Alternatives to Gels and Sports Drinks During Marathons

Q I used to do fine with gels and sports drinks during marathons, but recently they have begun to disagree with me. Are there any alternatives I can carry during a marathon so I don’t throw up? – NANCY


A Great question, Nancy. Nothing worse than GI distress during a race. One of the things I tell my athletes is that less is more.

Sometimes it is not the gel or drink, but the quantity consumed. So you may want to try reducing the amount to see if that helps.

Also, a sports drink is a dilute carbohydrate (15 grams per 235mL of liquid), whereas a gel is more concentrated (28-30 grams of carbohydrate in 30mL). So you may want to have more water when you have the gel and see if that helps.

Second: What not to pair. A little carb during a marathon is good thing, but too much may be a recipe for GI disaster. Rule of thumb: 30-60 grams of carbohydrate every hour after the first hour, and you can try 30 grams, not 60. However, I would definitely experiment during training runs.

So, if you really want to try something else, here are some suggestions.

New research on raisins during workouts shows that they compare well to commercial carbohydrate supplements.

You could also try a little packet of honey or honey wands, or even a few sugar cubes instead of the gel.

Do be aware that the sports drinks and gels provide carbohydrate and electrolytes. So if you choose raisins, honey or sugar cubes, you may need to supplement with a sports beverage for the fluid and electrolyte, or water and some salt. A little package of sea salt can be eaten as is, or added to water.

One other thing to consider: Sometimes, the taste of sweet is not as appealing during the race, so consider something more savory instead. You could try a few salted crackers and see how they sit, or even a savory-flavored gel (GU has several).

And even though raisins were used in the study, you could experiment with other dried fruit: dried mango (sweet/tart), tart cherries, and dried cranberries may be options.

Bottom line: There is no one right way to do this, and you really should work on knowing your gut in training runs. You will come up with the list of keepers, and throw-aways, and then become a member of the Good Gut Club on race day. – LESLIE

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