Read this tip to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Runners Nutrition and other Running topics.
Once upon a time, there were no energy bars and gels. My father ran a marathon in 1980 and recalls carrying lime slices tucked into his headband. Today, you can choose from an array of brands and flavors of energy bars and gels. The gels may not be as tasty as the bars, but they are easier to slurp down and chase with water a water stop during a marathon, rather then trying to chew something. Besides, an energy bar can freeze solid on winter training runs and you don't need to spend your time (and energy) gnawing at a frozen bar. That said, many of the energy bars make great snacks, especially if you're looking for something in the afternoon to see you through a late-day workout.
Which bar or gel is the best for marathons? The best one is the one that agrees with your stomach, and comes in a flavor that you like. Honestly, we aren't eating these things because they are delicious, we're eating them for the nutrition replacement. But the flavors of energy bars and gels continue to improve, so try different flavors and brands on long runs to see what suits your stomach. My personal favorite is Power Gel, in either the chocolate or tangerine flavors (both have caffeine).
Read the labels on bars and gels. Some contain caffeine, some even contain “double caffeine” and some have no caffeine. Although caffeine has been shown to have some benefits for endurance athletes, some people are sensitive to it, and if you don't regularly consume caffeine, you may want to try a caffeine-free gel or bar first.
Are these gels suitable for vegetarians? i.e. are they gelatine based?
I'm not sure that all energy gels are vegetarian, but you should be able to find some that are. I googled "energy gels vegetarian," and came up with several websites, so do some googling and try a few different vegetarian gels to find the one that works for you.