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This Chia Energy Gel Completely Changed How I Fuel for Marathons

Runners are beasts.

We gulp hydration from tiny paper cups, sweat through our shirts, grunt at passing cyclists. We run in packs. We attack finish lines. And yes, we definitely need fuel to keep going.

Imagine you're slogging through mile eight or 18, lasered in on your goal—a PR or that post-run bagel—but your legs are screaming. So you pull out a little package from your fancy runner's utility belt, rip off the top, and squirt some liquefied, possibly caffeinated, definitely squishy substance into your panting mouth.

Aah, sugar. Aah, carbs. Aah, applesauce? Your brain loves it but your muscles love it more. A minute or two later, a wave of energy flows through you. Maybe I can go a little faster, you think. And so you do. (Video: Is It Baby Food or Runner's Goo?)

That's why runners are often obsessed with fuel. Everyone has an opinion because everyone wants an edge. Drop in on a group long run and you'll hear debates over Chocolate Gu versus Honey Stinger Waffles, or how a new gel flavor sent someone straight to the Porta-Potty. Like I said, we're beasts, and we're very particular.

But above all this chatter, you might hear a frantic plea: "Have you tried Hüma? You need to try Hüma. Do you want a Hüma?"

 

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That person is me. I've become a maniacal unofficial spokeswoman and part-time dealer for this weird gooey chia-based gel, and I don't care who knows it. Hüma has gotten me through marathons, half marathons, and shorter races where I probably didn't need any fuel but took some anyway because they taste so damn good. That's probably the most shocking fact of all: They actually taste good. Kinda like liquefied fruit snacks. And they go down easy—not too sugary-sweet, and without that chemical taste that can plague other gels.

When I first started running, I didn't know you needed to fuel at all. But yes, there's some science involved. Your muscles can only store so much glycogen, so if you're running longer than an hour, you'll benefit from some juicy extra carbs.

Of course, everyone should try to find what works best for their own bodies, but I'm smug enough to think that eventually you'll come running over to Hüma. They all do.

Our love affair began on July 5, 2015, the day I blindly ordered a 12-pack box on Amazon after reading hundreds of reviews of every gummy-chewy-salty runner snack. (Runners love reading reviews.) I was looking for a hit of something new after a Caramel Macchiato Gu violently rumbled my stomach. Maybe it wasn't the Gu's fault. Maybe my pre-run breakfast was to blame, or I was just feeling off. The reason doesn't matter—once fuel turns on you, you turn your back on it.

I had a brief affair with chews, too, and trained for a marathon carrying around a little plastic baggie filled with these watermelon-flavored cubes. They were tasty until they started to sweat under the sun. Then they got sticky. Plus, I found that the energy it takes to, well, chew the chews was better spent trying to stay upright. Or keep moving my feet. Or basically to do anything else. If I wanted a meal, I'd head straight to brunch. (Which I always do.)

So the Hüma seemed like the perfect medium. Plus, I was suckered in by the bright packaging, "100% all-natural" promise (whatever that means), and the cute umlaut over the "u."

Then I actually tasted them. And they tasted like real fruit! Apples & Cinnamon, which tastes like the applesauce you ate when you were a kid, is 100 calories with 22 grams of carbs and 14 grams of sugar and is made of apple purée, cane sugar, brown rice syrup, powdered chia seeds, sea salt, citric acid, and cinnamon. Nothing too scary about that. They're also vegan and gluten-free.

Other flavors have 21 to 25 grams of carbs, and the Cafe Mocha flavor has powdered coffee and a double shot of caffeine. Chocolate has a caffeine boost, too. Strawberry is their biggest seller. It won't replace a fresh pint of the real thing during summer, but there's something sweet about gulping down that familiar berry flavor while training in the middle of a snowy winter. On very hot days, I grab Strawberry Lemonade for the added electrolytes, or else my skin turns to a salt lick.

 

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A peek through my Gmail shows that over the years I've sent notes to friends with subject lines like "those gels I mentioned!" "running fuel!!!" and one to a new running friend who wanted advice on fueling that just says ominously: "Order it. Or else." There's even a to-do reminder: "bring Charlotte a Hüma Monday." That's how important it was—I wrote myself a note in the middle of a run to bring my runner friend a sample. Like I said, I'm a pusher. (And no, I don't work for them.)

The truth is, I just want every other runner to find what works for them. Friends praise dates with peanut butter, Skratch Fruit Drops, Black Cherry Clif Shot Bloks. Walk into a running store and you'll find dozens of strangely named pieces of quasi-food to put in your body.

But runners like repetition. There's a reason we head to the same routes or stick with the same shoe model year after year. There's comfort in familiarity and in controlling our surroundings, and that extends to the thoughts we think or what we put into our bodies. That's why it's so thrilling to find something that works, something that doesn't fail you like your feet might during a long run or your pessimistic brain might…also during a long run. Getting a little help along the way doesn't hurt. In fact, it might even make you more hüman.

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