But then, I started training for the New York City marathon, and—there’s really no better way to say this, so I’m just going to go for it—I almost pooped my pants on a morning run.
- Erin Davis, RDN, non-diet dietitian who specializes in diabetes, insulin resistance, and PCOS
Considering both coffee and cardio have a reputation for giving people the shits, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the combination of the two left me, quite literally, running for the bathroom (FWIW, I did make it, but it was too close of a call for my liking). The close call made me realize that I needed to find a new way to caffeinate before my morning runs, which is where the Nuun Sport + Caffeine Electrolyte Tablets ($25 for a pack of 4) come in.
How Nuun Sport + Caffeine Electrolyte Tablets work
If you played high school sports (or have ever been viciously hungover), you’re likely familiar with electrolytes. They are electrically-charged minerals produced by your body, and help regulate muscle cramping, balance your body’s pH levels, and keep you hydrated. When you sweat, your body loses electrolytes, so it’s important to replenish them before and after hard workouts to avoid exhaustion, dehydration, cramping, and soreness.
"Electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, help maintain fluid balance in our bodies,” says Erin Davis, RD. “You lose electrolytes in sweat, so pairing electrolytes with your water is essential for adequate hydration.”
Nuun’s tablets do exactly that, turning your basic 16-ounce glass of water into a full-blown pre-workout (or recovery) drink. They’re infused with sodium, magnesium, and potassium, all of which help supplement your body’s natural supply.
Then, of course, there’s the caffeine. “Caffeine, an ergogenic aid, is added to these types of performance supplements because caffeine has been found to boost performance, improve endurance, and sharpen mental focus in athletes when they consume a source of caffeine 10-60 minutes before exercise,” says Davis. “Caffeine aids in performance in doses of 3-6 mg/kg of body weight, and may be beneficial in doses as little as 2 mg/kg body weight.” She adds that though caffeine typically acts as a diuretic (AKA makes you pee), “which seems contrary to hydration,” this effect is actually negated during exercise.
"Electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, help maintain fluid balance in our bodies. You lose electrolytes in sweat, so pairing electrolytes with your water is essential for adequate hydration.”
—Erin Davis, RD
What makes these tablets a better choice than coffee
There are a few reasons why sipping on some Nuun-infused water in the a.m. might be a better idea than chugging a cup of coffee for some folks. The first is the caffeine factor. While nutrition experts agree that caffeine is caffeine and one form generally isn't "better" than any other, these tablets get their caffeine from green tea extract and contains less caffeine than coffee. (Nuun tablets have 40 mg of caffeine, which is less than half of the 95 mg in your average cup of coffee.) Green tea also contains an amino-acid called L-theanine, which can have a positive impact on your mood and digestion, which may help to prevent jitters and stave off the usual post-caffeine crash.
Additionally, because you’re consuming your Nuun tablets with a glass of water, you’re getting your caffeine fix alongside some oh-so-important hydration—which is especially important before a sweat session. “Nuun tablets are a good choice for someone looking to pre-hydrate before a workout—starting exercise in a hydrated state is always best,” says Davis. “So drinking 16 ounces of water with a Nuun tablet will better hydrate you than a cup of coffee.” Just keep in mind that you’re getting half as much caffeine as you would be from your coffee, so you may feel a bit of a difference at first.
“Nuun tablets are a good choice for someone looking to pre-hydrate before a workout—starting exercise in a hydrated state is always best. So drinking 16 ounces of water with a Nuun tablet will better hydrate you than a cup of coffee.”
Though Davis is generally a fan of these tablets, she recommends paying attention to any other sources of caffeine in your diet before adding them to your routine. “If you consume too much caffeine (>400 mg) you may feel jittery, nauseous, anxious, or a racing heart rate, which may hamper your athletic performance and recovery,” she says. However, “The dose of caffeine in these tablets isn't high, so if you are used to consuming caffeine, there should be no negative effects.”
What happened when I added the Nuun tablets to my routine
The first time I swapped my coffee for Nuun’s Sport + Caffeine Electrolyte Tablets was ahead of an 8-mile run, and I’m not going to lie: I was nervous. The thought of setting out to pound the pavement for over an hour with only half of the amount of caffeine that my body was used to was slightly terrifying, and I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to finish.
Oddly enough, though, I felt more energized and mentally clear than I usually do during my crack-of-dawn workouts—so much so that I pretty much forgot that I was operating with less caffeine than usual. What’s more, I didn’t feel jittery, and my stomach wasn’t doing the sort of “Oh shit” flips that often come along when I mix caffeine and cardio.
Additionally, I have a history of feeling all kinds of nauseous after I run more than 6 miles (... I’m still working on the whole “proper fueling” part of marathon training), but because these tablets kept my body hydrated throughout the workout, there was no sickness to speak of when it came time to cool down.
Needless to say, one run was all it took for these handy little hydration tablets to become permanent staples in my routine. Not only do I drink them in lieu of a cup of coffee before my morning runs, but they’ve become a replacement for my afternoon iced lattes, too. Come marathon day, I know this is a tool I need to get me across the finish line... without any accidents, to boot.
- Jagim, Andrew R et al. “International society of sports nutrition position stand: energy drinks and energy shots.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 20,1 (2023): 2171314. doi:10.1080/15502783.2023.2171314
- Guest, Nanci S et al. “International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 18,1 1. 2 Jan. 2021, doi:10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4
- Zhang, Yang et al. “Caffeine and diuresis during rest and exercise: A meta-analysis.” Journal of science and medicine in sport vol. 18,5 (2015): 569-74. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2014.07.017
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