Since 1991 Berkeley, California based GU Energy Labs has been fueling athletes around the world. If you’re an endurance athlete it’s likely you’ve sucked down a packet of GU Energy Gel at one time or another. Over the past few years GU Energy Labs has also expanded their products to include premium energy sources like GU Electrolyte Brew Drink and Tablets, GU Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Gel and GU Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink.
With the increase in products and flavors (Peanut Butter GU Gel tastes amazing by the way if you haven’t tried it yet) it seems as though GU Energy Labs has also increased their advertising. It’s hard to open an endurance magazine today without seeing an advertisement and GU Energy Gels can be found on aid stations at most major trail running events. Even with this increased awareness I’m still surprised at the number of questions and comments I hear regarding GU Energy products and their use. My goal in this article is to share with you how I use GU Energy products and share some simple ideas to help you use them easier and more effectively.
After untold hours of searching and reading articles on hydration, electrolyte replacement and nutrition, as well as experimenting, failing, adjusting and experimenting again (repeat process over and over and over) I have finally come “close” to knowing what works best for me (not you or anyone else, me). When I race or train at any distance greater than a marathon I adhere to the following plan:
- A minimum of 21 oz. hydration per hour (more on warmer days)
- 350-400 calories per hour (almost exclusively complex and simple carbohydrates)
- 750mg sodium per hour (other electrolytes are required in smaller amounts)
How do I use this information?
Decide how to ingest. Once you have determined what your numbers are you then have to decide how to put them into your body. Just like the numbers themselves how you ingest them is something unique to you. For example, in the past year I had the opportunity to run with a former Western States 100 champion. After the group run he took questions and one of the first questions asked was “what do you drink and eat in a 100 mile race”. His answer? “Water and GU Gels”. The follow up question was obvious, “How many GU Gels”? His answer? “50-60 a race”. I immediately had a gag reflex! Sure this is an article about GU Energy products, and yes I use them and like them. But 50-60 of anything in less than 16 hours is more than I can handle (that’s one GU Gel every 15-20 minutes on average). I like beer too, but don’t ask me to drink 50 in less than 16 hours. However, if you do the math, (60 gels x 100 calories each) / 16 hours = 375 calories per hour. A very similar calorie consumption to what I want to achieve, but I need a different way of getting it in my system.Keep it Simple. What works best for me is to simply “drink my calories”. In my 21 oz. handheld bottle for hydration is GU Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink. Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink comes in three flavors, Tropical Fruit, Lemon Lime and my favorite Grape. Not only does 21 oz. of Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink taste great, mixed as directed it provides me with 240 calories, 320mg sodium and 50mg potassium. That’s not everything I need but it’s a great start.
To complete my hourly needs I add in a “JUST PLAIN” flavor GU Gel 15 minutes before I start running, then 1 every hour and I’m locked in solid to my personal required calorie range. Again I have options on how to ingest my GU Gel. When out on the trail I like to squeeze my GU Gel right into my handheld bottle. As I run it mixes nicely with my Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink so I don’t even know it’s there. With the additional 100 calories, 50mg sodium and 40gm potassium I have almost everything I need right in my hand. No guessing, no fuss, no mess. (To complete my personal electrolyte requirements I take 1 – Succeed S!Cap per hour also).
Notes and comments. I have several random points that I’ll share that might spark an idea and help you individualize your strategy.
- I always drink out of a handheld bottle. The biggest reason is it’s measurable. As I’m running down the trail I know if my bottle is ¼ empty or ¼ full, how much time I have left in that particular hour and if I’m drinking my 21 oz. too fast or too slow. Even at a wilderness race that has greater distances between aid stations and I use a hydration vest, I siphon my Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink from the vest into my handheld bottle and drink from the bottle. *NOTE: If I have to use a hydration vest I carry my GU Gels in a vest pocket or my Race Ready Shorts and squeeze them directly into my handheld. I never mix the GU Gel directly into the hydration vest.
- Trickle your fluids, calories and electrolytes into your system. In a perfect world a IV drip bag containing my Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink and GU Gel mixture would be nice, awkward but nice. Since it’s not practical I concentrate on sipping my drink throughout the hour to evenly flow it into my system.
- When I need more fluids. On hot days I can follow this strategy and still lose up to 7 pounds during a 50 mile run. I don’t want or need additional calories but I do require additional fluid. Depending on the temperature I’ll increase my fluid intake by simply drinking approximately 10-11 oz. of straight water (or Mt. Dew/Coke late in a race) each hour at the aid stations. I arrived at 10-11 oz. by doing the math. (7 pounds x 16 oz. per pound) / 10 hours = 11 oz. per hour. *NOTE: I measure this standing at the aid station by simply counting how many times I swallow. When drinking each swallow = about 1 oz. for me.
- If it’s available on hot days I also leave each aid station with a mouthful of ice.
- Does this all seem like a lot of trouble? Not really, it’s more trouble for me to not have a plan and then let everything blow up in the middle or late in a run because I haven’t hydrated or fueled properly. This system is easy to follow and accurate. If you have a race crew they can give you a premixed handheld at each checkpoint or you can pull one out of your drop bag too.
- Premeasure. It’s also possible to premeassure your Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink and divide portions into a zip lock bag. You can then get water from an aid station and pour the premeasured contents into your water and it mixes as you run.
- Everything counts. Don’t forget everything you put in your system counts toward satisfying your hydration, calorie and electrolyte needs. Way too often runners tell me they had stomach issues during an ultra race only to find out they were taking 2-3 gels per hour. Then consumed a few glasses of sports drink at an aid station to help wash down a couple cookies, some potato chips and a handful of M & M’s. Then started their next hour as they leave the aid station by taking another gel. Add it all up and they’re pushing 800-1,000 calories. That’s way too many calories, way too fast for the normal runner to process. So be smart, if you need solid food or a “treat” at the next aid station cut back on your calories prior too and immediately after to make room for the calories you’ll be eating.
- JUST PLAIN GU Energy Gel. Most runners think this sounds terrible when I tell them that’s what I use. Yes, I think the new Peanut Butter GU Gels have amazing taste, but they wouldn’t taste very good mixed into a handheld bottle of Grape Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Drink. The other reason I use JUST PLAIN flavor is even if I’m sucking them directly out of the packet late in an ultra run my stomach doesn’t process food as efficiently as early in the race. Re-tasting a strawberry-banana gel for an hour isn’t a pleasant experience.
Conclusion. Many experienced ultra runners reading this article have already learned what “works for them”. This article is meant to simply give ideas and spark “outside the box thinking” for those runners new to ultras and those runners who are still struggling to find the right way to use GU Energy Labs products to satisfy their individual hydration, calorie and electrolyte requirements.
If you have specific questions on details I haven’t fully explained or you have other methods on how you use GU Energy Labs products you want to share please comment below.
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