Sports Drinks, Gels & More: Fueling Strategies for Runners

The right race-day fuel can help you make it to the finish line. Use our guide to find the fuel source that’s right for you.

Every runner fears it. Hitting the wall.

When you’re running long distances, you’ve got to refuel. Runners of all skill levels need proper carbohydrate consumption to successfully cross the finish line. To avoid burnout, runners often turn to race-day fueling products, like energy gels, bars and sports drinks. Find the fuel that’s right for you with this runner’s guide.

SPORTS DRINKS                                                                    

Sports drinks are beverages that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates, and you can find them pre-mixed at just about any grocery or convenience store. Specialty running and sporting goods stores often sell mixable powder or tablets.

  • To avoid hitting the wall, it’s common practice to consume carbohydrates prior to your run, and electrolytes after your run.
  • Watch out for the “extras”: Some electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, are good for rehydrating. But additional items, like vitamins, protein and herbal supplements, don’t benefit your overall performance. 


Sports drinks are versatile and widely available, but some runners need more to fuel for a marathon.

Energy gels are typically sold in single-use packets. Gels are thick syrups that should be washed down with a small amount of water. “Solid” carb sources usually come in the form of sugary foods. Think children’s fruit snacks, gummies or bars.

  • Gel and solid carbs are extremely portable—just add them to your racing belt or stick them in your pocket.
  • The drawbacks to these fuel sources? Some runners report that they can be hard on the stomach and decidedly pricey.