing some nasty glob of goop into your mouth and choking it down, give your body something it truly knows what to do with: natural sugars from real food sources.

Press play to hear a little bit more about why I try to utilize real food as a mid race fueling strategy, even though I’m far from perfect when it comes to executing.

4 replies
  1. MB
    MB says:

    OK, I have to admit it, I really like Salted Carmel Gu and Peanut Butter Gu! I also like Sport Beans and Honey Stinger Waffles. So, I guess I’m all about the “fake” food 🙂 We actually have a running joke in our Saturday morning group about how much we like the smell of a vanilla gu in the morning 🙂

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      The “fake” stuff is convenient, no question, and I’ still use beans much more often than I’d like to admit.

      But when you say you like the Salted Carmel and PB Gus, do you mean you like them with the qualifier that they are gels, or you just like them in a “I need a snack, oh sweet, there’s a gu” kind of way?

  2. Kat
    Kat says:

    I’ve only ever had one gel so I don’t think I count on that score.

    But I wanted to drop my fave real food fuel in the mix – mixed dried fruit, or just sultanas, lightly sprinkled with sea salt. Absolutely incredible when you’re 16k into a half marathon, and while I find it incredibly challenging to configure my mouth and throat muscles to do anything but breathe that far in, the payoff is so worth it. Mostly I notice the difference in cognitive function – it’s immediate, like waking up and looking around and being able to process more of what’s happening around me again, instead of just being that shuffling zombie.

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      Totally agree. There’s nothing like some real sugars found in dried fruit to help you wake up and keep pressing forward. I’ve never tried adding the sea salt, but I might have to give that a shot!


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