Caf­feinated gum giv­ing ath­letes a quick boost

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By Amanda Loudi

Elite marathoner Tina Muir is gun­ning for a per­sonal best this De­cem­ber when she toes the line at the California In­ter­na­tional Marathon in Sacra­mento. This will be her fifth go at the dis­tance. She con­tin­u­ously works to dial in ex­actly the train­ing and nu­tri­tion ap­proaches that will help her shave pre­cious min­utes off the clock. Her lat­est ad­di­tion to the reg­i­men? Caf­feinated gum.

One of the newer en­trants to the bur­geon­ing sports-nu­tri­tion mar­ket — ex­pected to reach $52 bil­lion by 2020, ac­cord­ing to Trans­parency Mar­ket Re­search — caf­feinated gum prom­ises to de­liver a faster burst of en­ergy than other er­gogenic aids be­cause it doesn’t have to pass through the di­ges­tive sys­tem. Muir is a believer. “I have tried caf­feinated gels be­fore and liked them, but they took a while to take ef­fect,” she says. “It’s tough to wait 10 min­utes when you are tired and in need of a boost in the later miles of a race.”

The gum, she says, hits her sys­tem right away. “I took the gum at mile 14 of a 20-mile pro­gres­sion run, where I had to con­tin­u­ously pick up my pace,” she ex­plains. “I no­ticed an im­me­di­ate, sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence with the gum. In par­tic­u­lar, I was clear-minded and could tackle any doubts I had at that point in the run.”

Muir is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ex­actly what she should with the gum, says Kristina LaRue, an Or­lando-based reg­is­tered di­eti­tian spe­cial­iz­ing in sports nu­tri­tion. “Caf­feine is a well-stud­ied per­for­mance en­hancer,” she says. “It can make the load feel eas­ier and does help with fo­cus and clar­ity.”

Up un­til 2004 the World Anti Dop­ing Agency placed lim­its on caf­feine in­take, but it is so ubiq­ui­tous that it dropped the limit. It is still, how­ever, banned at the NCAA level.

Carl Pa­ton, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at New Zealand’s Eastern In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, has con­ducted three stud­ies on caf­feinated gum and its im­pact on per­for­mance in en­durance sports. “You get sim­i­lar ef­fects to gels and tablets, but it’s ab­sorbed faster, and you may not need as big of a dose,” he says.

He con­curs on Muir’s also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a mental boost. “Caf­feine has the ben­e­fit of re­duc­ing the per­cep­tion of fa­tigue, so you can po­ten­tially run harder with it in your sys­tem,” he says.

In a 2014 study on the im­pact of the gum on the race per­for­mances of male and fe­male cy­clists, Pa­ton found that the big­gest gain came in the fi­nal 10 kilo­me­ters of a 30K time trial. “The gum im­proved both en­durance and sprint­ing power at the end of the ef­fort, most likely through an in­crease in ner­vous sys­tem ac­ti­va­tion,” he says.

A sep­a­rate study he con­ducted in 2010 on male cy­clists also found that the caf­feinated gum de­layed fa­tigue dur­ing re­peated, high-in­ten­sity sprint ex­er­cise. In this study, re­searchers mea­sured testos­terone and cor­ti­sol con­cen­tra­tions and deter­mined that the gum el­e­vated the for­mer while re­duc­ing the lat­ter. Higher lev­els of testos­terone are shown to im­prove per­for­mance, while cor­ti­sol is a stress hor­mone that has been shown to hurt it.

It is for all these rea­sons that Olympic run­ner Nick Sym­monds de­vel­oped a caf­feinated gum tar­geted to en­durance ath­letes. He likens his “Run Gum” to an en­ergy drink such as Red Bull, without any of the po­ten­tial di­ges­tive dis­tress that some­times ac­com­pa­nies such per­for­mance aids. “You want to im­prove per­for­mance, but you don’t want to fill up,” he says. “Gum is a bet­ter de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle.”

Like Muir, 52-year-old run­ner Matt In­gram, of Plano, Texas, is a re­cent con­vert to the gum. “I’ve never been a big sup­ple­ment per­son,” he says, “but the gum can make the first few steps a lit­tle bit eas­ier for me.”

In­gram com­petes in 400me­ter and 800-meter mas­ters’ races on the track, with the oc­ca­sional 5K on the docket in the off-sea­son. “I use the gum both in train­ing and in rac­ing,” he says. “I’ll chew it about 10 to 15 min­utes ahead of time and can feel its ef­fects right away.”

For all its up­sides, how­ever, Pa­ton cau­tions ath­letes that they shouldn’t de­pend solely on caf­feinated gum. “In a ma­jor en­durance event, you can’t sur­vive on the gum alone,” he says. “You’ll need car­bo­hy­drates, too.”

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