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How can I fuel my run without gels?

Feb 07, 2024

Carbohydrates are the key to optimal performance in endurance running, but relying solely on gels for fuelling doesn't work for everyone. Some runners struggle with the intense flavours, stickiness, and digestive issues associated with gels. In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of maximising fuel tolerance for peak performance, the best types of carbohydrates for fuelling your race, alternative options to gels, and how to practice and plan your race-day nutrition.

What fuel supports best performance?

During competition, the foods and drinks you consume must provide a quick and easily digestible energy source. While they may not be as nutritious as foods chosen at other times, they should be practical, transportable, and tasty. Carbohydrates are the key nutrient for competition as they support high fuel use by muscles, maintain blood sugar levels to minimise fatigue, and spare energy stores to prevent hitting the wall.

For events lasting 45 minutes or longer, consuming carbohydrates during the event can enhance performance. For shorter events up to 75 minutes, small amounts of carbohydrates rinsed or sipped have been shown to reduce perceived effort and improve performance. In longer events, carbohydrate intakes of 30-90g/hr or more are recommended to maximise endurance and maintain your optimal pace. Research indicates that higher carbohydrate intakes are generally associated with better performance.

Why aren’t gels working for me?

There are several reasons why gels may not be working for you:

  1. Lack of gut training: Proper gut training is essential for optimising carbohydrate absorption and reducing the risk of gut issues during endurance events.
  2. Dislike of flavour and/or texture: Some individuals find the intense flavours and stickiness of gels unpalatable, leading to flavour fatigue and reduced fuelling.
  3. Expense: Reliance solely on gels can become expensive, especially for those who train regularly or participate in multiple races. With some gels costing up to $7AUD each, you may spend thousands of dollars fuelling your training for a major event!
  4. Difficulty opening packaging: During high-intensity events, struggling with opening gel packets can be time-consuming and inconvenient.

Some of these challenges can be addressed through gut training protocols, experimentation with different gel brands or flavours, or alternative methods such as transferring gels into a small bottle for easier consumption during the event or creating homemade gel alternatives. But for some people, gels just don’t work!

What options do I have instead of gels?

When the pace is fast, easily transportable options that are quick to open and consume are crucial. Gels can work well for these events, but there are other practical options to consider:

  1. Sports drinks: Sports drinks offer a convenient way to consume carbohydrates, fluids, and electrolytes.
  2. Lollies or sport chews: Lollies or sports chews provide similar nutrition and can serve as a quick source of easily digestible carbohydrates during long runs.
  3. Whole foods: For longer duration events with a slower pace, a wider range of fuelling options becomes viable. Portable food options such as fruits, sandwiches, muesli/sports bars, savoury crackers, rice cakes, biscuits, bakery foods, rice, pasta, potatoes, 2 Minute Noodles and other low-fat, low protein, and low-fibre options can provide sustained energy and combat flavour fatigue.

How can I maximise fuelling for best performance?

For those aiming to consume more than 60g of carbs per hour, including both fructose and glucose in your sports nutrition is important. These sugars utilise different transport mechanisms across the gut, improving carbohydrate absorption. Gut training is crucial to enhance your ability to digest carbohydrates and reduce the risk of gut issues. Additionally, gut training helps upregulate transporters of carbohydrates into muscle cells, maximising fuel utilisation. Consult with an Accredited Sports Dietitian for personalised gut training protocols based on your individual needs, especially when high carbohydrate fuelling is combined with exercise in hot conditions.


Diversifying your fuelling options beyond gels can benefit runners, particularly for longer events. While gels have advantages, they may not suit everyone due to preferences, digestion, or budget. Exploring alternatives like sports drinks, lollies, and whole foods offers practical and easily digestible options. Plan and practice your nutrition strategy, prioritise carbohydrates, and consider gut training. Find what works best for you through experimentation and guidance from an Accredited Sports Dietitian who understands the needs of runners. The road awaits, and incredible adventures are just a fuel choice away!

To book a performance strategy call to discuss the exact steps to perform at your best for your next big event click here!

Download my ebook on carbohydrates to fuel for a PB here!


Jeukendrup A 2014, 'A step towards personalized sports nutrition: carbohydrate intake during exercise', Sports Medicine, vol. 44, supp. 1, S25-S33.

Jentjens RL, Venables MC & Jeukendrup A 2004 'Oxidation of Exogenous Glucose, Sucrose, and Maltose during Prolonged Cycling Exercise', Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 96, iss. 4, pp.1285-1291.

Gonzalez A et al 2010, 'Effect of a pre-exercise energy bar on the acute glycaemic response during treadmill running', British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 103, iss. 10, pp. 1420-1425.

Thomas DT, Erdman KA & Burke LM 2016, 'Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance', Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol.116, iss. 3, pp. 501-528.

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