First, for anyone out there thinking what are energy gels? Let’s get that bit out the way:
Energy gels are little sachets of liquid that are usually made up of carbohydrates, sugar, electrolytes. sometimes protein and a lot of the time caffeine is thrown in there too, it all depends on the brand (which, by the way, there are sooooo many of). Typically they’re consumed by runners on long runs or cyclists on a big ride, usually when food can’t be eaten and energy is crucial.
The gels are essentially designed to replenish the energy and fuel we burn off whilst we run. And they sound great – a liquid gel that is small, easy to carry and that will refuel you on-the-go? Amazing. Perfect. Fan-bloody-tastic. Sign me up.
BUT. I began to hear stories. Horror stories, about gels that make runners poop themselves; apparently something to do with the caffeine and certain unnatural ingredients, or so I was told. And if you’ve read my training diaries, you’ll know a run-poop is a bit of a fear of mine! So, terrified of not only pooping myself on a training run but potentially crapping my own pants during the Paris Marathon, in front of thousands of people, I decided to take the advice of a friend and go for a more natural gel. Enter, STEALTH.
Water, Maltodextrin, Banana (20%), Sticky Rice Starch, Fructose, Acidity Regulator (Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate), Natural Flavouring, Preservatives (Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate), Sodium Chloride, Natural Sweetener (Stevia), Gelling Agent (Gellan Gum).
STEALTH offer energy products made using real fruit and without caffeine*. I wanted to try whatever would be kindest to my body and after reading the ingredients of the STEALTH Real Fruit Energy Gels, I decided to buy a pack, purchasing 11 in one go for £11.64, the Banana flavoured, obvs. The gels are essentially made up of sugar, real bananas (STEALTH claim: “we know, we peeled them”) and sticky rice starch, full ingredients above.
Lets first talk about the taste. A friend of mine had said she wasn’t a fan, and I’d heard they were quite sweet and uncomfortably sticky. But I’ll be honest, they were nowhere near as sticky as I imagined them to be and I actually quite liked the taste (at first) but I do have an exceptionally sweet tooth. The colour did look a little off putting when I first tore a sachet open (to call this ‘bright yellow’ would an understatement) but overall I was initially happy with the flavour.
As for their actual productivity….Did they fuel me up? Was I pumping five minutes after consumption and raring to go?
But it’s a tricky one. Because whilst that may be how energy gels are sold and marketed to us, I don’t think that is how they all actually work. When running long distance, especially a marathon, we use sooooo much energy and we need it replaced. By taking these carbohydrate gels we are merely replacing what we’ve replenished, not necessarily storing for later. The energy we put back in the tank is being used straight away at a pretty fast pace.
For my final two long training runs of 18 miles and then 20 miles, I took two gels on each, and I can report that I didn’t feel any surge of energy or like they had really boosted me…. But they must have, as I was able to hit new long-distance targets on both runs, targets that a few weeks earlier seemed impossible. Was that down to my training? My endurance? Or was it the gels?
Right before my marathon, I decided to research a little further into energy gels, both the STEALTH gels and energy gels generally. What I discovered is that a) quite often the people that get diarrhoea and poop themselves when using energy gels are the ones who don’t foolishly drink enough water and become hydrated. Dehydration + energy gels = diarrhoea disaster! So maybe I could use the caffeine gels, as long I’m sensible and drink lots of water, maybe they would give me the boost I craved at around 16 miles. And b) STEALTH is a product mainly used by cyclist’s, and although runners can also use them, it’s not as popular a gel in the running community as it is in the cycling community or compared to other brands.
Uh-oh, I began to wonder if maybe I should have gone with a different brand for my Marathon. Of course by this point it was too late too swap, it was right before the Marathon and the biggest Race Day Rule is: Don’t Try Anything New! It’s too risky. So I stuck to my STEALTH.
Come Marathon day, I packed four gels into my little running bumbag, with the intention of only actually taking three and one as a spare.
I took all four.
And it was not nice.
I’d only ever taken two on a run, but due to unforeseen things happening on a race day, in this case the weather being nearly 25 degrees and the highest I’d ever trained in was 16, I felt much more exhausted much quicker than usual so took my first early. It felt fine, so did my second. But as I took my third at mile 17, the sweet flavour I had once liked suddenly made me feel sick. Really really sick. It was too much, just waaaaaay too sweet. I wanted thirst quenching, wet liquid in my mouth and this suddenly felt like I was shovelling about twenty fizzy sweets into my gob. I only had about half of the sachet before chucking the rest away.
About five minutes later I noticed my stomach felt ridiculously bloated. I was trying to rub it, trying to drink loads of water, I was even trying to run off to the sides to do little baby farts, but nothing was working and the bloating didn’t begin to go down until mile 20, mile bloody 20! That was a good 25 minutes of running with a bloated tummy. Not fun!
It completely put me off the sachets and as I digested the third I vowed not to touch my fourth, but at around mile 23, with just two miles to go and feeling like my legs were going to give up at any second, I took the fourth gel. I was desperate. At this point I really wished I had a different brand of gels. I needed a boost, I needed a surge of energy. I completely appreciated that I was refuelling with natural ingredients and with real fruit, but in that moment I wanted caffeine, I wanted power, I wanted the drugs!
As I reached the finish line, I was able to sprint the last 100 yards or so, something that had seemed impossible at mile 23, maybe it was down to STEALTH? Or perhaps it was down to pure adrenaline, as both my mind and body were one big bag of emotions and shock as I stumbled closer and closer to the end of a challenge I had been training months for.
To be honest, I think STEALTH probably did play a part in helping me finish my first ever marathon, in a time of 04:47:17, it did what it said it would, which is: sustain intense muscular activity. So well done STEALTH energy gels and Thanks for all the help …. however, I also found that my bloated tummy was on and off for a few days after the marathon, and my, ahem, poop situation got a bit dodge (blockage – not nice) but whether this was down to STEALTH or down to the marathon itself, I’m not sure. I think next time I might try a different brand, maybe one less sweet and possibly with caffeine. I guess it’s just important to remember to stay super-hydrated whilst using and to train with them for a while first.
What do you think?
Any runners out there know a product they think will work better? Let me know in the comments below…
*Some products may contain caffeine, but not all, please check before purchasing.