How to Carry Gels During a Marathon

How to Carry Gels During a Marathon

It is well established that carbohydrate intake during a marathon improves performance. (If you aren’t familiar with carbohydrate guidelines for long runs and races, read this article or listen to this podcast episode.) However, there is one logistical problem: how exactly do you carry enough gels during a marathon? If you’re taking six to eight gels over 26.2 miles, where do you put them all?

How Many Gels Do You Need During a Marathon?

As summarized in a 2022 review in Sports Medicine, the recommended carbohydrate intake for races lasting 2.5 or more hours (such as the marathon) is 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. 

If running gels are your primary carbohydrate source, you will need roughly a gel every 20-30 minutes. The exact timing will vary based on the amount of carbohydrates in your gel, how much you can tolerate, and any other carbohydrates in your sport drink. 

For example, if you are using only GU gels (21 grams of carbs), plus water on the course, you will need one gel every 30 minutes. If you are using Maurten (25 grams) plus sports drink, you will need one gel every 25-30 minutes. Higher-carb gels (such as Precision, SIS Beta, or Neversecond) should be take every 30 minutes. (Read here for a review of different running gels.)

That means a 4-hour marathoner needs 7-8 gels over the course of a marathon. That many gels may seem like a lot, but it will make a difference in your race performance. Avoiding hitting the wall is worth a few ounces in gels!

How to Carry Gels During a Marathon

Shorts with Pockets

Over recent years, shorts with pockets – or storage shorts – have become widely available. These shorts are often developed to stash a smartphone, but the pockets can also hold fuel. Some (such as the Tracksmith and Patagonia shorts) have smaller, unzipped pockets designed to snugly contain gels. 

Personally, I have used a few of these shorts for long runs and marathons. The Tracksmith shorts comfortably contained six Maurten gels (plus an iPhone in the back pocket). 

Women’s Storage Shorts:

Men’s Storage Shorts:

Sports Bra

While pocketed sports bras are only an option for about 50% of runners, they are an option for carrying gels. Some brands created bras that have pockets built into either the front or back of the bra. It’s similar to stashing gels in the front of a sports bra – but with an extra layer to protect from chafing. Alternatively, a pocketed sports bra can store a phone, thus freeing up space in shorts pockets.

Running Belt

Small, discreet running belts buckle around the waist and provide additional storage space. These belts add minimal weight and do not alter your form. (However, some athletes with sensitive GI tracts may find them uncomfortable.) Additionally, these belts let you clip your bib to them, versus puncturing your shirt. 

These belts can hold enough gels for most marathoners. SPIbelt claims their belts can hold up to six gels, although it may be less with some of the larger gels on the market now. 

Hydration Pack

A hydration vest or hydration belt not only carries your fluid – it features numerous pockets to stash your gels. You can even wear the vest without filling the bottles and just use it for storage. 

If you use a sports drink that is different from the race offers on-course, a hydration vest also lets you take in your preferred drink throughout the race. A vest with bottles stored in front pockets (instead of a bladder) is typically lighter weight and more comfortable. For many runners, the ability to carry their own fluids and easily stash their gels can be a game-changer for race day. 

One important note: large races such as the Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, and Boston Marathon do not permit the usage of hydration vests. These races do allow hydration belts (although check the rules each year). For these races, you would want a hydration waistpack.

Read here for more reviews of the best hydration packs for runners

Handheld Bottle

Similar to the hydration pack, handheld water bottlers can be used to stash your gels. This solution is most practical if you already plan on carrying a handheld to hold your fluids. Some models of handheld bottles have pockets along the flask sleeve. However, the carrying capacity is typically lower – usually about two gels worth. 

As with any type of gear: always try your gel-carrying strategy in training! 

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1 Response

  1. Another alternative is a trick I saw on a TikTok. With the safety pin you attach the gels to the top outside edge of your shorts. Then you flip the gel inside your shorts until you are ready to use it. You flip it out, tear it off, the tab stays attached to your short, and you’re ready to go! I have found that this is comfortable and super easy to do!

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