Nutrition and Hydration Products: When You Should Take It, How Much You Should Take, and the Difference Between Gels and Chews


Race season is approaching in Baltimore and runners are likely to see or hear their peers talking or posting on social media about running nutrition supplements, leaving some scratching their heads asking themselves questions such as:

  1. Should I be taking nutrition?

  2. What type of nutrition should I be taking?

  3. When should I take it?

  4. How much should I take?

  5. What's the difference between gels, chews, and bars?

Nutritional running fuel comes in an assortment of textures and flavors is generally loaded with carbohydrates. This is because a runner’s primary fuel sources are carbohydrates(in the form of blood glucose and glycogen) and fats. When your body runs out of its carbohydrate resources, you’ll be forced to slow down.

Taking additional nutritional supplements and hydration mixes can prevent hitting a physical "wall". Buth with amount of options these days, answering the above questions can be tricky.

In this article we tapped into our sales staff to answer our customer's most frequently asked questions about nutrition.

Let's begin.

Should I be taking race nutrition?

It depends. While everybody is different, race fuel or nutrition becomes essential for most runners after 60 minutes of running.

The average runner will deplete his or her carbohydrate and glycogen reserve around this time, failing to account for additional nutritional intake during the race. This is one of the main reasons many marathoners “bonk” or hit the “wall” around the 17-20 mile mark.

How much should I take?

This question, along with the next, are the two most frequently asked questions we receive. The answer depends on how long you will be running and your specific training goals.

Note: The amount of carbohydrates needed can be accumulated using any of our performance nutrition products, we just used Gatorade Endurance as an example for most. Just simply look at the nutritional facts and divide the serving size to get the exact amount you need. 

Let's break it down.

1-2 hours of running.

For one to two hours of running, the professionals at Gatorade Endurance currently recommends consuming 30 grams of carboyhydrates per hour.

Using performance nutrition products, you can accumulate this amount drinking 12 ounces of Gatorade Endurance formula (22 grams of carbs) combined with eating the following: one (1) CLIF BLOKS chew (8 grams of carbs), or two (2) Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (~8 grams of carbs) per hour.

If you're not drinking Gatorade Endurance, you can eat one (1) GU Energy Gel in combination with 12 ounces of nuun electrolyte hydration mix per hour to replace electrolytes.

For 2-3 hours of running.

For two to three hours of running, it is recommended you consume 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

To attain this amount, you'll have to consume more. For example, you could consume two Gatorade Endurance Energy Gels or GU Energy Gels plus 6 ounces of Gatorade Endurance Formula, plus 1 Gatorade Endurance chew or CLIF BLOKS energy chew or two Honey Stinger Organic Chews per hour.

For 3+ hours of running.

This applies to bulk of marathon runners. For 3+ hours of running it is recommended you consume 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

One way of accumulating this amount is drinking 24 ounces (42 grams of carbs) of Gatorade Endurance Formula combined with two Gatorade Endurance Energy Gels or two GU Energy Gels (~ 40 grams of carbs) combined with one Gatorade Endurance chew or CLIF BLOKS chew (~8 grams of carbs).

When should I take my nutrition product?

As mentioned below, throughout your training, you should be taking notes of how each nutrition product makes you feel. Keeping notes throughout training will help you understand you body and its energy levels. Knowing this will help you guage when to start taking your nutrition.

For example, if throughout your training you consistently feel like you're losing energy around mile 7, start to consume one of the above "nutrition plans" around mile 5-6 so you avoid that potential crash.

The idea is that your energy levels should be level and consistent. Avoid extreme highs and lows by spacing your consumption out. The above plans are to be consumed per hour, so remember to space the consumption out.

What type of race nutrition should I be taking?

The type of nutrition you take is dependent on how you feel. We all store fat and glycogen differently and utilize the storage at different rates. Therefore, when it comes to sports nutrition, what works for your friend might not work for you. Experimenting with timing, serving size, and product takes time.

