How to Carry Energy Gels During a Marathon

It’s a conundrum only marathoners will understand: how to carry energy gels during a marathon. First of all, you crazy people want to run 26.2 miles—in a row?! AND, to add insult to injury, you want to carry with you tiny sugary gel packets to slurp down while you’re doing this?! It does sound nuts.

But if you want to do well in the marathon, then you better figure out how to store those energy gels. If you have a marathon this fall, starting thinking about this now!! Research shows that runners who fuel early and often during a marathon get to the finish line faster—and recover quicker.

marathon-fueling-strategy
I stuff my energy gels in my sports bra and carry my hydration for my marathon fueling.

But it can be really tricky to find the places to hold these running gels needed to refill your energy stores. Because we aren’t just talking about a couple—we are talking about more than six. The average four-hour marathoner will need to pack at least EIGHT energy gels on their person.

And you want to store them in a way that’s easy to access, won’t weigh you down, and won’t cause chafing.

I remember lining up for the Indy Monumental Marathon in 2019 with my bra stuffed to the brim with six gels. I felt like a middle school girl or a pack mule. It was ridiculous and I was at max capacity. I knew there had to be a better way. And there is.

Below, I am going to cover the best ways to carry energy gels during a marathon.

In this article, I will cover:

  • Why do runners need to take energy gels during a marathon?
  • Can you take an energy gel without water?
  • How many energy gels do you need during a marathon?
  • When to start taking energy gels during a marathon?
  • And 8 ways to carry energy gels during a marathon

I recommend checking out my list of the best running gels here, my guide to picking the best energy gel for you, and my marathon fueling strategy for my 2:54 marathon.

Ok, let’s go!

What is an energy gel?

best-energy-gels
Energy gels contain about 30 grams of carbs per packet.

Energy gels are gels usually a concentrated amount of carbohydrates, about 25-30 grams per package, in the form of simple sugars. They are easily taken in and digested so that they can fuel your running while you’re running.  

Why do runner need energy gels during a marathon?

Runners need energy gels during a marathon to fuel their bodies for running for hours. Your body uses mostly glycogen (carbs) to fuel marathon running but only has about two hours worth of glycogen stores. Taking in energy gels with glycogen allows your body to use these carbohydrate stores for longer.

The research also shows that intaking energy gels or fuel during a marathon also improves recovery.

Related: How to Recover Faster from a Marathon

Can you take energy gels without water?

There are some energy gels called hydrogels or isotonic gels that are premixed with water that you can take without water such as Maurten gels or SIS gels.

These running gels give you freedom to take an energy gel anywhere on the course. However, it’s still important to intake water or a sports drink throughout the race. Check out my hydration guide here.

Related: Top Sports Drinks for Runners

how to carry gels during marathon pin
Pin these tips on how to carry energy gels during your marathon for later!

 

How many gels do I need for a 4 hour marathon?

You need about eight energy gels for a 4 hour marathon. However, most energy gels recommend taking a gel at the start of the race as you line up (about 15 minutes before). Therefore, a four-hour marathoner will need about 9 energy gels total for race day.

Studies show that most runners need about 60 grams of carbohydrates an hour. On average, energy gels have about 30 grams of carbs. (But read the label as energy gel contents do vary). That means you need about two energy gels per hour of running.

Therefore, here is how many energy gels you will need depending on your expected marathon finish time:

  • Energy gels for 6 hour marathon: 12 gels + 1 at the start
  • Energy gels for 5 hour marathon: 10 gels + 1 at the start
  • Energy gels for 4 hour marathon: 8 gels + 1 at the start
  • Energy gels for 3 hour marathon: 6 gels + 1 at the start

Related: How to Predict Your Marathon Time

Again, bear in mind that these are averages. How many gels you take depends on the type of energy gel, weather conditions, gut tolerance, etc.

Related: How to Train Your Gut for Marathon Fueling 

When should I eat gels during a marathon?

