However, not everyone wants an energy drink or a cup of coffee before a hard workout. In particular, those with sensitive stomachs can wind up nauseated. Instead, some athletes have started relying on caffeinated gum: It delivers the performance-boosting caffeine without the sloshing liquid in your stomach as you push your body to the limits.
- Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RDN, Brooklyn–based registered dietitian
But is this kind of gum actually effective? More importantly, is it safe?
The benefits of caffeine for athletic performance
Caffeine has long been considered an ergogenic aid—a substance that can improve athletic performance. “Multiple studies have investigated its effects across a range of sport and exercise types,” says Maddie Pasquariello, RDN, a registered dietitian and the owner of Nutrition With Maddie. One systematic review in 2008 looked at a variety of endurance and high-intensity activities, including swimming, rowing, team and racquet sports, and middle and distance running races. “They ultimately determined that a moderate amount of caffeine—around 200mg of caffeine for a 150-pound individual (about the equivalent of two cups of strong brewed coffee)—could be enough to produce benefits in performance.”
Pasquariello says that other studies have found that even smaller doses (less than 40mg total) can improve overall alertness, memory, and attention, as well as power and speed for both short bouts of intense exercise as well as for long duration, endurance-style events.
Quite a few of these studies have actually been conducted with caffeinated gum. (The military in particular has researched it extensively.) For example, one study found that it reduced fatigue during repeated, high-intensity cycling bouts: Subjects who had a placebo, non-caffeinated gum saw a performance decline of 5.8 percent whereas those who had the caffeinated sports gum only saw a decline of 0.4 percent. Those with the caffeinated gum also showed increased testosterone levels, and decreased cortisol levels.
What are the advantages of caffeinated gum?
Pasquariello says caffeinated gum can be considered a form of "anhydrous" caffeine, meaning it's ingested without water. This can have very different effects from drinking a cup of coffee or a Red Bull. “When you chew caffeinated gum, you end up swallowing some of the caffeine in your saliva (similar to how you would with coffee or an energy drink), but much is absorbed under your tongue or through the gums, and thus goes directly into your bloodstream,” explains Pasquariello. “This means absorption will occur faster, and a boost in performance will also occur more quickly.”
Additionally, some athletes just find gum to be more convenient since it can be tucked into a pocket for easy access on the go. It also provides a clear dose of caffeine so you can get specific with your nutrition plan and know exactly how much you’re taking in.
Most importantly, it doesn’t slosh around in your stomach, making it a good option for athletes with sensitive digestive tracts.
The drawbacks of caffeinated gum
Caffeinated gum might not be for everyone. If caffeine typically gives you the jitters, headaches, or anxiety, chewing it will likely give you the same reactions.
“With rapid absorption, great care should be taken not to consume too much,” Pasquariello advises. “And, it goes without saying, to always check with your doctor before adding something like caffeinated gum to your diet so that your medical team can figure out what level would be appropriate.”
Although Pasquariello says that there has yet to be much data to suggest any serious adverse effects to consuming caffeine in chewing gum form, any standard cautions still apply. “It's worth noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics's statement on caffeine is that it can interfere with sleep, heart rate, anxiety, and hydration levels in children and teenagers, so they should not consume it,” she notes.
Chewing gum while exercising can also potentially pose a choking hazard, so make sure you feel comfortable before popping a piece on your next run, or spit it out before you hit the pavement.
Should you use caffeinated gum for your workouts?
Those who participate in high-intensity aerobic activities like sprinting or competitive cycling may gain the most from chewing caffeinated gum, shares Pasquariello. “Benefits may also be seen for those who participate in combat sports like boxing, and in specific power-based activities like the vertical jump.”
And, if you’re planning to go long—say, running a marathon—caffeinated gum may also give you a boost in stamina and staying power.
That said, the everyday gym-goer probably doesn’t need it, unless they’re looking for an extra competitive edge. “For the vast majority of adults, caffeinated gum may not be necessary,” says Pasquariello, “but it can be an efficient and convenient way to consume caffeine.”
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