For all levels of endurance athletes and anyone who enjoys running, there is always that urge to go the extra mile. For serious long distance runners, no matter how much they have trained there is always a need for more energy. As a society, we have enjoyed the benefits of caffeine for over a century; the early morning boost of energy has been helping us get through the day for generations. In recent decades, energy drinks have become more and more commonplace as fast-paced modern life has all but made them a necessity for some. However, energy drinks have side effects that render them entirely impractical for athletes to consume while running long distances or participating in any form of intense physical exertion; this is where caffeinated gum comes into play.
What is caffeinated gum?
Caffeinated gum has been around for some time. It all started when a subsidiary of Wrigley developed Stay Alert Gum containing 100 MG of caffeine, primarily used by soldiers to combat battle fatigue. The caffeinated gum was reserved for the military in its inception but has grown in popularity in recent years with both the athletic world and the general public. There are a few major factors that contributed to this, firstly when The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lifted its ban on the use of caffeine in competition in 2004. More recently, the surge in energy drink consumption has bolstered the popularity of caffeinated gum as well. In fact, U.S. sales of energy-boosting food and beverages have grown 43% since 2008 to $9.9 billion last year according to Euromonitor International. Caffeine ingested via a beverage takes the time to kick in simply because it’s absorbed through our digestive system, and drinking an energy drink during a race or competition is highly impractical for athletes. Caffeine pills are a good substitute for energy drinks, and gum is even better. The caffeine in chewing gum is delivered much quicker than from a pill, achieving significant levels in the blood in just 5 minutes versus 30 minutes for a pill because it is absorbed directly through the cheeks and not the stomach. So in effect, caffeinated gum is the fastest and most practical way to deliver caffeine to the body.
Innovations in the caffeine gum market?
A new player on the market is NeuroGum. Marketed as “nootropic caffeine + L-theanine blend with brain-boosting B-vitamins [that] are scientifically proven to enhance focus and cognition, all while giving you a fresh breath of energy without the jitters or crash,” the producers claim that users of NeuroGum have felt the positive effects of their product. L-theanine seems to alleviate the anxiety and stress caused by the caffeine itself, but the science is still unclear as to what the true extent of the interaction is between L-theanine and caffeine. John J. Foxe, one of the authors of the “L-theanine and Caffeine in Combination Affect Human Cognition as Evidenced by Oscillatory alpha-Band Activity and Attention Task Performance” study published in the Journal of Nutrition, believes that the claims of NeuroGum are overblown. Time will tell how NeuroGum will fare on the market.
Caffeine in sports
Caffeine has been shown to enhance performance by about 1 to 3 percent, particularly in endurance sports. Therefore, it’s no wonder that caffeine gum is becoming more and more popular with athletes, particularly cyclists and runners. In their cases, it is extremely important that caffeine kicks in as fast as possible and doesn’t impede their performance. Chewing gum while cycling isn’t much of a distraction, but drinking while cycling can be a problem. Of course, there is such a thing as too much caffeine; the recommended performance-enhancing dose of caffeine is about 1.5 milligrams per pound (3mg/kg) of body weight. Going above that can lead to negative effects. Taking more than 500mg of caffeine daily can cause insomnia, nervousness, and rapid heartbeat, making moderation a key factor.
Now onto the crux of the matter: the question here is how effective is caffeine as a performance enhancer? Sticking with the example of cyclists, a study in 2010 found that caffeinated gum had the effect of delaying fatigue during repeated intense sprint exercises. The study also showed that caffeinated gum acted as a testosterone booster while reducing cortisol in the process. Higher levels of testosterone are associated with improved performance while cortisol is a stress hormone that hampers performance. Of course, the gum can’t do everything; in events where a lot of endurance is needed, carbohydrate intake is a must.
If caffeine is used frequently over a long period of time the human body can develop a tolerance to it. If this happens, it is advisable to spend a few days without consuming any caffeine. The body will go into withdrawal and afterward will be more receptive to the energy-boosting effects of caffeine once again. Competing while the body is in caffeine withdrawal is not recommended as performance will be lacking in this state. Once again, moderation is essential.
Some of the biggest issues with caffeinated gum are its sour taste and tendency to crumble quickly. Efforts have been made to make the gum better tasting, and mint seems to do wonders in making the caffeine gum more palatable. However, there is a problem here with various regulatory health agencies. Generally speaking, caffeine isn’t good for children, when caffeine gum first came into production its sour taste was intentional. The sour taste was supposed to keep children away as they were accustomed to sweet chewing gums. With caffeinated gum evolving, more and more producers are seeking to make their product sweet or minty. This will undoubtedly attract the attention of inquisitive youngsters, but that is a topic for another time.
In short, caffeinated gum has proven to be an invaluable ally to endurance athletes. Elite marathoner Tina Muir recommends it and others are picking up on this trend as well; we may soon see caffeinated gum breaking out of the athletic field and into other markets. Whether it’s on a race track, the last hours of a tedious office job, or even a long day with energetic kids, caffeinated gum helps us go the extra mile and offers immediate delivery of the same caffeine that has invigorated us for generations.