Gels? When? Impact on 30 min efforts and 1.5 hrs

Most of my races are short (15 - 60 minutes). I’ve usually taken a gel or shot block immediately before the race. A friend told me this is wrong. He said a balanced diet before the event should suffice (make sure your glycogen levels are topped off). Taking a gel immediately before a race will cause an insulin spike and be counter productive to the race. ???

Appreciate any thoughts. Thanks.

Your friend is wrong. You warm up before the race. Insulin release into blood is strongly blocked via exercise.

Take the gel 0-15 minutes before race start and you’re good to go.

If you take the gel 20-60 minutes before race start, and did not do a warm-up, then your friend could be more correct.

If you take the gel 20-60 minutes before race start, and cease your warm-up >20 minutes before race start, your friend might be partially right too.

Recommendation: take more carbs during warm-up. Take gel right before race start, with 8-16oz water. If race is 60 minutes, consider taking 2 gels with 12-16oz water.

Goal: keep blood sugar elevated throughout the race.

Purpose of gels pre-race: elevate blood sugar and titrate more sugar into blood over the course of the first hour of the race. Not top off glycogen, though this is an oft-cited rationale.


Thank you very much Dr. Alex Harrison. With my “A” race coming up in a few weeks, I really wanted to clarify this to avoid mistakes. Appreciate your insights!

Carlos Alers

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Doc already answered, but before every sprint tri I ever did I took a gel and chased with water… then nothing for the hour race. I did OK. :blush:


Definitely take a gel and some water before the race. I found that with shirt crit races I would usually not drink enough and I am too scared to take in gels during some parts of the race.

Very helpful explanation- thank you :+1:t2:

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Thanks for this advice. Are you saying two gels before the race? Or one before and two during? If both before, then nothing during the actual 60 min race?

Yep. (I’d just use concentrated sugar + any drink mix like Gatorade + salt or sodium citrate, though, personally).

Goal here is just to dump 30-50g carbs into your gut to tide you over for the race, and make it so you only need to carry water, or nothing, during the race.

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Practice this in a couple training sessions before your race, especially if you’re going to do two gels pre-race.

I try and shoot for a carb heavy meal 2-3 hours pre race, snacking throughout warmup, and a gel/bottle of water within 10 mins of game time.

If you want to get an idea of how your body is dealing with sugar, and you know how to interpret the data, glucose meters aren’t terribly expensive.

I have had so many weird experiences with supplements.

One year I did a quad century, and was using ‘Exceed’ powder (early 80’s), and after the event found out I actually gained weight. I was using at their frequency, but mixed thin. Really surprised. Other times, I’ve used blocks, and gels, and even the tried and true PBJ, and had mixed results.

On the trainer, I have usually been using a gel/banana after the first hour of a multi hour ride, and usually feel worse for it after, occasionally getting a short trip to Bonkland. I thought ‘preloading’ was better done in the evening/morning of any event, and used supplements sparingly before butt-on-saddle. Sounds like I should rethink that. I just have had so many friends/people that guzzle energy and protein drinks for a Peloton session, and complain they aren’t losing weight. So much is marketing, and experience, plus who really knows what’s in some of that stuff. I just don’t want to gain weight by apparently overusing something ever again. It’s hard enough to keep my weight down.

Generally what you are seeing is huge swings in glycogen+water. Each gram of glycogen comes with 3-4 grams of water so if you aren’t depleting your glycogen your weight stays up and you do deplete it you’re losing a ton of water with it as well. Combine that with hydration and temps etc and you’ll see all kinds of differences in weight pre and post rides.


Can’t remember if I said this before, but my doc was concerned for any ‘kidney load’. It kind of freaked me at the time. That was my first real experience with supplements. I got a rather jaded opinion of them after that. It’s only in the past 8 years or so that I have been using various powders and even a gel here and there. I never mix at their directed concentration, especially with any protein powders. Too many people swallow that stuff and don’t realize what it’s doing to them, and really what’s IN them.

This is typically associated with hyponatremia.

Balancing satiety with fueling emphasis is indeed a delicate balance for a lot of folks.

This is typically hypoglycemia.

Bananas are too slow of a carb especially if not very ripe, resulting in a very delayed transmission of sugar to bloodstream.

Any gaps in fueling, once you’ve started with something like a gel, can result in hypoglycemia. A not-super-ripe banana is essentially a gap in fueling.

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It was likely the precursor to this product. XCEED – Nutrabolics

Symptoms of hyponatremia and whether I had them.

Nausea and vomiting - Nope
Headache - nope
Confusion - nope, except for maybe some hypoglycemia
Loss of energy, drowsiness and fatigue - nope
Restlessness and irritability - nope, except for getting up at 5 to get to the starting line each morning
Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps - thank Ford, nope
Seizures - wanted to, but nope
Coma - wouldn't that be fun, and nope.

I did seem to crave salt, understandably. Good thing most of the hotels were very near a fast food joint. French fries worked well for that.

I wrote it off as just using too much of it. I can’t really, in hindsight, think that it didn’t help, but it reinforced the idea that I still hold today: Their directions are to sell you more of their product. If you mix at their recommendations, you will go through more of it and need to buy more. Plus who knows what will be accumulating at what rate, and where. I cringe watching people quaffing protein drinks and/or snarfing protein (candy) bars before/during/after a spin session. Wonder why you’re not losing weight? Hmm…

Also Ironically that is one of the things I really hate the most: overripe bananas. I know they are supposed to be ‘better’, I just can’t get over the ‘mouth feel’. Gross and disgusting…

Balance indeed. I think too many people put too much trust into the potions powders and bars they use. I really use thing sparingly, but then I’m not riding for hours anymore either. Bonking is not fun and ketosis is dangerous for some people, especially diabetics. The body is a machine. Yadda yadda yadda…

Thanks for commenting. I’m glad I don’t seem to be breaking that many rules. I di try to be good. OGR!!!