So our latest podcast on Endurance Lab coaches corner is available: Getting rough in a group, how to practice for this and own your space and then the main topic of gels; what are they, how do we use them, should we use them in training and what about natural foods?
Check out our complete podcast playlist here:
On the coaches corner we always advocate using real foods in training and in our diets when possible (except for race nutrition practice, which is important). Gels, the better formulated ones do play a role in racing. The better ones are formulated to optimise absorption and oxidation rates, to be easily carried, to minimize gastro issues and to not taste too sweet. Many also contain electrolytes and some contain amino acids and caffeine. This is what science says… for most this works.
Do I like that we take straight sugars when the research regarding health says otherwise? Well an ironman isn’t a normal event it is far and fasts and long!
Most people’s stomach digestive function is poor due to sympathetic nervous system drive, and pace and practical run and bike issues make it hard to eat solids and real foods and hot humid weather or body heat compounds these issues; the result being we suffer! Altered digestive function will also create microbial fermentation so gas and wind and more serious digestive side effects may occur with high fructose or fruit products.
So yes for the purposes of a race do what works for you. Slower paced racing can tolerate more solids and real foods but the faster intensities due to how our bodies function will not be able to tolerate foods requiring complex digestion and so gels and liquids are superior.
What do I do? In the podcast I mentioned that my goal for future races is to use more gels. Not because I am a fan of straight sickly gels but because after 4 years of exploring combos of real foods and products like drinks and bars I feel that gels do get the sugar where you need it and fast. And I will benefit from this in a race scenario. For all training I choose real food. I have a box of products that are reserved for racing and race nutrition practice and this only gets opened on occasion. At all other times I let real food do the work and this is what I recommend most athletes do.
Honey and maple syrup are often discussed. What do I think?
Well… there is a lot of fake adulterated honey out there and maple “type” syrups are not real maple syrup so first check are you buying the real deal. Even here in Ireland most honey on the shelf is mixed source from EU and non EU states.
Honeygate: How Europe is being flooded with fake honey: here
Secondly honey can be high in fructose and this may create significant gastrointestinal issues due to its osmotic load in the gut and furthermore fructose is metabolised by the liver and so is slower to get to the muscles than glucose and maltodextrin. This is what science says; if you want to try a more natural approach try it before you let the research sway you. I would like to think that our bodies do deal better with natural foods.
Maple syrup that is REAL has a slightly better glucose to fructose ratio. There is nothing wrong with these options but despite being natural they may not suit everyone. But are they better for you; well of course! But you want to race a fast race yeah?
Gels are a means to a fast end… choose the best ones, reserve for racing except for race fuel practice and for the rest of the time EAT REAL FOOD
I hope you enjoy the podcast; I had a few tongue-tied moments but hey that’s me… I’m all in my head!