We recommend using a trial and error method with different types of nutrition while training. Use a notepad or a "notes" app in your phone and create a log of how you feel during the consumption of a new nutrition product and after taking a specific product. This way you can tailor a nutrition plan that suits you and get comfortable with nutrition so you know what to expect come race day.

Navigating the nutrition wall at one of our stores can seem like a daunting task. There are varying amount of calories, carbohydrates, sugars, and more in each product. These ingredients are then packed into four consistencies for consumption: Gels, chews, hydration, and bars.

If I'm losing calories while I run, how much should I be consuming?

What's the difference between all those gels, chews, bars, and hydration mixes?

Below we break down the four essential nutrition types and one bonus product, giving you a quick summary, ingredient breakdown, the benefits of the ingredients, and when to take them. While we try to give you a comprehensive rundown, we highly recommend coming into our store, talking with one of our experience associates, and working together to find a solution for you.


Gels or “goo” are solid carbohydrate and are usually sold in single-use packets, usually containing 100 calories. They are thick syrups and are intended to be washed down with a small amount of water.

Gels are a great option for a few reasons. Some athletes find it difficult to actually ingest large amounts of a sports drink without suffering from bloating and fullness. Gels are much more energy-dense than sports drinks, and this in turn makes it a lot more manageable to hit high levels of carbohydrate intake during a marathon or other long-distance event. Lastly, gels come in an array of flavors and are easy to transport in a pocket. Ultimately, gels pack a large punch in a small package, making it a fan favorite.

It is generally recommended you take one gel packet 15 minutes before activity and take one packet every 45 minutes thereafter.

Brands we carry include GU Energy Gels, and Huma Chia Energy Gel. While most ingredients are similar between brands, the types of sugar, consistency, and caffeine amount used vary .

Similar to liquid gels, chews are “solids” are sugary, carbohydrate-dense chewable foods that much resemble fruit snacks for kids and should be followed by a swig or two of water.

Chews have their place over gels. The solid consistency is familiar and more easy to digest, while some find syrupy gels difficult to stomach. Chews are less messy and give the runner the option to pick their serving size, and stash the rest for later, but they also take up more room in your pocket or waist pack.

Nutritionally speaking, chews carry similar ingredients to gels. Some pack even more carbohydrates than gels, but in multiple serving sizes. Most chews contain caffeine for an extra energy boost combined with a substantial amount of sugar.

It is generally recommended to eat one packet every hour during activity. Similar to gels, you can also take one or two chews 15 minutes before activity so they will kick in when you need them, depending on your fitness level.

The two brands of chews we carry are Gu Energy Chews and Honey Stinger Energy Chews in an assortment of flavors.


Bars might be the most delicious nutrition option and also the most versatile. Bars are fully-solidified food bars that can also be referred to as protein bars or energy bars. They are packed with carbohydrates, sodium(which you’ll be losing with sweat), sugar(sometimes both natural or unnatural), and depending on the bar, protein.

Bars may be the easiest on the taste buds, they also are harder to consume during your run, especially on warm days, they won’t digest as quickly as a gel or chew, and they are harder to store in your pocket or belt.

The difficult part about choosing when to eat bars, is that not all bars are created equal. Some bars do not contain protein, making them a good option for quick energy. You can eat one of these 15 minutes before activity and supplement it with a gel or chew every 45-60 minutes thereafter. If you choose to not eat a bar before activity and choose your go-to pre-race breakfast, you can eat a bar mid-race, just keep in mind how your stomach will react to potential protein and fiber. Lastly, bars make a great post-race recovery nutrition option due to the protein, which helps repair muscles.

We currently carry four brands of bars. The GU StroopwafelGeneration UCAN Snack Bars and HoneyStinger Waffles.

Generation UCAN's bar just hit the market in Cinnamon Swirl and Coffee Bean flavors, both include UCAN's patented SuperStarch carbohydrate.

