You’ve trained for months, sacrificed weekends, and pushed your body to new limits, preparing for your upcoming marathon. But in those preparations, did you account for the one thing that can make or break your race — nutrition? Specifically, how many Energy Gels do you need to fuel your 26.2-mile journey and distinguish yourself from the other 1.1 million people who run a marathon yearly?
This guide outlines how many gels marathon runners need based on pace and experience level. Follow these recommendations to boost your stamina and help you glide through those miles feeling strong and energised.
Understanding Your Energy Needs for a Marathon
As an endurance athlete, a proper marathon eating plan is key. You’ve put in the training; now give your body the race-day nutrition and primary fuel it needs to get you across that finish line. For most runners, that means consuming energy gels — those little packets of goo that provide an easy energy boost.
But how many gels do marathon runners truly need to include in their marathon training diet?
That depends on a few factors, including your weight, training level, and desired pace. As a general rule of thumb, aim for 2–3 gels every hour to keep your energy levels steady and avoid the dreaded “wall.” For a 4+ hour marathon, that works out to 8–12 gels. While that seems like a lot, your body is burning through an enormous amount of fuel, so you need to keep replenishing.
Of course, not all gels are created equal. Look for gels with multiple carb sources like maltodextrin and fructose, electrolytes, and caffeine for an extra kick. We have a range of options at HIGH5, so you can find ones that taste good and are easy on your stomach.
The most important thing is not to skimp on fuel during those final miles when your energy starts lagging. Stay on schedule with your sports drinks and push through — you’ll be crossing the finish line before you know it!
Our Recommended Energy Gel Marathon Nutrition Plan
Some marathon runners may choose to consume a couple of gels around the 17-mile mark for an energy boost. However, this only provides a brief surge of energy.
A more effective marathon week meal plan is to consume a carbohydrate-rich breakfast with some healthy fats in the morning. Then, 2 or 3 gels right from the start of the race and continue with a similar dosage every hour.
This approach ensures a steady supply of carbohydrates throughout the marathon, allowing you to maintain a consistent energy level. By the 17-mile mark, you should have a significant carbohydrate reserve remaining, setting you up for a strong finish.
Take your second and third round of gel around miles 7–12 and 13–17, and choose a flavour you know you enjoy to keep you motivated. The sugar rush will give you an energy boost, while the electrolytes help dehydration symptoms under the harsh sun.
As you approach the final stretch around miles 18–22, take another round of gel to combat fatigue and give your legs the fuel they need to carry you to the finish. For the last round, opt for a caffeinated variant for an extra kick to power through.
Crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles is an incredible feeling of accomplishment. With the right nutrition plan, you’ll have the energy to raise your arms in victory as you complete your marathon. As a bonus, here’s a comprehensive marathon diet plan to ensure you’re well-prepared.
How to Calculate Your Gel Requirements
Here are some tips to help calculate your requirements:
- Factor in your pace: The faster you run, the more gels you’ll need. If you’re aiming for under 4 hours, plan 3 gels every 30–45 minutes. For 4–5 hours, have 2 every 45–60 minutes. Over 5 hours, you can probably get by with 1 or 2 every hour. The gels provide carbohydrates to keep your energy and blood sugar up, which prevents fatigue and “hitting the wall.”
- Consider your body size: Runners with larger body sizes typically need more fuel and must adopt the proper nutrition for running a marathon. If you’re over 90 kg, add an extra gel to the recommendations above unless you’re trying to lose weight. Runners with a lower body weight can often get by on slightly less. You know your body best, so go with what feels right for you.
- Train with gels: The only way to really know how many gels to take for a marathon is to try different amounts during your training schedule. Start with the recommended marathon runner diet plan above, but adjust based on how you feel. If you hit the wall or struggle with fatigue at the end, you probably need an extra gel or two for your marathon. Practice makes perfect, so try gels on multiple long runs to decipher your ideal combination.
- Have extra gels handy: It’s always a good idea to carry an extra gel or two, just in case. Your marathon or intense training may be unpredictable; you may hit an unexpected wall or just need an extra boost. Stash a few extra gels in your gel belt or pockets, so you have them if needed. You’ll feel more confident knowing you have that backup fuel in case of emergencies.
Carrying and Consuming Gels During Your Marathon
During those final miles, marathon gels can make your race a success. As your glycogen stores start to deplete, gels provide an easy source of carbs to keep you going strong. But how do you carry and consume them without disrupting your stride?
We’ve put together the following tips to help you out:
Most gels come in small packets that are easy to carry.
You have the following options:
- Tuck 2–3 gel packs into the pockets of your running shorts: This keeps them within easy reach but may be uncomfortable for some.
- Use a gel belt or armband designed to hold gel packs and other nutrition: These are lightweight and breathable and can contain as many gels as needed.
- Pin gel packs to your race bib using large safety pins: This prevents dropping or fumbling for gels but may not be the most stable method.
