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Caffeinated chewing gum for exercise performance

Caffeine is considered one of the few performance-enhancing supplements that can truly elicit an ergogenic effect. There is a large body of evidence showing its benefits for almost all types of sports, from the shortest sprints to the longest endurance tasks, as well as strength training and team sports. For this purpose, it is commonly consumed in anhydrous powder form diluted in liquid or taken in capsules, but there are multiple sources from which athletes can obtain their caffeine kick. One of the most recent to hit the spotlight is caffeinated chewing gum.


Infographic of caffeine chewing gum

How does it work?

As mentioned in a previous blog (Caffeinated chewing gum), when administered via chewing gum, caffeine is absorbed through both the oral and oesophageal mucosa, some of it being residually absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. The big difference here is the speed at which caffeine will reach plasma in sufficient concentrations to improve performance. A pharmacokinetic study showed that approximately 85% of the caffeine content of chewing gums is absorbed within the first 15 minutes of chewing (1). Due to this, caffeine reaches its main targets - adenosine receptors - faster than when ingested via more standard procedures such as capsules (~60 minutes), leading to faster increases in dopamine receptor activation and adrenaline release, increasing attention, motivation, and reducing perception of pain and effort more quickly. This suggests that the performance benefits seen with caffeine will occur more quickly when caffeine is ingested via gum.


Caffeinated chewing gum for sports – does the evidence stack up?

There is no reason to believe the effects of caffeine chewing gum on sport performance would be any different to the benefits obtained from different forms such as capsules. And indeed, a recent meta-analysis from our group (2) showed a similar effect size to other administration forms, with small beneficial effects on exercise performance. Caffeine gum appears effective across different exercise types, with both endurance and sports/power athletes benefitting equally. The accumulating evidence suggests the ideal time to consume caffeinated chewing gum is in the 15 min prior to the onset of exercise, which is in accordance with its rapid pharmacokinetics.


Evidence suggests the ideal time to consume caffeinated chewing gum is in the 15 minutes prior to the onset of exercise

Data do not currently support ingesting caffeinated gum more than 15 min prior to exercise, though this is mainly due to a lack of evidence - since plasma caffeine profiles are relatively similar between chewing gum and capsules, there is no reason to believe that it would not work if ingested using traditional timing of 60 min pre-exercise. Suggested doses are also similar to other forms, namely ≥3 mg/kg body mass (BM), which would correspond to 210 mg for a 70 kg individual. Although no study to date has used the maximum recommended dose of 6 mg/kg BM, it would be ideal to avoid larger doses to prevent negative side-effects, such as anxiety, jitters and gastrointestinal discomfort. As with all supplements, athletes should look to test caffeinate gum in training before implementing it in competition.


Advantages of caffeinated chewing gum

The quicker increases in circulating caffeine from chewing caffeinated gum gives us additional options for intake compared to the traditional ingestion forms. It increases the versatility of the way we can administer caffeine. Caffeine gum can be saved until situations that require rapid increases in alertness and efforts or when fatigue is setting in. Of course, the sport must allow for the chewing gum to be chewed. With some high intensity efforts this may be difficult, and choking could be a hazard in some sports and trialling throughout training is advised to gauge individual comfort of use. Caffeinated gum is also easily transportable and since commercially available options often provide 50 – 100 mg of caffeine per piece, doses can easily be modified depending on individual requirements. Although the bitter taste of caffeine might not be to everyone’s fancy, there is evidence to suggest that activation of the bitter taste receptors in your mouth might in itself be performance enhancing (3), although such effects have been demonstrated with extreme levels of bitterness. Products also often try to mask the bitter taste with peppermint or other flavourings.


Recommendations

If you are looking to boost your workouts with caffeine, caffeinated chewing gum is a viable option alongside more traditional caffeine forms (capsules, coffee). Aim to take ~3 mg/kg BM approximately 10 min prior to when you really need it. Chew for at least 5 min to release as much caffeine as possible.


References

  1. Kamimori GH, Karyekar CS, Otterstetter R, Cox DS, Balkin TJ, Belenky GL, et al. The rate of absorption and relative bioavailability of caffeine administered in chewing gum versus capsules to normal healthy volunteers. Int J Pharm. 2002;234(1-2):159-67.

  2. Barreto G, Loureiro LMR, Reis CEG, Saunders B. Effects of caffeine chewing gum supplementation on exercise performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Sport Sci. 2022:1-12.

  3. Best R, McDonald K, Hurst P, Pickering C. Can taste be ergogenic? Eur J Nutr. 2021;60(1):45-54.

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