Hydration Formulas

Obviously, hydration is the most important nutrient in running and water is a great way to stay hydrated but with today’s nutritionists, there are flavorful formulas that pack a greater punch than water.

Hydration formulas contain an abundance of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium) will help alleviate cramps, help muscles function, communicate and burn energy efficiently. Formulas also contain carbohydrates, allowing the body to absorb the carbohydrates at a quick rate, providing quick fuel and helping to replenish electrolytes to the body that are lost during perspiration. Formulas usually come in powder or tablet form, allowing you to have time to prepare your concoction the night before.

For activity lasting longer than 60 minutes, it is recommended to use a formula with added supplements rather than water. Drink small amounts of hydration formula every 10 to 15 minutes, while hydrating with water regularly days and hours leading up to your event and after your event.

We carry three hydration formulas, nuun, Tailwind, and Skratch Labs. Nuun is an easy fizzable tablet and easy to carry.... Tailwind gives you everything you need when mixed with water and Skratch Labs offers a full serving of fruit in one serving.

nuun's dissolvable tablets are easy to take on the go and also offer a vitamin and caffeine option.

Bonus: Generation UCAN

Generation UCAN’s bar was mentioned in our bar category but its hydration formula deserves a category of its own.

Generation UCAN's revolutionary nutrition delivers steady, long-lasting energy without the spike and crash of sugar-based fuels, due to its unique SuperStarch carbohydrate in UCAN that was originally developed for kids with a life threatening blood sugar disease. SuperStarch allows the body to tap into fat stores while providing steady glucose levels similar to how a hybrid car that runs on battery power but can also tap into its gas tank as needed.

Its ability to deliver large amounts of sustained carbohydrates while including 0 grams of sugar is what sets Generation UCAN apart.

Drink one serving of Generation UCAN 30 minutes prior to activity for maximum effect or ingest UCAN with protein immediately after hard sessions to allow the body to reduce carbohydrate intake in the remaining meals while still feeling full and reducing overeating. Most people find doing so helps them keep their weight under control.

What about hydration? I'm not training with an electrolyte mix. How much water should I be consuming?

According to TrainingPeaks, to most accurately answer this question you must understand your sweat rate and how much drinking is required is by weighing yourself before and after training in the weeks leading up to the marathon. This way, your sweat rate can be calculated by subtracting the weight after from the weight before and adding the volume of fluids consumed. There are various sweat calculator on the internet that will help you do these calculations.

If you are running in similar condition and at a similar pace to the actual marathon, sweat rates will be similar. The cups you receive during a marathon usually contain about 150 ml (5 oz.) and you probably consume about 100 ml of that (3 oz.).

To prevent dehydration, you will have to drink amounts that are similar to your sweat rate. A runner’s stomach can empty about 6 to 7 ounces (180 to 210 ml) of fluid every 15 minutes during running, representing about 24 to 28 ounces (720 to 840 ml) per hour. This, however, can be trained, practiced, and improved if needed.

Why do I need a hydration belt or handheld bottle if there is water on the course or on the Lakefront Trail?

For a few reasons actually.

  1. You know where your water is coming from. Last summer, dozens of water foutains around Chicago were shut off due to high amounts of lead found in the water. 
  2. You can carry a specific hydration mix such as nuun or Gatorade Endurance formula.
  3. You can control when you consume the water, instead of facing the threat of becoming dehydrated when you can't find the next public fountain.

Conclusion: Take Notes.

Finding the right nutrition regime for you is similar to our shoe fit process. Not one product works for everyone. Everyone’s stomach sensitivities and digestive tracts are different and everyone’s tastebuds prefer one flavor over another.

To find what helps your performance, we recommend taking good notes. Make mental and physical notes of what product you try, when you ingest it, when you start to feel effects, and what type of effects you feel. Cross out what doesn’t work for you and stock up on what does work.

Work with our knowledgeable associates. Odds are, they went through their fair share of trial and error with nutrition to find out what works for them and they can help you find what’s right for you.

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