- Have a family member or friend hand you gels at predetermined points along the course: Make sure they know your planned gel schedule so they can meet you with the right products at the right times.
Practice consuming marathon energy gels during your long training run so you have a system down for race day.
The following tips can come in handy:
- Slow down to a walk while extracting a gel from its packaging: Fumbling with a gel packet at a high pace can cause you to drop it or get the gel all over your hands. To avoid sticky fingers, consider opting for our Energy Gel Refill, which comes with a reusable gel flask.
- Take small sips of water with your gel to aid digestion and avoid an upset stomach: Even if you don’t feel thirsty, a few gulps of H2O will help your body process the gel’s nutrients.
- Start with a small bite of the gel to make sure your stomach tolerates it before squeezing the entire packet into your mouth: Gels generally don’t cause GI issues, but in the heat of a marathon, it’s best to be cautious.
- Toss your used gel packets in trash bags or receptacles provided along the course: Avoid dropping them on the ground to prevent slips. By properly disposing gel packets for recycling, you’re also contributing your quota to a green environment.
With the proper number of gels, proper means of carrying them, and an efficient consumption strategy, you’ll have the energy you need to run strong from start to finish. You’ve put in the training; now fuel your marathon success with a healthy diet of energy gels.
Top Gel Flavours and Caffeine Options From HIGH5
Nothing beats the burst of energy from your favourite gel flavour during those gruelling miles of a marathon. As an avid runner, you know the importance of a marathon nutrition plan. But with so many options, you’ll need a guide to choose the right one.
Here are some of our top picks for a healthy marathon training diet:
1. Caffeine Kick
For an extra oomph, choose a gel with about 30 mg of caffeine, like HIGH5’s Energy Gel Caffeine or Energy Gel Aqua Caffeine. The caffeine provides a boost in alertness and concentration so you can focus on your pace and form. The burst of energy from the carbs and caffeine may be just what you need for that final stretch.
2. Fruity Refreshment
If you prefer a fruitier pick-me-up without the kick, the HIGH5 Energy Gel Mixed Flavour—a mixture of fast-absorbing carb energy with real fruit juice—is a great choice. Flavours like Banana and Orange give you an all-natural sugar rush to reinvigorate your muscles. The refreshing taste helps motivate you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
3. Tropical Twist
For a refreshing, fruity boost, HIGH5 Energy Gel Electrolyte combines tropical flavours with carb energy and electrolytes. The zesty, tropical taste leaves your mouth feeling refreshed and doubles as a fast-absorbing energy source to fuel your marathon. This formula offers more than just carbs; it helps replenish lost minerals and is vegetarian-friendly!
With so many refreshing flavours for your marathon running diet plan, you’ll have the motivation and fuel you need to achieve your goals. So, try out a few different gels to find your perfect match and stock up so you never run out of steam. Keep putting one foot in front of the other — the finish line awaits!
Frequently Asked Questions
How to carry food during a marathon?
The best ways to carry food during a marathon are with bum bags, gel belts, backpacks, vests, or fanny packs. They’re great for storing some additional energy gels, powders, or chews. Most importantly, ensure you calculate how much fuel you need for the marathon and bring enough with you to power you through the race.
Energy Gel formulas are compact, easy to open, and can be consumed on the go, making them ideal for long-distance running.
How many HIGH5 gels for a marathon?
A marathon typically lasts 4–5 hours for most runners. HIGH5 recommends consuming 2–3 Energy Gels every hour during the endurance exercise. This translates to about 8–12 gels for a 4-hour marathon or 10–15 gels for a 5-hour marathon.
How long can I run without gels?
How long you can run without gels varies depending on how fast you can run and how far you’re running. During half marathons, the human glycogen stores typically start depleting at about 1.5 hours, while running a marathon will bring glycogen levels to zero at about 2 hours.
For shorter runs like 5K and 10K, gels aren’t necessary as your body won’t start using the energy from them until about 45 minutes to an hour into digestion. Therefore, gels should only be considered for runs lasting well over an hour.
Do you need water with HIGH5 gels?
High 5 Energy Gels are designed to be consumed without water, as they have a smooth consistency. However, staying hydrated during exercise is crucial, so it’s advisable to drink water during your run, too. Remember, the gel provides energy but not hydration, so water intake remains important. Runners who prefer gels with a water-like consistency should opt for the Energy Gell Aqua or Energy Gel Refill.
Now that you know how many gels marathon runners need for optimal performance, it’s time to lace up your running shoes, pin on your race number, and head to the start line. You’ve put in the miles, endured the sweat and tears, and now stand ready to achieve a new personal best. A great refuelling strategy with HIGH5 Energy Gels can make all the difference and help you finish strong. We recommend incorporating these formulas into your training plan to help you determine how many sachets you’ll need for your marathon.
For a comprehensive approach to your race day preparation, explore nutrition for marathon success to ensure you're fully fueled from start to finish.