Performance sweets promise big results—but do they deliver?
The concept of "performance candy" may seem like something straight out of Willy Wonka's factory. But the science behind high-octane sweets is anything but fanciful. Consider caffeinated gum, such as Jolt Caffeine-Energy Gum and its new rival, Penguin Energy Gum. In the Journal of Applied Physiology, researcher Tom McLellan, Ph.D., demonstrated that getting moderate doses of caffeine this way extends by nearly 40 percent the time it takes for bicyclists to exercise to exhaustion.
"We went with caffeine gum because it's absorbed sublingually and reaches peak concentrations much faster than coffee," explains McLellan. Another athletic advantage: no upset stomachs from the acids found in coffee or
cola—not to mention far fewer bathroom breaks.
McLellan's results were intriguing, especially to someone who, like me, suffers from persistent daytime grogginess. To see if they were repeatable, I performed my own test in a slightly less controlled environment: the Atlantic Ocean.
Field Test: I'm bobbing in a bay near Atlantic City with a hundred other Masters swimmers, a 10K open-water course marked out before us. Ten minutes before the start, I chew four pieces of Jolt, dousing my buccal glands with the caffeine equivalent of two tall Starbucks coffees. To optimize the kick, I've gone cold turkey on caffeine for the past two weeks, restoring myself to what researchers call a state of "caffeine naïveté."
Flash forward two-plus hours as I blast across the finish line first in my age group. At 6.2 miles (10 kilometers), this is by far the greatest distance I've ever swum, still I feel much more refreshed now than I did during my previous personal record swim of only 4.4 miles (7 kilometer). Could such verve really be proof positive of enhanced performance through gum-based ergogenics? Not until the monotonous seven-hour drive home does my skepticism evaporate. After 50 miles (80 kilometers) of slapping myself silly to stay awake, I pull off the highway and chew another three pieces of Jolt. Ten minutes later I'm ready to roll, as alert as I've been all day.
From Tired to Wired
Penguin Energy Gum
Boost: Three pieces equal one cup of coffee
Taste: True and long-lasting peppermint, citrus, and kola flavors
XLR8 Energy Chews
Boost: Two chews equal one cup of coffee
Taste: Seriously sweet cherry flavor—seriously awful aftertaste
Boost: One chew equals one cup of coffee
Taste: Tootsie Roll meets Nicorette
Jelly Belly Sport Beans
Boost: Electrolytes and vitamins C and E replace caffeine.
Taste: Gatorade-flavored jelly beans
For more tips on how to improve your game, pick up the October 2005 issue.