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Running Foods: Eating that First Gu

Running Foods
Eating That First GuHow you eat it can set the tone for how you train with it.

By Alix Shutello

The instructions to my student were very simple. When she gets to mile 4 of her 7-mile run she is to literally stop and take out the little packet she’s been carrying in her pocket.

“Open it slowly and take a little of it.  Then, drink some water so you don’t gag.”

In order to eat a gu, gel, or any running food for the first time there are many considerations. Do you want to try a few brands when you are not running to see which one you like? Do you want to trust you’ll just like the chocolate one and squeeze the whole thing in your mouth so see if you can actually swallow all of it at the same time? (Note: I do not recommend this). Should you eat it slowly? How or when?

Taking gus, gels, gummies, or other running foods for we long distance runners is just part of the drill.  If you are doing long slow distance runs longer than 6 miles or are running for more than an hour incorporating these products into you running regime is important; it’s not like one can run for an hour or two with any caloric intake, it’s just that once you have run for over an hour your glycogen stores have been reduced significantly and replacing calories before you start to run out of fuel can help your training. Also, if you completely run out of fuel you’ll just stop like a car out of gas.

I am training for a 10-miler and while I’ve done a few 7 mile runs without taking any calories I notice that at the end of the run I am pretty depleted (meaning I am ravenous the rest of the day to the point of it being annoying). I don’t feel like I am depleted other than needing water especially if I did the run correctly as a long, slow run where I did not push it too fast.  When I am training for a race, for me it’s about learning when to best take a gel or gu while I am moving – so I practice on my long, slow days so that on race day, taking a gu or two will be a seemless process. I’ve been doing this for years, however, so I have my process down but I do like to try taking foods at different times during my run to see how my body reacts to the added fuel.

When To Take “Aid”

According to my RRCA Coaches Training Certification booklet, it is recommended that runners take some form of fluid on runs longer than 30 minutes. Carbohydrates and electrolytes from gus, gels, and sports drinks are needed for races especially for races that are over 2 hours. However, for races as long as the 10-miler; I recommend that you take water every few miles and ingest a gu or two over the course of the race  (and if you find you cannot stomach the gu, make sure you get enough of whatever sports drink if offered). It certainly will prevent you from bonking in a race that one can run with stamina as I consider a 10-mile a stamina race that can be done with some speed.

The process is usually quite simple. I wait until about 5 miles out and then just resolve myself to the fact that for the next several seconds I am going opening a gu and eating it slowly for the next several minutes. I incorporate the step of taking a few sips of water all while running, and getting a process down that I will comfortable with when I actually race. And during the race, I will be doing this very quickly.

Which Do I Try First?

Preferably, you don’t want a gu that stimulates anything other than more energy. This means, to be blunt, you don’t want to stimulate your digestive system otherwise you’ll be squatting behind a bush or car somewhere and that can be traumatic to say the least (for everyone involved!) so try a few when you are not running (or near a bathroom) in the event your bowls are stimulated more than your legs. Ah this is so fun.

I recommend that if you try a poduct that has caffeine that you refrain from drinking coffee before you run. I refrain from the caffeinated brands because I like to have coffee before my morning runs. Ingesting more caffeine during my run will just upset my stomach; and even if it doesn’t, I am not looking for a caffeine high during my runs. I am looking to give my body 100 calories when I am feeling low on sugar. That said, many or these have caffeine in them anyway but you can find brands that don’t or if your body can take it, you’ll probably be fine. It’s not like you are doing a shot of espresso but you are doing a shot of pure sugar.

What to do with the packaging?

Once you finish your gu stuff it on your body if you are not near a garbage can and throw it away responsibly. I don’t want runners getting a bad rap for being polluters. Then again, on race day, all bets are off; just don’t throw your packaging at another runner!

To find an interesting blog discussion on gu and gel consumption to:

Alix is a certified running coach




  1. Pingback: Reader Question: HELP! Where Do I Start? | Running Foodie - June 2, 2011

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