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Caffeine for performance: which type works best?

New research suggests caffeine gum may be your best bet on race day

It is well known that caffeine boosts performance, and many runners can be found on race-day morning knocking back espresso shots or dutifully sipping on their morning cuppa Joe before heading to the start line. Coffee is certainly the most popular pre-race pick-me-up, but many runners choose to forgo the liquid and take a caffeine pill instead. Recent research suggests, however, that runners who are looking for the biggest boost in performance should use caffeine gum or strips instead.

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The study, which was published in the journal Biology of Sport, had 14 amateur competitive runners complete a series of self-paced time trials after consuming either a placebo or a caffeine supplement in one of three forms: chewing gum, a dissolvable mouth strip or a pill. Each type contained the same dose of caffeine, and was ingested 15 minutes before the time trial.

The results

The researchers found that the gum or dissolvable strip performed better than the pill, prompting them to conclude that a product “designed to be chewed or dissolved in the mouth” is the best option for runners looking for a performance boost. While coffee wasn’t included in this study, we can draw some conclusions from earlier research. An April 2013 study determined that caffeine pills and coffee both improved endurance performance equally, so with that in mind, we can assume that caffeine gum or dissolvable strips will also outperform coffee, as they did the pill.

Perfect cup of coffee

So the next time you’re toeing the start line in hopes of a PB and you’re looking for an extra push, you may want to consider swapping your morning cup for a stick of gum. Just remember, you never want to try anything new on race day, so make sure you experiment with whatever you’re planning on using during training to prevent any unwelcome surprises in the middle of your race.

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