There are two ways to increase your weekly mileage, you either run more often, or you run longer each time you go out. As you become a better runner, you’ll likely do both. We’re focusing on the latter here, and as you increase the distance, nutrition while you’re running becomes crucial, unless you enjoy bonking 5 miles away from your home, and painfully walking back. I know I don’t.
Nutrition before and after your runs is also extremely important, we’ll spend more time on the topic in a dedicated post.
Even if longs runs aren’t your thing, I usually tell people to pack gels if they run for more than an hour, gels can also be great if you haven’t had a chance to eat before your run, which is often the case for morning runs. I want to dedicate an entire article (or more) about pre-run nutrition, and how to perfect your strategy if you want to avoid, how to put it … “bowel accidents”. I’ve been there, it sucks, it really does, trust me.
Nutrition is important year-round but I find it even more important in the Summer. The combination of heat and humidity tends to really drain me. I had a pretty bad day last year when I completely ran out of gas on a long 18-miler and had to stop running about 3 miles from my apartment. I didn’t have any cash on me, so I couldn’t buy anything on the way back, and I had to take multiple breaks on benches to not faint. Yeah, that wasn’t pretty.
Anyway, gels are great, we’re good on that, the next question is, which one should you get, there are a lot of brands out there, and as usual, there’s not one single answer, it depends.
You might want to check this great comparison on fellrnr.com.
Today we’ll take a look at Spring Energy. I tried them for the first time last summer, when starting my training program for the 2019 NYC Marathon. I believe I heard about it on Floris Gierman’s podcast, Extramilest, if it wasn’t on the podcast directly, if was probably on Strava, after following one of the guests on the show. So thanks Floris for that!
Let’s get to it.
Spring has 10 different products, if you want to give each of them a shot, they have a sampler pack. They also sell each of the different flavors individually. My suggestion would be to start with a sampler pack, to see what you like and order the ones you prefer later on. That’s what I did.
Three flavors are missing in the next photo, Power Rush, Hill Aid & McRaecovery:
Their products fall in three different categories:
- The Wolf Pack is in a league of its own, they label it as “Endurance Meal”, and packing 300 calories, it is definitely in a different league. I haven’t tried it yet, mainly because I’m not sure when to eat it. My runs are not long enough to eat it during a run, they recommend it as a potential breakfast, so maybe I’ll try that soon.
- Electroride Hydration Energy comes in a pouch that is identical to the gel but it is absolutely not a gel. It’s a liquid that you have to mix with water, it’s still pretty high in calories with 80. It is a great alternative to sugary drinks like Gatorade, and is easy to mix with water in a flask like this one that I’ve been using for a while (review coming soon, stay tuned!).
- The remaining seven are your usual gels: Long Haul, CanaBerry, Hill Aid, Power Rush, Koffee, SpeedNut (with Hemp oil) & SpeedNut (with Caffeine). They range from 90 to 250 calories. Two of them contain caffeine, Koffee & Hill Aid.
Each gel comes with a suggested use, and you can see all of them on their website. For instance Power Rush is described as:
a product for a high-intensity activity or the moments when you need an energy spike. A balanced composition of carbohydrates helps to succeed your effort without the negative effects of sugar and/or maltodextrin overload. Natural nitrates improve the power and efficiency of your muscles. Most importantly all of these are achieved with a special selection of high-quality natural food products
I like the recommendation, but in practice I found most gels to be very similar, I tried all of them mid-run and never before. The only difference I really noticed was between the high energy ones (SpeedNut & Koffee) compared to all the other ones with ~100 calories, as we well as whether or not it contained caffeine.
For instance, I did not notice anything that would make CanaBerry a better fit for a mid-run gel and PowerRush a better pre-run one. The only noticeable factors to me were taste, calorie count and the presence or not of caffeine.
McRaecovery might be the exception, it is significantly higher in fat, and packing only 12g of carbs for 150 calories, I would not use it as a mid-run gel, and it makes sense for recovery.
They also have an interesting page of Race Kits. This is essentially a list of bundles, packing a few different flavors, of different sizes depending on the race, the 5K kit is contains 8 gels and 4 energy mix, the marathon one, 14 & 4, and so on.
Similarly to how they give each gel a specific use case, there is a nutrition plan on each race kit page (note: it seems to be the same plan for each kit). It gives you a timeline of what to eat and when to eat it, for instance, it tells you to start with a Power Rush or Hill Aid 30 mins before the start, and to continue with CanaBerry or Long Haul through the race, every 30 or 40 minutes.
While I commend the effort and I don’t think there is anything wrong with the suggested nutrition plan, I did not find it useful in practice and I usually go with my customized plan. That being said, if you’re not sure where to start, you can absolutely follow theirs!
I have a very low bar when it comes to my tolerance of gel flavors. As long as it doesn’t make me throw up, I’m cool with it. Sadly, many gels do not pass this test, looking at you Gu & PowerGel 🤢.
That being said, these are far, very far from that. I’d say that they taste good, for energy gels. That last part, “for energy gels” is important. I don’t think that these would taste good if treated as a snack, but that’s also not what they are, so that’s what I’m comparing them against!
To me the real benefit compared to bigger brands like Gu or Clif is that you feel like you’re eating real food, not some “space-food” type thingy that is only meant to provide energy and that’s it.
And compared to a similar brand of “real food gels”, like Muir, I like Spring better overall. Muir does have more flavors though, I’ll try to write a review soon.
I don’t have a way to scientifically assess their claim that Spring Gels are “Gut-Friendly”, but, as someone who is prone to bowel accidents (yes, there will be an article dedicated to that topic at some point), they at least did not make things worse.
Just in case this wasn’t clear: Eating these gels mid-run did not make me shit myself. Here, I said it.
All the gels, and the Electroride, start at $3.5 a piece, and the smallest pack you can get contains two gels. The Wolf pack is sold individually for $7. They all get cheaper as you order more, but the price changes are different depending on the product, a 20-pack of CanaBerry will cost you $49.55 while a 20-pack of Power Rush will cost you $47.55.
In comparison, Gu gels are available at ~$1.40 a piece, for a 24 count box, Clif Shot gels around ~$1.13 a piece for a pack of 24 and Honey Stinger gels around ~$1.13 a piece as well for a pack of 24.
Muir gels are around $2.50 a piece.
You do pay a premium for Spring Gels, but you get better and simpler ingredients in return.
I’m a big fan.
I find that I like the Long Haul and CanaBerry the most, I don’t mind their mind flavor, and I find that ~100 calories is a good fit for me. I’ll usually pack one for runs up to 90 mins, and two if I go longer. I very rarely need more than two. And if I want caffeine, I’ll pack one Hill Aid
I’ll end this with giving huge kudos to their customer service. There was a small issue when I ordered my last pack, they sent me the wrong one, and they sent me the missing gels in no time. I’ll order again very soon!