Start taking an energy gel every 30 minutes on average of running. Take your first gel before you get to the start line. Get more info on marathon fueling here.

You want to start practicing with energy gels on your long runs lasting more than an hour.

Okay, so how do we carry all these gels during a marathon. You have options!

Related: How I Fueled my 2:54 Marathon

8 Ways to Carry Energy Gels During a Marathon

  1. Pockets

    Whitney Heins in relay active pocket shorts
    Pockets shorts can hold your energy gels and salt tablets.

Thankfully, there are now a plethora of running attire that features pockets that can carry energy gels including sports bras, running shorts, and running tights. Several of these models have individual pockets so you can easily sort your gels.

For example, I like to alternate different brands such as HUMA gel plus with electrolytes and Maurten or UCAN (choice of gels is personal preference that you should experiment with on your long runs!).

I sort them in my pockets so I can easily grab whatever one I want. Typically, I will carry up to four gels in my sports bra pockets and up to four gels in my shorts pockets.

(Save 15% on UCAN with code WHITNEY15).

 Best Sports Bras with Pockets

Get the complete list here.

Best Running Shorts with Pockets

Get the complete list here.

Best Running Tights with Pockets

  1. Safety pins.

If you don’t have pockets, do not fret. First, you can stuff energy gels into your sports bra without pockets. I just don’t like to do this because it can feel uncomfortable rubbing against your sweaty skin.

energy gel carry pin
Pin these tips on how to carry energy gels during your marathon for later!

Second, you can pin energy gels into the waistband of your running shorts. To do this, stick the safety pin through the top of the gel. Pin on the outside of your shorts waistband, then fold inward so that it is against your leg. When you need the gel, flip it out and tug it off the safety pin. Watch a video on how to do this here.

  1. Hydration pack or hydration vest.

If you run with a hydration pack or a hydration vest, you can store your energy gels along with your fluids in these. Typically Hydration packs like this Camelbak pack and hydration vests like this Nathan Hydration Pack come with multiple pockets for easy storage.

  1. Water bottle and hand.

If you have an overflow of energy gels or don’t need too many, you can always just hold additional gels in your hand and if you run with a water bottle, in your bottle. For the Carmel Marathon, I ran with four energy gels in my sports bra and then had one in my Nathan water bottle and held the other one.

This allows you to easily access your gels and keep them sorted. Some people use a rubber band to secure gel packs so they don’t have to waste energy holding them.

  1. Running belt or fanny pack.

Many runners use a race belt, running belt or fanny pack to store their gels and personal items such as phones, keys, and credit cards. These belts fit around your waist and allow gels and items to be compressed against your body, so they don’t flop around when running.

The most popular brand of running belt is the Flip Belt (which also offers hydration belts that hold small water bottles) and the most popular brand of a running fanny pack is the the Janji Multipass Swing Bag.

  1. Arm sleeves.

If it’s a cold race and you’re wearing arm sleeves, you can tuck energy gels into your arm sleeves. These make it easy to grab the gels with the opposite hand. Most runners can comfortable fit two energy gels per sleeve.

Related: How to Adjust Your Race for Bad Weather

  1. Under your hat.

Similarly, if it’s an especially hot or cold race and you’re wearing a running hat or winter hat, you can stick one or two energy gels packets into the side of your hat. Be sure to try to this out and make sure it’s a comfortably snug fit.

  1. On the course.

carry energy gels during a marathon instagram post
There are lots of options for how to carry your energy gels during a marathon

Most marathon will have energy gels at aid stations. If none of these options to carry energy gels during a marathon appeal to you, research the energy gels the race will offer and practice with them on long runs. Whatever you do, be sure you have a nutrition plan nailed down ahead of time.

Related: 26 Tips for Going 26.2!

Whatever you decide, be sure to practice your nutrition plan to eradicate any stomach issues along with your storage plan on longer runs to ensure it works well for you. You don’t want to spend extra energy trying get your energy gels on race day!

If you want guidance with your running goals including for a marathon, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:

 

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