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Gum & Running: Can it Help?

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Habitual at their best and particular at their worst, runners often have to do the exact same thing pre-run, during run and post run. Certain types of apparel are reserved for certain distances, races, and types of runs (race vs training). Specifics can come down to the day of the week runners cut their toenails based on time between long runs. For some, gum is a staple and a run wouldn’t feel right without it. And not only “gum” but a certain brand and very well-chosen flavor.

Truth be told, brand probably does really matter, most people remember the ever-famous dark-blue packed Winterfresh gum that seems to simple dissolve during any physical activity or after a couple hours of chewing; it is a quite unpleasant texture experience. While gum is simply a habit for some, are they on to something? Does it help you focus during a race or speed work? Does a mint flavor bring out more benefits than say a true Bubblegum flavor? Is chewing gum on your run something you really should be doing?

Chew on this History

Gum has been around for eons, since the Neolithic period where it was made from birch bark tar. The birch bark was thought to have antiseptic powers and medicinal benefits. The Mayans and Aztecs were the first to evaluate the benefits of gum, they used chicle, which comes from a tree and was used for many subsequent years.  It might remind some of the gum called Chiclet, and yes the name is a nod to the original chicle gum. The Ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum, like all early gum, it was also made from trees and is thought to have been used as an aid for oral health.

While the entire world has its own ancient version of gum, the innovation and commercialization of gum took place in the United States. The first Americans made gum from paraffin wax, which was a little better tasting the spruce gum first made by the Native Americans. The first flavored gum was made by a pharmacist in the late 1800s. Gum didn’t really gain its full notoriety until WWII.

General Health Benefits

The most common health benefit is related to dental health and sugar-free gum. Chewing sugar-free gum has been linked to a reduction in cavities and plaque. Gum not only helps to make your breath better, it assists in removing food and bacteria. It does this by stimulating saliva, which is nature’s way of washing the mouth. After a meal, chewing a piece of sugar-free gum for 20 minutes can help prevent tooth decay since chewing produces saliva. Chewing gum after a meal replaces brushing and flossing in a pinch.

There are also cognitive advantages to chewing gum. Typically the benefits are related to episodic and working memory and speed of perception. However, the improvements were only noted when chewing took place prior to cognitive testing.

Several studies have looked at the use of gum in reducing the duration of postoperative issues after abdominal and gastrointestinal surgery. Saliva production is stimulated by chewing gum. Gum also activates the digestive juices and plays a part in regulating of gastric secretion.  Gum is also used as an approach for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Since chewing gum promotes saliva production and increases swallowing which in turn the saliva neutralizes acid in the esophagus.

How Does Chewing Gum Help Your Runs

According to studies, if you chew gum while walking your heart rate will increase and does so for both males and females. The thought is that it might be because of the way your cardiac rhythm and your rhythm of movement sync or cardiac-locomotor synchronization. Studies have shown chewing gum helps you walk faster and burn more calories which translates seamlessly to running. The effects of the speed and calorie burn seem to higher in people age 40 and older when chewing gum than those that are younger. One study states that the effects of gum chewing increased the distance and energy expenditure of middle-aged and elderly male participants in particular.

Most runners are not out to speed up their heart rate but speeding up your heartbeat in a slight manner that chewing gum does let blood flow more quickly and efficiently to your muscles thereby helping your muscles to take in the oxygen and nutrients of your blood faster.   As stated earlier, chewing gum actually helps you better focus on tasks at hand because of its benefit on cognitive areas of the brain. This can help get you in the zone during your next run especially if you are focusing on a set pace during a tempo run or needing to focus on track work.

Runners have some odd side effects that can occur when they run long distances. Some often tense their forearms the whole time and can’t seem to grip anything by the time they’ve gotten in their mileage. Others grind their teeth and have TMJ from clenching their jaw or a sore neck from tensing their neck, chewing gum forces you to relax both your jaw and your neck. It makes you focus on your run the targeted muscles and prevents supplemental muscle cramps

Chewing gum on your run might help nominally but it can’t possibly hurt. In all the studies there were no differences in one flavor over another so if you are a cinnamon gum person over a spearmint gum fan no need to change to a minty flavor. The one item that was consistent is that sugar-free is the ideal way to go but a piece of Bubble Yum every now and then can be a nice change up. So go ahead and pop that stick of gum for your run and blow your competition out of the water.

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