Chewing gum improves intermittent sport performance.

IntroductionJolt chewing gum

Caffeine is the World’s most commonly used drug. It is often used by cyclists as an ergogenic aid during both training and competition. Previous research has shown that caffeine improves longer distance swim, bike and run performance. But what effect might it have in sports where there are repeated sprints during longer endurance events such as in team sports, road races on the bike.  A recent New Zealand study investigated the effects of caffeinated chewing gum on fatigue during repeated high-intensity sprints in cyclists.

The Research

Nine well-trained young male cyclists (24 ± 7 years, VO2max = 62.5 ± 5.4 ml/kg/min) who trained on average 10.5 hours per week were tested. None of them were high caffeine users. They completed four lab sessions each consisting of four by five-minute sets of 30-second sprints with five sprints in each set and 30-seconds easy spin between each sprint. An easy five minute spin was done between sets one and three and a 10-minute easy spin between sets two and three.  During the 10-minute spin, the chewing gum was given as six pieces of commercially-available, spearmint-flavoured caffeinated chewing-gum (Jolt®) or as a placebo of similar-looking and tasting, commercially available non-caffeinated chewing-gum (Spearmint Extra®). Cyclists chewed the gum for five minutes and then spat it out before doing sets three and four of the sprints.

The Results

The average power output (watts) in the first 10 sprints (sets 1 and 2) relative to the last 10 sprints (sets 3 and 4) declined by 5.8 ± 4.0% in the placebo trials but only 0.4 ± 7.7% in the caffeine trials. The reduced fatigue in the caffeine trials equated to a 5.4% improvement in overall cycling performance in favor of caffeine. The researchers also measured two hormones in saliva and found that the delayed fatigue in the caffeine trials was associated with elevated testosterone (an anabolic – muscle repairing and building hormone) and decreased cortisol (a stress hormone) concentrations in the caffeine trials. Both these hormone responses are good for athletes in terms of recovery from training and racing. No gut upsets were observed in the cyclists despite the caffeine dose being equivalent to about 2.5 No Doz or three cups of coffee in one hit.

The So What?

This is a really applied study that strongly suggests that taking caffeine by chewing gum may be the way to go for team sport athletes or track or road cyclists requiring a kick in performance during the closing stages of an event like a points race, criterium or road race where fatigue becomes a factor. Importantly, it also suggests it may enhance recovery by positively affecting hormones important for recovery. I say ‘suck it and see’.

 Paton, C., Lowe, T, and Irvine, A. (2010). Caffeinated chewing gum increases repeated sprint performance and augments increases in testosterone in competitive cyclists.  European Journal of Applied Physiology. 110(6): 1243-1250.

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